Cities Within Cities: Sustaining Multicultural Spaces, Case of ‘Cultural Capital’ Kolkata

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Submission Summary
For the last three decades, the cities have seen a fundamental change in the speed and scale of urbanization. According to Lefevre’s analysis, urbanization is not only an expansion of urban footprint but in a broader sense, the radical socio-spatial transformation of society. The cultural evolution in cities takes place through its physical manifestation of urban form and spaces creating distinctive identities within a city which can be termed as ‘cities within cities’. The cultural setting of societies in a city is being affected by gentrification through rapid urbanization. Which is causing cultural displacement hence changing city’s identities also challenging multicultural aspects of cities. In the aspect of sustaining those multicultural spaces from disappearance and keeping the distinctive identities of cities intact, the paper intends to hypothesise whether the loss of these cultural groups and changing their identities will also signify the creation of homogenous cities in future. Culturally diverse Kolkata is also going through rapid urbanization. One of the examples lies in the heart of the city in Tangra, Chinatown which has become the central development prone area because of urban expansion and facing sheer market pressure changing the identity of the place. The place which started evolving from one cultural group (Chinese) and later expanded beyond their communities with other cultural groups (Nepali, Bihari, Bengali) because of interdependencies, got manifested in the physical form of the place. The socio-economic relationship was formed within the live-work communities based on raw leather production through tanneries and leather gardens. It also created links to the multicultural layers of exchange between the diverse cultural groups through everyday interactions. Bihari farmer sells vegetables to Chinese residents in a morning market, Bengali goddess Kali is being worshipped by a Chinese priest in Chinese Kali Temple, Bengalis working in the tanneries, tastes of Chinese cuisine influence Indian cuisine to become Indian Chinese with several tanneries being converted into famous Chinese restaurants etc. Now all the tannery spaces are getting captured and re-utilized as large real estate housings forcing the present morphology of the place to change from 2-3 storey live-work communities to 30 floors high rise gentrified gated community enclaves facilitating gentrification. The existing cultural groups and their different urban lifestyles generated patterns in urban fabric are now getting replaced by new gentry and their high end residential gated enclaves leaving high edges and dead streets all around. All are growing in tension with the surroundings without having cultural context or inter-relationship with the multicultural communities around increasingly diminishing the identity of India’s only Chinatown in Kolkata. In this scenario, a harmonious multicultural diversity will be achieved by re-stitching of interdependent networks of interdependence between the earlier communities through interculturalism. Also, by re-imagining new sets of interdependencies with the new mix and the larger city population by cultural cohesion. So, to achieve that, a seam of shared territory, functions, networking and linkages can be formed with a collective network of interdependent groups by defining constituents of everyday spaces, socially, functionally & physically. Also, by channelizing the market forces of gentrification in a controlled way by providing area-specific guidelines through which the existing community spaces will be enhanced. These methods will cater to the vitality of the distinctive communities concerning the historicity and cultural significance of the place generating a community-oriented local economy using potentials of cultural tourism. It will also look into our future planning policies and city by-laws where area-specific urban design guideline will be proposed to generate enhanced multi and intercultural diversities with respect to its existing cultural context and heritage.
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1: Inclusiveness and empowerment. Al-Majlis: planning with and for communities
Urban Designer
School of Planning and Architecture

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