The Social Capital of Liveability
Panampilly Nagar, Ernakulam, Kanayannur, Ernakulam district, Kerala, 682036, India
Bridging socially fragmented communities in Kochi through mixed-income development
The role of social capital in liveable urbanism - how the networks between people living in a city affect the overall frame conditions of a decent life for all inhabitants of cities, regions and communities including their physical and mental wellbeing.
I have always been fascinated with city life, stemming from both my own mixed experiences growing up in a suburban neighbourhood to living in the heritage city of Bath in my adulthood and my affinity for dystopian themes in Blade Runner and Brave New World. The question of how liveable our cities are was put under a microscope during the COVID-19 pandemic when we were confined to our homes which made us really scrutinise our living conditions.
Firstly, by undertaking a thorough literature review of the theory of social capital and understanding how urban form affect the way communities interact, a general framework able to be devised and applied to the site location of Kochi, India. A landscape of social fragmentation was created and through it the issue of economically-segregated neighbourhoods was identified as the prominent issue to be addressed.
Panampilly Nagar was chosen to be the site for the catalyst intervention of a wider urban strategy that would identify juxtaposed communities of contrasting economic backgrounds and address the underlying frictions between these groups through the creation of mixed-income housing on brownfield sites that simultaneously address urban sprawl issues. Through analysing the local vernacular of the neighbourhood, a suitable brownfield site was found, and a mix-use programme was developed through learning the identity of its many inhabitant groups.
The form of the scheme was derived from the study of worker housing typologies common in India by clustering groups of dwelling units. This allowed for the convergence of neighbours into these open circulation spaces where they could not only interact with increased regularity, but also have a general heightened awareness of residents moving around the building.
The project is a promising starting point for triggering a reversal of declining social capital in Kochi. As a localised intervention, its individual reach may be limited but if applied as part of a wider framework it has the potential to be a driver for change in new housing development policy. However, many of the spatial features can only incentivise these social networks, as human nature cannot be forced. The underlying frictions between the different classes in Kochi may run deeper than what we understand from afar and there is the unavoidable risk that they cannot be so easily reconciled.