To Italy, and back

Tourist Maps

The first search in preparation for my impending visit to Italy led me to caution travel tips on how kind is the city to women traveling alone. It reminded me of a poem I read about the necessity of women’s body to constantly negotiate shared space in the public realm. It was only then I realized the unconscious habit of being in control and knowledge of space that I existed in at any given time. This I believe is true for all of us. Bodies, eyes, eyes, bodies – a methodical existence that makes carelessness a luxury. We act and react in accordance to the eyes that watch us, giving precedence to the one viewing, judging, intending over our individual self. What do we exchange in order to have a moment of carelessness? What is the price to be paid for a desire to be a careless unknown face in the crowd?

Safety is a paramount concern for us and a constant need of its assurance denies carelessness. However, can we ever be too careful? I believe strongly that there is a difference in the memory of place experienced with and without an element of fear. We have a memory of experiencing fear more than our memory of experiencing a place. Fear activates our senses of defense and control for the immediate environment. A mind filled with fear doesn’t sufficiently be at leisure in such instances. Our experiences and subsequent understanding are subject to individual sensibilities. It is possible to say this in retrospection and safe to say I’ve been as careless as I could have.

Italy is like the inside of a history textbook, and just as deep, complex and overwhelming. Like in the fantasy movies where you open a magical book, dive into it and exit in a parallel reality. There is so much to see that two eyes seem insufficient to capture the natural and manmade beauty of the place. The history associated with it abound in urban spaces, architecture, arts, culture, lifestyle, is simply awe inspiring. I loitered about most of the time in and around the urban historic core watching the place, people, and activities happening around. There are thousands of pictures at our disposal on the internet, and it is a good idea perhaps to leave one behind. I say this because I feel we have become over-dependent on an external device to capture our memories and experiences. I think we should rely more on our mind as a tool to associate with the sight and sounds of a place for an intimate experience.

When I returned I managed to map (click to view) the route along which I walked using Google Maps down to the detail of the winding paths, and spots I took rest at. There is a simple logic to the organization of places, the seams are almost absent between the older cores and the newer developments. And although the new buildings conform to the old style, they retain their new character and hardly ever seem out of place. The resemblance between the buildings, and the streets is high, however, guided by a distant landmark the way-finding is not difficult. A sense of direction is built into the layout. Besides Italy is a heaven of maps, literally all roads lead you to where you want to go. When in doubt, follow the crowd!

Of the things invariably connected to walking in large cities is the availability of public transport. It is often said that the success of a place relies on the choice between the available options for public transport. These systems are often interdependent – where one terminates the other takes over, but not necessarily hierarchical. There is a well-organized and well-maintained system of public transport in Italy. There are not just metro rails, trams and buses, taxis, tourist rickshaws to cover distances large and small but dedicated bicycle tracks and racks for parking at designated places. The attention to basic pedestrian infrastructure like road crossings, refuge islands, speed limit, signage, accessibility controls; for comfortable movement buffers between pedestrian and vehicular traffic, seats, shaded areas, kiosks; and utilitarian support like dust bins, toilets, water spouts etc. is laudable. The availability of a choice of public transport also reduces car ownership, and when there is an efficient system is in place it is possible to have areas that can be car-free zones. All the historic urban cores I visited were pedestrianized conveniently connected by public transport.

From among the many different experiences of cities, one remarkable is the sense of discovery. Walking amongst the dense old buildings in narrow winding streets to find it lead up to an open space is such a memorable experience. The urban squares, large and small, are interesting places of activity to observe the transformation over a period of time. In the morning, there are tourists like I, all around followed by the younger crowd in the afternoon, and as evening approaches a mix of families, groups of friends, young children and old couples seem to occupy it making it the center of activity. There are little kids laughing, eating ice creams, playing, and cycling which is such a delight to see!

At the heart of large urban plazas are usually the cathedrals, awe-inspiring examples of magnificent architecture inside out. The cathedrals are so marvelous; it’s a spiritually aesthetic experience to be in them. Every inch of space not only of religious significance but has such attention to detail that one is left spellbound. It is difficult to decide what to look at! Many of the cathedrals have their own exhibits, interpretation centers dedicated to its religious and historical significance within them where the original sculptures, artifacts, manuscripts, etc. are preserved. The roofs are open to visitors, and the view of the cities from atop is simply spectacular! Of the places I visited, I was completely awestruck by the Gothic architecture of the Duomo of Milan; I spent two full days just wandering around being a part of the crowd! On one of the days the plaza outside Duomo, a huge canvas was laid out on the floor for people to paint as a part of public art initiative.

The cities are huge, but there hardly seem enough people. Many places are unpopulated, roads empty, stations empty, buildings empty, left me wondering if there are people at all. It was only when I walked into the central square I realized where the people are. Given its scale, it seemed as if the entire population of the city could be fitted into the central square (not literally). A keen sense of private and public spaces in built into the form. Without previous knowledge and access, it is not possible even accidentally run into an inconspicuous private space. Scale plays an important role in the transition between private-semi-public-public without relying too much on surveillance devices. Places designed to human scale create a sense of enclosure within which control and surveillance through the presence of other people in movement or resident are achieved. The sound of the city is virtually absent everywhere, every place is calm and quiet, sometimes unnervingly so. By the standard of surrounding noise of machines, movement of vehicles etc. we are exposed to every day even the noise of the center of activity was relatively negligible. I personally have an intense dislike to noise especially with one that alters at irregular frequencies and intensity.

There is so much more I have taken notes of that I wish to write but I conclude here with some of my thoughts, rather questions. It so often happens that we visit western countries and especially European we get so besotted by the places. And naturally our response is to emulate the kind of urbanism in our cities. As is the belief that economic development, in this case with respect to the built environment, precedes social or cultural change. The benefits will slowly trickle down to the last of the people in the economic ladder, and change will overcome in all other aspects – be it social or cultural. When we are duplicating western urbanism we are designing our cities on principles that do not really align with our sensibilities. In which case, do we really wish to thrust upon the cities mere ideas we find inspiring? There is little doubt as to as a society we always hope and aspire for better future – may we also lose at the same time much of our own knowledge?

Is it that if we imbibed a civic sense and local municipal bodies provided basic services and utilities in all areas of rich and poor people alike, would our response to cities expansions be still to impose those inward-looking developments that exist as self-sufficient complexes? Has the western suburbia manifested itself in gated communities being very much a part of city extents, well connected yet its back turned against the city? The super SEZs, IT SEZ’s thriving on the infrastructure and services of the city does not contribute to the quality of places to its built environment. It’s public and semi-public spaces, neither inclusive nor democratic, are fenced, protected, under constant surveillance. We are constantly harping about the benefits of mixed use development which I think is funny because that’s the kind of urbanism that is authentic to us. From studio exercises to architects offices mixed use development is the most trending subject. The question is when or why we lapsed to understand that our urbanism is characterized by it so far that we reiterate it as a new finding.  We speak about women safety, very well, in parallel with the built environment, besides the need for infrastructure requirements unanimously agree on the importance of building mixed use.

More often than not we have had to unlearn and question some of our beliefs about old cities. Either we are totally romanticizing them as places of amalgamation of architecture, heritage, arts, culture, and lifestyle selling for the purpose of tourism or as heritage walks, photo walks, culinary walks etc. Or we see them as deteriorating, run down places, stereotyping the people who live in them. The proposals, it at all, are exercises in beautification, façade improvements, investing in tourism infrastructure in otherwise sacrosanct historical areas. In the latter case, elaborate proposals are made that do not ever come close to the implementation or dismissed as they are such complex entities that apathetic authorities rather shrug and ignore they places exist. But yet  we compare our old historic centers with that of the west, and in an ambitious appeal by aesthete override the ground realities. This is not to make a sweeping generalization that there are no architects, designers, and planners who are not sensitive to the urban processes. But it is to say there are very few and that we really need to change our approach to old cities’ development. In the rhetoric about increasing urban population, we often forget older cities are often the hosts of migrants acting as transitional spaces. Our focus should be as much on old cities as much for the new not only in terms of historical importance but also  as unexplored areas of development.

Communities Without Boundaries negotiating the urban segregation of Muslims in Delhi



There are plethora of issues faced by the cities due to rapid urbanization in India. The process of urbanization itself is peculiar to developing nations –the focus is on the economic growth of the nation, the role of cities then become central to it. The shift in the structure of the city as a result of planning and policy is apparent both economically and morphologically. There is always polarization occurring at a socio-economic and socio-cultural level between communities, and claiming and territorializing urban space is a process that is evident in all Indian cities. Muslims in Indian cities are undergoing a phenomenon by which they’re being segregated implicitly into distinct quarters and locations that are disconnected from the larger city functionally and socially. Such segregation added with lack of infrastructure, civic neglect by the state, increasingly attached negativity to the identity of Muslims is creating an alternative urbanism subject to a singular community that are getting marginalized socially, economically, politically and importantly spatially. This thesis focuses on the spatiality of the issue and how through the applied urban design can such segregation be negotiated.

Communicities (idea)

the merging of different communities in the city without physical, social or economic boundaries as active participants of the city life and in access to public resources mainly commerce, institution, and natural


The phenomenon of segregation has existed ever since mankind began the concept of concentrated living in a society, and composing themselves into distinct quarters. The organization of these quarters is then based upon the hierarchical structure which was also the ways in which traditional settlements have evolved. The administrative center represented the seat of power, the religious center along which life revolved, the market place where all trade and commercial activities took place and finally the residential quarters, of those who have the most power remain close to these centers (core) and the farthest forms the territories of the poor and marginalized (periphery) with least access to any of the centers of activity. This pattern of organization has existed across all traditional cities, colonial cities which distinctly segregated the natives from their colonial rulers and even the postcolonial and emergent cities which are exhibiting new pattern of such divisions. Segregation is inherent to man’s nature and how we organize ourselves and the others in cities. Sometimes the rationale behind is either the political, social or economic systems, but they’re not independent of each other. To extrapolate, the Master plan which functionally divides land zones is an extension of this age-old hegemonic pattern implicit to planning.

Urban segregation in Indian cities manifest in different ways. The dividing lines are based on religion, caste, occupation, regional language and culture, status etc. Segregation in urban context is about separation – a separation of people or separation of activities and functions. Segregation of communities that is voluntarily observed helps preserve and inheritance of culture, history, institutions, and language etc., and have positive impacts, also called as congregation of communities. Segregation is the process by which a population group is forced, i.e. involuntarily, to cluster in a defined spatial area, in a ghetto. It is the process of formation and maintenance of a ghetto.1 Muslims dominated areas across Indian cities and small towns which were integrated are becoming increasingly ethnic quarters. With each event of a communal violence Muslims, Hindus, and other group of minorities who reside in mixed neighborhoods chose to move to out of localities that have a predominant population of the other group. The clustering of neighborhoods, attached with sentiments of hatred and violence, continuous neglect by state, lack of infrastructure and civic amenities will escalate the scale of segregation and the stigma attached with any community. If we are to take the idea of cities as places where everyone has equal right and equal opportunities, then the segregation that is caused as an implied or unintended consequence is questionable. In such instances, arises the question that in what ways a city can offer to people in terms of opportunities and access to improve the general standard of life. Though segregation occurs due to various social, political and economic factors, it creates a hierarchical spatial structure increasing physical distances between people in cities. On the contrary, it is the coming together, in various public spheres, of various people where social interactions or business endeavors take place. All spaces in cities are a product of their socio cultural and socio economic activities- the built environment, links and interactions that enable such functions, activities and use create the public realm integral to an urban system that can reverse the process of segregation. A city is a physical, functional and social organization – the physical sub-system forming the buildings, streets, infrastructure and the human sub-system of movement, interaction and activity.2 Segregation has then, both spatial and social meaning. Spatial difference between residences of different people in city equals social segregation that has negative perception of ethnic concentration.

Primary Site

Zakir Nagar is a locality in one of the five Muslim concentrated areas in the south-west of Delhi. Originally home to few teachers and clerical staff of the Jamia Milia University it lay on the fringe of the river Yamuna. Jogabai and Okhla were the two urban villages; Gafoor Nagar and Batla House were small dense clusters of houses of which Zakir Nagar is an extension. Post communal riots of 1990 and Gujarat pogrom of 2002 people from surrounding mixed neighborhoods relocated and migrants from north India surged. The area expanded rapidly, forest tracts disappeared and new colonies came up. The socio economic status of the residents became more diverse. Many aspirant people could not move to other neighborhoods for the fear of violence and denied of housing in other areas of city remain concentrated in these locations.


Segregation increases polarization between people, increases the vulnerability of a group of people. Spatial concentrations reduce mobility and networking that are essential to participating in city life that is based on sharing of public resources. Urban form plays an important role in reversing the process of segregation by making accessibility to common resources through public spaces. The morphology of the place is reflected through neighborhoods, buildings and urban public spaces and the way people connect through them enabling interaction. The ever increasing scale of the cities gives people more choice to locate farther, resulting in fragmented cities. Unlike socio-economic and socio-cultural divide in cities, ethnic segregation happens at a finer scale in our context. Residential and social segregation happens at a micro scale, neighborhood level and dispersion is seen at an urban level. Location is another important aspect of segregation – communities that are in the process of getting marginalized invariably are located on the periphery, edge or disadvantaged locations. Self-segregated communities are more at an advantage; they tend to be located by economically active, connected by well integrated street, provided with adequate infrastructure. This too represents a hierarchy of power between the different groups in cities. Many forms of buffers are created that creates a discontinuous urban texture in such places. These buffers restrict growth horizontally, reduces free movement and accessibility, increasing density and reduced options for housing creates stress on existing infrastructure can seriously degrade the standard of living and hence, the imageability of place. Co-operative group housing, gated communities, residential enclaves facilitate housing to exclusive group of people. Gates are more symbolic of status to these places. Segregation is embedded in some urban layouts that create spatial conditions that restrict the movement of people through them. The focus on physical environment, accessibility through public spaces of resources and presence in public realm that can be achieved help reverse the process of segregation.


  1. Enclaves Yes, Ghettoes, No: Segregation and the State, Peter Marcuse, 2001, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Conference Paper
  2. The City as a socio-technical system: a spatial reformulation in the light of the levels problem and the parallel problem,Hiller 2009.


• Susan S. Fainstein, Scott Campbell (Editors),2011: Readings in Urban Theory, 3rd Edition, Wiley-Blackwell. • Ronan Paddison, 2001: Handbook of Urban Studies, Sage Publications Lts. • Ali Madanipour, 1996: Design of Urban Space: an Inquiry into a socio-spatial process: John Wiley & Sons • Carl H. Nightingale, : Segregation, A Global History of Divided cities • Peter Saunders, 1989: Social Theory and the Urban Question • Laurent Gayer & Christopher Jaffrelot, 2012 : Muslims in Indian Cities: Trajectories of Marginalization, HarperCollins • Jane Jacobs, 1966: Death and Life of Great American Cities

Articles, Essays, Journals|

• Socio-spatial differentiation and residential segregation in Delhi: a question of scale? Veronique Dupont, Geoforum 35 (2004) 157-175 • The Capitalistic Logic of Spatial Segregation: A study of Muslims in Delhi, Ghazala Jamil, Economic and Political Weekly ,Vol. 49, No. 3 (Jan. 2014), pp. 52-58 • Enclaves Yes, Ghettoes, No: Segregation and the State, Peter Marcuse, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Conference Paper • Ethnic Segregation in Cities: New Forms and Explanations in a Dynamic World, Ronald van Kempen and A. Sule Ozuekren, Urban Studies, Vol. 35, No. 10, 1631-1656, 1998 • What’s So New about Divided Cities? Peter Marcuse, Joint Editors and Basil Blackwell Ltd 1993. Published by Blackwell Publishers • Spaces of Discrimination, Residential Segregation in Indian Cities, Trina Vithayathil, Gayatri Singh, Economic and Political Weekly ,Vol. 47, No. 37 (Sep. 15, 2014), pp. 60-67 • Countering Urban Segregation: Theoretical and Policy Innovations from around the Globe Peer Smets and Ton Salman, 2008 Urban Studies Journal Limited, 45(7) 1307–1332, June 2008 • Eurocities : Cities Action Against Social Exclusion (Case),Final Report, Ali Madanipour, January 2003 • Beirut Divided: The potential of urban design in reuniting a culturally divided city, Benjamin J Leclair-Paquet, June 2012, DPU Working Paper No. 153, UCL