Dencity 2017: 3rd Place Award

Delhi: Flood Resilience

Entry by: Adèle Hopquin

Introduction

“Unauthorized Colony” are the words used by officials to describe the Yamuna Pushta slum. More than fifty years ago, its first inhabitants migrated from the countryside to settle on the banks of the Yamuna river in Delhi. In 2004, most of the Yamuna Pushta slum was destroyed using bulldozers. During the preparations for the Commonwealth games in 2010, other old slums from Delhi were also destroyed. Some parts survived and were filled again with constant new arrivals of migrants in the city. However, they remained “Unauthorized”, a critical status which makes the inhabitants undesirable in the “worldclass city” Delhi is trying to become. Since 1990, more than 100 000 homes were destroyed by bulldozers on the Yamuna banks. More than 80 % of the people were were left homeless and without future housing solutions. The remaining 20% were sent to legal camps outside the city away from public transportation and employment, and often in worse living conditions than before. Nowadays the future of this neighborhood remains uncertain and fragile. The inhabitants have been living in this place for several generations, producing a rich, dense urbanism in contrast with the colonial New-Delhi of Lutyens or the current luxury real estate complexes, mostly built for upper class citizens. The process of building is based on the terrain, the peoples needs, their economical possibilities, and their ability to build with found materials also their cultural beliefs. The settlement is in contact with the oldest cremation ghat of the city. The inhabitants developed a strong economical relationship with the Yamuna. They cultivate ceremonial flowers, propose boat tours on the river, and manage all aspects of local agriculture and livestock on the opposite bank of the Yamuna. Blocked in this illegal and precarious situation, the slum has been separated from the rest of the city by high walls and fences, enhancing community isolation.

The current state of the Yamuna in Delhi has undergone a recurring depreciation process since the second part of the 20th century until now. Often described as “Biologically dead”, this stretch in Delhi is one of the most polluted water bodies in the world. The incredible urbanization of Delhi has also diminished the strong relation that existed between the inhabitants and their land. The former floodplain is primarily used as a site for waste landfill, and no longer has any physical presence except during the devastating floods. The main victims of this natural disaster are amongst the poorest inhabitants of Delhi. The Yamuna Pushta Colony is situated in the danger zone. Every year or two, the inhabitants are forced to leave during the monsoon flood. Afterwards they return and start cleaning and rebuilding what was damaged.

The adaptation to the risk of flood is visible in the architecture. Public spaces and first floors are used intensely during the dry season, and important things can be quickly moved to flat roof tops while the family lives on the second floor. Ladders and stairs, interconnected high floors, and roof tops are the sign of cultural resilience to risk.

The Concept

The project aims to use the recurring flood risk as a tool to build a more equitable city. It focuses on the transformation process of community areas, and the way public spaces can be adapted to the flood and the peoples needs. The question of the flood is political and can only be resolved at the city level. First, we propose an overarching city-wide plan. It maps the potential places of transformation in association with the existing settlements along the river in order to develop a model of co-management. Giving the opportunity for people to act on the land represents an alternative to relocation. The larger vision aims at empowering citizens, especially the slum inhabitants.

In this scenario, the city of Delhi would purchase the land required for the creation of the flood infrastructure. It would also take care of the large constructions and its management in case of emergency. At the local level, the community of citizens and inhabitants would be responsible for decisions about how to use the land.

On an intermediate scale between the city and the slum, we intend to more accurately map the area, which will allow allocation of different sites for the specific purposes, as well as allow planning for other aspects of such as beautification, local infrastructure, and ecological renewal of the Yamuna banks.

In the third phase, our focus shifts to integrating the flood infrastructure in the Yamuna Pushta slum. Which type of new public spaces could result from the risk? The proposal is to transform the undeveloped part of the slum to build a system of low lying public spaces that can adapt to the monsoon season.

The design is based on two main elements: Monsoon channels and reservoirs. Channels are dug in the slum so as to let the monsoon flood flow freely. Around those channels, small vegetation filters collect the domestic water before releasing it into the river. During the dry season, those spaces remain above the level of the river. They can be occupied freely by the inhabitants.

The reservoirs are harvesting points for rain and floodwater. They are based on the system of traditional village ponds in northern India. The design and the use of the reservoirs can be very diverse. Mostly dry during the year, they can be used as recreational spaces, gardens, small farming areas, flood adapted woodland, water collection points, working spaces, but also as places for collective gatherings.

During the monsoon, the reservoirs are partially filled with water, but are still accessible and usable. During an emergency flood alert they work as a network of spaces which absorb the river flow and prevent major destruction in the city.

Conclusion

The project intends to demonstrate that it is possible to combine city development and infrastructure needs with previously overlooked requirements of riverbank settlements. To do so, it is necessary to recognize the value of riverbank settlements, and transform them to promote unperturbed habitation, even in the face of recurring floods. In redeveloping several aspects of the slum to make it more resistant to flooding, we intend on improving the quality of life for local residents and promote a model of community ownership of the Yamuna river.

About the entrant

Adèle Hopquin is a French landscape architect graduated from the Ecole Nationale Supérieure du Paysage de Versailles. She also holds the European Master in Landscape Architecture (Emila) for which she studied abroad at the Edinburgh College of Art and at Leibniz University in Hannover. For her graduation project, she went to India where she focused on the topic of Indian rivers in megalopolises.

Afterwards, she moved to Germany to work as a landscape architect in an environmental planning agency in which she mostly carried out projects dealing with water management in Germany and China.

Involved in the issue of sustainability, she would like to use her skills in the future to develop water-related projects in India.