Community Mapping – Tool to fight Urban Poché

By: Nidhi Singh nee Batra, Senior Programme Officer, PRIA

Indian cities are in a state of flux, everyday transformations aiming towards plastering the cities for a global imageability, as well as the increasing need of urbanity, as a factor of livelihood, have resulted in hidden polarities in most cities. Some cities such as Mumbai, due to its density and need, have developed a spirit of adjustment and co-existence of this polarity, in the sense of its bare naked visibility, all the time. Delhi on the other hand has greater complexes. On one hand where Mumbai acts as a sponge, Delhi acts as an organism with psychological complexes. Such dichotomy has resulted in Delhi the phenomenon of an unknown apartheid. This urban apartheid is so well hidden in not just the planning moves, built fabric but also in the urban mind, which imagines the city of Delhi now in its new role playing of a global world class city. The fact that there exists a Delhi Within, articulates the twin, rather split personality of this organism. This Delhi within, is more often than not, neither mapped or planned, forming parcels of the Terra Incognitai1. This City Within the City is reality of most of our Indian Cities at present.

 One needs to therefore begin at recognition of this interiority in the external perception of the city, which has resulted in a technique and a habit of poché. Poché emerges as a basic human tendency that perceives the world in terms of conceptual pairs: black and white, interior and exterior, solid and void, public and private, clean and dirty, moral and immoral, and so on. Tendency also remains to enforce an order to the urban poché, since the hidden often has an intrinsic mystery, fear of the unknown, to the outside. Most of our cities, our municipalities do not even have a valid list of urban slums, leave together a correct map through would reflect about their living conditions. Our city plans often leave slum areas as black blobs with no details, not even roads and footpaths to recognize their physical existence. As a result, these settlements are out of the ‘public memory’ and vulnerable of being wiped out of our city maps completely.

 But, the approach should not be to ‘expose’ the interior urbanity for the exterior shell, but rather to form unconditional relationships and interaction between the two, wherein the recognition of each other existence is present, as well as appropriate unthreatened interaction is encouraged. It is a method of an inclusive relationship. This inclusivity is not to blur boundaries and differences, but to celebrate the same by both realities.

 ‘Writing’, according to Derrida, has always been assumed as a sophisticated form of communication: a derivative of speech and thought and an instrument for its dissemination. Similar is for mapping. Cognitive mapping of areas/precincts reveal the hidden dichotomy in urban morphologies of the city, with terra incognita in blackened blobs, with no relevance and memory. The need as I hypothesize here is to re-vision by a tool that would forms an accessible, visible, responsive continuum between the interior/ poché and the exterior. This tool of re-appropriating is directed towards, Anamorphosis of Terra Incognita 2 .

Map Kibera is a local youth map of informal settlements in Nairobi, Kenya. It raises awareness about the scope and scale of the urban poor’s living conditions, in addition to improving the figurative visibility. This mapping exercise is an effort to locate and count the population living in these areas and also map the lack of basic services in these settlements. For more information see


SPARC and PRIA in the month of November initiated a similar drive of mapping, led by the community in the slums of Raipur and Patna. Members of Mahila Milan and National Slum Dwellers Foundation reached out to the slum dwellers, with their own experience and shared the benefits of mapping. Community got engaged in drawing a map of their locality, they numbered each house and marked the existing services. This map is the first source of power and strength that the community has created by themselves, towards upgradaing their own locality. PRIA is now initiating community led slum redevelopment projects in one slum of Raipur and one slum of Bihar, using similar techniques as exhibited by Mahila Milan and NSDF members.ImageImage

 Community Map- Slums of Raipur- Nov 2011

 The hypothesis is also in the contention of anamorphosis of the un-used, un-mapped, redundant, latent urban resources, lies in belief that the essentiality calls for a perception of areas, acknowledging the interior and exterior urbanity of every locale. This acknowledgment of each resource/area of a city, to have its own intrinsic value and power of place, can permit the need for co-existence and enjoyment of different spatialities. It is their recognition, in the technique of mapping which can help in understanding this City Within, that most often than not gets marking impressions as blobs of waste lands in our urban maps. To explore how this tool of re-visioning and re-perceiving a precinct can guide the process of giving a cognizance to the darkened interiority, and reinstating its linkages to the urban humdrum

 1 Terra incognita (Latin “unknown land,” with incognita stressed on its second syllable in Latin, but with variation in pronunciation in English) is a term used in cartography for regions that have not been mapped or documented 2 Anamorphosis is a distorted projection or perspective requiring the viewer to use special devices or occupy a specific vantage point to reconstitute the image. “Ana – morphosis” comes from the Greek words meaning “formed again.”


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