Najmunnisa Khan works with Community Design Agency as a Community Partner. A resident of Natwar Parekh Colony, this is her account of a public space intervention in the neighbourhood which transformed a neglected space into a vibrant common area through a youth-led initiative. Some of the photographs above are from her phone camera, including a couple from the window of her home.

Grappling with the lack of space

In January 2020, we had initiated discussions with the young boys and girls of Natwar Parekh Colony (NPC) to engage them in a creative initiative related to space. As one of the 25,000 residents living in cramped conditions here, I am privy to the issue of lack of outdoor leisure spaces for the residents. What stood out in our discussions was that the girls were hardly ever permitted to step out of their homes and use even the limited common spaces available in the colony. Nor did they feel safe in certain areas. Covid made the lack of outdoor spaces even more prominent for us when, during the first few months of complete lockdown, all us residents were confined to our tiny apartments.

Kickstarting with renewed energy

When we resumed work in 2021, the same group of youngsters were incredibly enthusiastic and reached out to us to create vibrant common spaces in the colony, so that the residents could finally enjoy the outdoors. They even came up with a name for themselves – Young Sangathan (Young Collective), and we decided to build on this energy and create one social space with their help to begin with. Along with the designers and artists from CDA, they scouted for possible areas to renovate in the colony, and ended up choosing a space outside my building.

I often look at this space at different times of the day from my window. Initially, during the day, I would see children and young boys playing or chit chatting there. But at night, when it would be pitch dark, drug addicts and peddlers would take over and render it unfit for anyone else to use. A blank wall in that area became their canvas, and the Young Sangathan decided to paint a mural there and beautify the space with the CDA team. Children brought out their speakers to play music and created a fun atmosphere, as the design was painted on the wall with everyone’s help. When I looked out of my window the day it was ready, I could hardly recognise the space! The mural, along with benches and potted plants, had completely transformed that area.

A space for everyone

It’s been over 5 months since the space was inaugurated, and irrespective of which time of the day I look out of my window now, the place is always bustling with activity. Sometimes I find children taking selfies in front of the mural or recording videos, or late in the evening some of the older residents sit on the benches under the newly installed lights. Initially there were some skeptics who felt that beautifying the space would encourage the drug addicts to further throng this area. But ever since the lights were put up and residents began occupying the space frequently, not only were the addicts deterred from coming there but I noticed that the girls and women felt comfortable enough to come out in large numbers. During the second lockdown, some of the residents working from home would sit with their laptops and work from there. It really warms my heart to see that space occupied at all times.

Women in my building approached me soon after, asking if we could create more such spaces around the building so that they and their daughters could come out more often. The mothers also felt at peace knowing that they could sit and watch over their children as they played outside. With the help of Young Sangathan and the CDA team, we are planning to create more such spaces in the colony, and create a beautiful and powerful example out of NPC for all low income housing neighbourhoods.