I spent Christmas day cycling through Virar, along a transect that connects the city core to its rural hinterlands. Virar is a city part of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) located about 40 kilometers from the City’s municipal boundary in the north western part of the region. I took off for a first field visit to document a landscape in transition as part of a new project investigating the impacts of climate change on the livelihoods of peri urban communities in coastal Indian cities. Starting from the City center about 3 kilometers from the railway station, we cycled through Bolinj where a series of new developments are seen sprouting in the midst of a terrain of marshes and old lakes.
In Bolinj one could clearly see the impacts of rampant urbanization, unplanned and adhoc concretization of a fragile ecology. Along the transect we arrived at a stretch of about 800m of barren land that sits between Bolinj and Nandakhal, as an interstitial space that is home to the Adivasi (tribal) communities that live in Virar. There are many such pockets of seemingly informal housing within a landscape of old rural settlements and an emergent urban landscape; anecdotal evidence suggests that labour for the city is sourced from these settlements.
As we cycled along through Nandakhal, a rich agricultural urban village with formal bungalow housing adjacent to plotted agriculture land. We zipped across lush green plantations of fruits and flowers, large village lakes, the village panchayat building, and the community church, across Nandakhal and Saphale until we arrived at the coastal edge of the Rajodi beach.
From Rajodi we followed the east-west transect to Arnala, where the agricultural landscape transformed slowly into old heritage buildings at the Agashe village, until we reached the Arnala fishing village. Here the fish auction center, an empty shed building is the center of the village. Commercial establishments and self-redeveloped buildings sit amidst older heritage buildings of the village. The fish auction center remains barren through the first half of the day, but transforms into a busy market space after 4pm when fishermen return with their catch for day. Discussing food production, communities and settlements in a transitioning landscape, cycles of migration, and the interdependencies of labour and livelihoods, we culminated day back in the urban core.
This project is sited at the intersection of climate change, peri-urban development and regional planning, to understand the complex nature of building resilience and addressing uncertainties in climate within a dynamic and transitioning landscape. How can one address the idea of protection and security within a transient community of people entrenched in a cycle of poverty? What then is the role of urbanization in these transient landscapes where displacement of people, places, livelihoods and ecologies has not been an anomaly?
I wanted to open this space up for sharing ideas/ references/ thoughts of similar work being carried out in urban and peri urban areas of other cities and countries, as we move into yet another year of struggles to combat an uncertain and changing climate.