Nicola Dempsey visits India to investigate challenges facing urban rivers

The Sabarmati Riverfront – a landscape dominated by concrete and shade is scarce.

Dr Nicola Dempsey, lead researcher in the Department of Landscape’s Place-keeping Group has recently returned from India, where she has been collaborating with CEPT University, Ahmedabad on a research network designed to deepen our understanding of the river in urbanising India.

The network, Reflecting on the river: rapid urbanisation and representations of Indian cultural heritage, which is jointly funded by the AHRC and Indian funder ICHR, aims to focus international expertise on the challenges facing urban rivers in India and abroad; challenges from climate change, such as flooding, drought and associated health risks as well as rapidly rising population, putting intense pressure on existing infrastructure.

Nicola has worked with partners from CEPT’s Faculty of Management and Research Associate Claudia Martinez, to examine the Sabarmati River in Ahmedabad, one of India’s ‘megacities’.

With its ongoing riverfront regeneration, the Sabarmati is a controversial case study, which involved the forced relocation of slum dwellers and is underpinned by a design, which lacks any meaningful ecological credentials. Within this context, the research team looked in detail at the use, abuse, memories and perceptions of the Sabarmati River, in the past and today.

The team conducted on-site interviews with users, displaced workers and residents, temple representatives, heritage experts and the municipal authority. Project co-investigator, Professor Manvita Baradi introduced a seminar held at CEPT University discussing the different ‘stories’ around the Sabarmati River, with contributions from NGOs, the Riverfront’s designer and landscape architects.

The Indian artist Rajesh Sagara paints his interpretation of the Sabarmati River

The team also hosted a public event, attended by hundreds of people, celebrating artistic interpretations of the river at the Riverfront Park on the banks of the Sabarmati. Fine artist Rajesh Sagara simultaneously interpreted performance art – poetry, theatre, music and dance – through live painting.

Nicola said: “this has been a fantastic opportunity to develop research links with Indian colleagues on issues that affect all our cities. Collaborating with Manvita, Mercy and the CEPT team has added real depth and richness to our understanding of the challenges facing urban rivers in India and elsewhere.”

The project continues and there will be a seminar held in Sheffield on Thursday 9 June. For more details on the project or if you would like to attend the June seminar, see www.place-keeping.org or contact Nicola directly.