Socio-cultural and spatial metamorphosis : a study of public open spaces in traditional urban centre and sprawled area of Kathmandu Valley, Nepal
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This thesis investigates the socio-cultural and spatial transformations of public open spaces by comparing such changes in the public open spaces of the traditional urban centre (TUC) and the sprawled area (SA) of the Kathmandu Valley, individually and in respect to each other over time, particularly during the recent period of suburbanisation. The public spaces in the Valley not only shape the image of the Valley but also help maintain the quality of life that is associated with Nepalese society. The urban form of the Valley that exists today is the result of progressive growth in the traditional settlements over different historical periods: Lichhavi, Malla, and Rana. During each of these periods, particular forms of open space developed in the Valley linked to socio-cultural patterns. The low density spread after the Rana period developed into an unprecedented urban growth and expansion in the contemporary period. This thesis examines the extent to which this growth is introducing new meanings in the open spaces. Hence, a mixed methods approach is used that involves a five-phased systematic approach, including archival study, surveys (denominative, perceptive, photographic, and graphical), questionnaires, and interviews for the analysis of public open spaces and their transformations. For this purpose, three different types of open spaces based on different use functions were selected as the case study open spaces in TUC and SA that form part of a wider study. A comparative study of market squares, neighbourhood squares and community squares was carried out in each TUC and SA. Furthermore, the archival study and interviews were conducted with institutional bodies for the analysis of policies on urban growth and open spaces. The research shows that public open spaces in both TUC and SA are undergoing socio-cultural and spatial transformations. The mono-cultural spaces of the past have become multi-cultural spaces. The significances of the spaces in both cases are associated with meanings attached to the physical settings (such as places of religious, commercial, social, and others) and their use, linked to their respective sensory perceptions (visual, smell, and sound) and the patterns of activities. The open spaces in both TUC and SA have structures that were added in recent years due to needs of society. Commercialization seems to be the predominant change in terms of activity in most of the case study open spaces, not common in the past (except market squares). It is also found that the cultures associated with most of the open spaces are still being preserved. The change in user groups, physical changes, and uses have affected the users of public open spaces either positively, negatively or both in TUC and SA. The interviews with the users show that ethnic pluralism has a strong role in the sense of community in both cases. However, a stronger community attachment is found in the users of TUC than SA. Open spaces in TUC and SA are given low priority in relation to infrastructural development in the government institutions. No clear and concrete guidelines or strategies have yet been introduced for preservation or management of existing as well as development of new open spaces at any level of the government due to ambiguous policies, weak co-ordination among different levels of government, and weak institutional capacity. Therefore, this thesis recommends an integrated approach that includes participation of all levels of government, CBOs including local clubs, and private sector for preparing plans and policies for managing open spaces. The method developed in this thesis also gives an opportunity for further research to explore whether similar findings prevail in public open spaces of other SAs of the Kathmandu Valley.