On the edge of God’s own country, Fort Kochi, is a spot preserved in time. ThanalKoottu or My Fort Kochi is an attempt to revitalize the public spaces to foster more calm and creativity.
WORDS BY- AMOG
Enter Fort Kochi and you will be instantly transported to a different era. This place is steeped in the history and culture of all who have occupied it through the ages.
Its roots and essence are unique in its diversity. Although let the name not fool you, Fort Kochi is neither a walled city nor does it have a fort of its own.
A charming seaside area, Fort Kochi is known for its Dutch, Portuguese, and British colonial architecture, and elaborate bamboo fishing nets at Fort Kochi Beach. St. Francis Church was the original burial site of explorer Vasco da Gama.
Upscale eateries and chic cafes serve Keralan specialties, and quaint shops sell cotton clothing and handmade souvenirs. And a simple walk around the area will reveal heritage buildings housing contemporary art galleries.
But over the years a few things have changed. Public spaces and parks in Kochi are far and fewer than before. They are either timed, ticketed and barricaded or encroached upon by parking and illegal commercial activity. Citizens in the city have limited choice of public spaces and common greens to unwind and they often rely on malls and multiplexes for their recreation thanks to the lack of accessible public spaces.
My Fort Kochi – ThanalKoottu’, was a people-led one-day event held in May last year and it aimed at revitalising Fort Kochi’s Vasco da Gama Square, into a vibrant people-oriented activity space. The square comprised of illegal parking and street vendors which paved way in losing the historic identity of the square.
The scope of the project included replacing parking with innovative public spaces and activities, to transform the area into the epicentre of fun-filled activities for the public.
The event was organised by WRI India with the support from KMEA College of Architecture, Aluva.
ThanalKoottu was a temporary, pilot event that would serve as a testing ground for the creative use of space. This would be helpful in creating a permanent infrastructure for effective public spaces in the city.
The ThanalKoottu event kickstarted with locals and tourists of all age groups, participating in a range of activities organized across different zones in the Vasco da Gama square. While kids enjoyed the life-sized games like snakes and ladder, and other board games that belong on boards but brought to life on a large scale at The Vasco da Gama square. And then there were open table tennis, badminton, and other sports activities organized by Decathlon for grown ups who wanted to get in touch with their childhood. The installations served as interaction areas and of course, selfie spots. The people behind this revitalization understood that people of Kochi need a place to walk, cycle and just be.
The recreated public space was complimented with a series of activities like heritage walking and cycling tours, conversations with city representatives, interactive board activities about Fort Kochi, a treasure hunt, games, competitions, soccer and frisbee, performances and cleanliness drive. The area was divided into 4 zones – the stage, the triangle, the arena and beach. The major challenge was to replace illegal parking with usable public space. They installed temporary barricades at the 3 main entrances to the square and providing designated pocket parking spaces outside the site.
The ‘Thanalkoottu’ project demonstrated that a Tactical Urbanism process is the first step towards creation of Heritage DPR for Fort Kochi area. The project has the potential to be scaled up in two ways. First, by setting up a process to demonstrate Tactical Urbanism process in other public spaces in Fort Kochi and Ernakulam. And by adopting the learnings from the Tactical Urbanism process and developing a permanent intervention for the public spaces.
The people of Kochi, tourists and travellers alike love Fort Kochi. And a lot of that old world charm is coming back to the area. So yes, don’t be surprised if on your next trip, the local kids pull you off your breakfast table to join them for a game of hopscotch.