A Search for Commons in the Pressure of Growing Cities

This blog is the first part of a trilogy about a village, its residents, and the ruins of a chapel. The Charles Correa Foundation has been actively involved in assisting the villagers in their project, and our combined efforts have recently yielded positive results. You can read about it on the news section of our website or Aliya Abreu’s article in the Goan Everyday.

As in most of urban India, Goa too is presently undergoing a transformation – large scale development projects are visible everywhere and the older rural and urban fabric is being frayed and reformed in the process. One construct that has transferred well from the past to the present is that of the commons. This is evidenced in the way planners and architects often envision cities. They allocate and provide tracts of land designated into public open spaces. Ebenezer Howard (1898 ) introduced the concept to create commons while planning built space. This may account for the quiet acceptance within select urban townships of a balance around built structures and open spaces. 

Townships and built complexes are one thing, existing villages are another. But what of the in-between? The spaces between urban and rural are fast disappearing and how do we find commons for communities as a whole? Jan Gehl (2008)  says, “Cultures and climates differ all over the world, but people are the same. They will gather in public if you give them a good place to do it.” We have to pause and consider spaces outside the built landscape or rather think about the commons for settlements and spaces in between urban and rural. 

Let us take the case of a village called Chimbel in Goa. Chimbel is a settlement situated five kilometres from Panjim, the capital of Goa, south of the Mandovi river. The original settlement of “old Chimbel” pre-dates Portuguese occupation in Goa. 

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Map showing estimated boundaries of the villages in between Old Goa and Panaji in the 18th Century.

Chimbel in the throes of development

Villages like Chimbel, Panelim, Ribandar, Santa Cruz and Merces (en route to Panjim city) became important as the residences of administrators and builders of the Portuguese capital of Panjim in the 18th century. It must be noted that the shift of the capital from Old Goa to Panjim took almost 70 years to be completed enabling the growth of these villages.

Over the next two centuries, Chimbel continued to function as a satellite of Panjim. The old village presently has around 6000 residents and the settlement area is spread over 4,20,000 square meters.


Chimbel Old Village
Source: URBZ: https://www.flickr.com/photos/urbzoo/32023556550/in/photostream/

In the early 1980s, the government acquired and allotted 66,000 square metres of land (named Indiranagar) on the fringe of Chimbel to settle a large number of migrants who had been called in, to work on development projects like the Mandovi bridge and infrastructure for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). 

The settlement of Indiranagar now hosts more than half of the 17,000 residents of Chimbel, in tiny dwelling units with struggling services and an absence of an open space.

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A lane in Indiranagar
Source: URBZ: https://www.flickr.com/photos/urbzoo/32023556550/in/photostream/

The recently completed Panjim-Old Goa expressway on the plateau, just a couple of kilometres uphill from the village, has led to a series of luxury gated colonies and expanded vehicular use. This comes from the fact that despite Goa is India’s smallest state, the coastal landscape and unique cultural identity has made it a major tourist destination for most Indians, and a retirement or second home aspiration for those who can afford it. This has led to rampant development of real estate, mostly hospitality and second homes.

This situation presently leaves the state and it’s locals in an awkward position for there are almost three ‘visitors’ to the state to every local. 

Row villas

Serenity row villas, just uphill from Chimbel village.
Source: http://www.classifiedsgoa.com/serenity-avenue-luxury-villas-kadamba-plateau—goa-id-6603

So, what one now sees in Chimbel is three distinct housing situations: The gated colonies, the original village and Indiranagar; marked by inequity based on social class and identity. This inequity compounds itself when it comes to open space: in Indiranagar there is no space for an open area, children play in the gullies; there are no public benches or public spaces in the old village. Yet, in some of the gated communities, each villa has its own pool!

                     Old Chimbel Grain        Indiranagar Grain       Gated Community Grain
Source: Google Earth

Triangulating the present Chimbel context and surrounding areas 

We are now presented with a context that has three settlements. Each defined by a specific social and economic background, each with a distinct grain and hard access boundaries between them. 

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Diagram showing the boundaries and inequality between the three housing situations in Chimbel.

In governance of Chimbel this complex situation is treated unidimensionally. There is a single Panchayat whose representatives are predominantly from the ‘‘old village’’ who must take into account the needs of distinctly diverse populations and habitats. Within this ‘‘unified’’ space of Chimbel the matter of the commons must be considered. Space allocation is impossible in the traditional (Howardian) imagination; especially with such heavy pressures of development. This leaves the village of Chimbel searching for a common space. In a  difficult situation like this, how and where could such a space be found?  

Stay tuned for the next two installments on Chimbel, you can get updates: either on social media or subscribe to our mailing list here.


Further Reading:

Ebenezer Howard
Howard, E. “Garden Cities of To-Morrow” Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd, 1902


Jan Gehl
Gehl, J. “Cities for People” Island Press, 2010
Walljasper, J. “The Rise and Fall and Rise of Great Public Open Spaces” 

Developmental Pressures on Chimbel
IT Park
Times of India editorial on Indiranagar

URBZ Blog on Indiranagar Settlement

Cover image by Dennis FigueIredo


A forum for citizens to understand and discuss the city.


“In this dependence on maps as some sort of higher reality, project planners and urban designers assume they can create a promenade simply by mapping one in where they want it, then having it built. But a promenade needs promenaders.”

-Jacobs, J. ‘The Life and Death of Great American Cities’ (1961)


Throughout our architectural education and our professional life we as architects live and strive to make space better. We toil to design buildings, spaces and systems that people should use in a certain way to improve their quality of life. This top-down approach has led to many city-centric designs that are effective on paper but often fail in the eyes of the public. A part of the problem is that the design community has fallen into a rut of “the people should…” instead of trying to understand what it is that the people actually do.

Good City is an experiment through dialogue; in the city, with citizens, and stakeholders. It aims to undertake participatory exercises with citizens and bridge the gap between designers, government and citizens. The forum may serve as a platform to mediate between development and conservation, public projects and private interest, all in the vision of a better city for us all.


Good City Meet 1 – Bookworm Library, Mala, Panaji

The first meeting brought together people of various backgrounds—a pharmacist, an artist, designers, architects and a policy strategist. Held in Bookworm library on a Sunday, the 5th of May 2019, the meet provided a platform for participants to vocally express what the city meant to them, and what this group can do as a collective to better understand the city. Short-term and long-term goals were envisioned, one of which is representing ideas on a ‘good’ city through visual media: photography, videography, drawings and writing.

Meet 2 02

Good City Meet 2 – Charles Correa Foundation, Fontainhas, Panaji

The second meet was held at the Charles Correa Foundation, on a Friday, the 10th of May 2019. Participants discussed the Foundation’s photoblog titled, ‘Late-Night Stroll, Anyone? Assessing Safety in Panaji’s Streets’. In the photoblog, the CCF team approached the dimension of safety in Panaji’s streets through the concepts written by urbanist Jane Jacobs in her famous book ‘The Death and Life of Great American Cities’. This prompted the discussion of urban theories postulated by Jane Jacobs, and their relevance based on citizens’ observations in Panaji and Mapusa.

A key takeaway was the need for engagement with diverse sections of the public in order to understand a holistic perception of good urban space.


Good City Event – Jardim, Garcia D’Orta, Panaji

The third meet took the form of a social experiment, based on a suggestion to talk to citizens in the Municipal Garden. On 11th May, a children’s event prompted a large turnout which was ideal for a mood-mapping exercise with children and their parents. Using a colour-coded system ranging from Green (very positive response to a space) to Pink (very negative response to a place), participants of the exercise responded to spaces in the vicinity by placing Post-Its on a map of the area.


Good City Event – Jardim, Garcia D’Orta, Panaji

With at least 40 children and 20 adults participating in the exercise, a significant amount of data was gathered, including the ages of the participants and their reasons for liking or disliking the spaces. The next step is to repeat the exercise with larger sections of people and analyse the assimilated data.

What do you think makes a ‘good’ city? Comment below or write to us of your thoughts, ideas and experiences of similar initiatives!

The Good City Citizens Forum happens weekly in Goa.  It is publicized in most newspapers; you can join our discourse in person or follow our progress online, either on social media or subscribe to our mailing list here.


Further Reading:

CCF Blog

‘Late-Night Stroll, Anyone? Assessing Safety in Panaji’s Streets’

Participatory exercise with children in U.S.A.  https://www.dailycamera.com/2019/04/29/growing-up-boulder-collaborates-with-700-elementary-students-on-city-map/