A blueprint for the heart of the cityWednesday, August 18, Kathmandu. Some 200 people from 110 households had gathered with a common application at the Kathmandu Metropolitan City office on Exhibition Road.
Wednesday, August 18, Kathmandu. Some 200 people from 110 households had gathered with a common application at the Kathmandu Metropolitan City office on Exhibition Road. They wanted the municipality to rebuild their traditional homes, in the heart of Kathmandu; their homes, already creaking with age, were further destroyed by the recent earthquakes, many want the government to help them build what they call integrated housing blocks.
The people gathered were residents of wards 18, 26 and 27, and their neighbourhoods include Kilagal, Itumbaha and Suchika Galli, from the city’s core areas. Almost all of their houses have sustained severe structural damage, rendering them inhabitable. These buildings abut each other and are connected by a spiderweb of alleys, so pulling down any one of the houses will certainly affect the adjacent houses. The only hope that the residents have is that the KMC will take the lead in demolishing entire neighbourhoods and replace them with consolidated residential blocks.
If the blocks were to be built, the initiative would be a historic first for Nepal. The logic behind house pooling, where individual homeowners give up their houses and pool resources to construct large community dwellings, is that such designs offer economies of scale. The blocks’ residents will be provided living space of almost the same size as their previous homes, but by sharing the costs for building the outer walls, beams, partitions, staircases, plumbing, wiring, foundations and labour and equipment, they will be investing less than the usual amount for such undertakings on an individual scale. But these will not be communes like in communist regimes; despite living in a single large building, people will have their own separate spaces within. In essence, whole neighbourhoods would end up looking like colonies, but rather than their being enclosed within outer walled enclosures, the areas would still be public domains, with public roads and streets linking the buildings.
The idea has been internalised by many people living in the heart of Kathmandu, and they are thus jointly making the proposal for the integrated housing project. Last Tuesday, 52 households of Kilagal from KMC ward no 18 submitted their application along with homeownership certificates to KMC to urge the office to begin work in their neighbourhood as a pilot project. Residents of wards 26 and 27 have also united and there is talk of entire neighbourhoods, from wards 12 to 30 (the area between the Bishnumati River in the west; Jamal, Bhotahity, New Road Gate, Sundhara and Bhote Bahal in the east; Lalitpur in the south; and Khushibu, Chhetrapati and Bhimsensthan in the north) also willing to opt for house pooling.
Puspa Maharjan of Kilagal is one such person who is convinced that house pooling is the only way out for him. “My house has been completely destroyed, and I cannot rebuild it on my own,” he says. Integrated blocks are cheaper to build than stand-alone houses, and they are robust than the older houses they will replace; if the projects get implemented, the roads in the neighbourhoods will also get wider because there will be no need for many of the alleyways, he added. “It is a win-win.”
But there are also concerns in some quarters that the new settlements will not be able to incorporate cultural sensibilities into their design. The neighourbhoods house sattals and temples that have sat next to houses for centuries. Moreover, in Newari culture, processions during rituals such jatras, marriages and funeral processions and other rituals can only move along certain pre-set paths.
The locals are willing to compromise on some of these issues. They say that the facades of new buildings will be adorned with traditional Newari motifs, so that aesthetically at least, there will not be much changes. According to Macha Raja Maharjan, one of the leaders of the house-pooling campaign, new blocks can be designed by incorporating cultural and religious structures and because the people are desperate to rebuild their homes, many are thinking pragmatics over centuries-old norms. They have entrusted the KMC with the task of coming up with the design blueprints and the appropriate laws and regulations as the body sees fit.
The Chief and Executive Officer of the KMC Rudra Singh Tamang has declared his office’s full support for the house pooling project and pledged up to 20 percent of the funding costs. The KMC plans to invest around Rs 200 million for the project and is prepared to increase the amount up to Rs 2 billion if needed, Tamang had said in an earlier interview. In fact, the KMC has already allocated Rs 10 million in its budget for this fiscal year to conduct a detailed study of the project.
The first phase of the project, which is expected to start within a week, will see the forming of committees in the respective communities, with the representation of local political leaders. The KMC has also made arrangements with the National Society for Earthquake Technology, one of Nepal’s leading institutions working on earthquake risk management, to provide technical support for the project.
CEO Tamang has said the KMC will hold comprehensive discussions on the matter beginning next week. But he cautioned that fund crunch could be an impediment and the KMC will thus organise door-to-door campaigns that will help orient all the stakeholders on the project details.
Local leaders say that house pooling can also be done through a public-private-partnership model and the KMC hopes to attract foreign investment. Tamang has said that the project can be carried out by forming a company that will have homeowners and investors as shareholders. Integrated housing blocks will also provide plenty of business opportunities, as space not needed for housing units can be rented out, and the new neighbourhoods can also pull in tourists.
The representatives of the homeowners have also said they are even prepared to bear all rebuilding costs provided the KMC acts as a bank guarantor on their behalf for taking out reconstruction loans and if it takes care of building roads and installing utilities. The residents are also willing to put up elsewhere while their blocks are being constructed.
Tamang has said that the KMC will forward a concrete plan for the project to the Town Development Fund before Dashain. If the project starts immediately, the KMC has estimated that it should be complete in five years.