Cultural Landscapes and Coastal Commons: Thesis

  • Coastal commons that lie at the interface of land and sea, are of immense significance to fishing communities (Dakshin Foundation, 2009), who have over centuries evolved a deep connection to the landscape, fostering their own unique socio-cultural practices, which oversee and manage the coastal resources. This is also a highly contested public space subject to privatization. Insufficient data on the values of fishing landscapes beyond capital gains, exacerbates the vulnerability of these communities in addition to weak enforcement of policies and a lack of comprehensive management of coastal commons. Cultural landscape (CL) is an adaptation between cultural and ecological values, the quality and function of which have been reconciled by the interrelation between humans and nature (World Heritage Convention, 1992). 
  • Kottivakkam Kuppam in Chennai,Tamil Nadu is located in CRZ II area and falls under the jurisdiction of Chennai Metropolitan Authority. The fishing community is occupying 5.4 ha area for housing, fishing and for other purposes. There are 409 households with a total population of 1507*(as of 2018).. The NCSCM prepared a case study of Kottivakkam Kuppam as part of the documentation of micro-planning guidelines in coastal villages. (See Map Above) 
  • Mr.K Saravanan, a fisherman and currently a Coordinator with Coastal Resource Center, Chennai, started using GIS maps to map the land use of commons in an attempt to exhibit to the local government the value of their commons. This is also the inspiration for my study
  • As part of the documentation of history, I also recorded oral accounts of the past, present and future of the fishing hamlet in the form of stories and landscape memories.
  • "Jayakumar, Resident of Kottivakkam Kuppam and Fisherman  "Educated people are there but there are no jobs for them, so they continue to do this fishing work, however at present fish catch and earnings are very poor. The government recently introduced new type of net which many of us don't have, and this prevents the fish from coming further towards the land are caught in deeper ocean." We then touched on the aspect of the 45 day fishing ban and how there have been no efforts to create alternative income during those times.
  • Village elders talk to us about the history of their landscape and how they deal with natural disasters such as cyclone and where they take refuge during disasters. nearby schools often become shelters during disasters and the boats are parked with the moat.
  • What if we could have a comprehensive management starting from the local level using the principles of Cultural Landscape Management applied to the cosatal commons. This would involve transfer of leadership to the community and create sustainable livelihood opportunities while capturing the value of these landscapes to the planning authorities and the beach goers.
  • In this paper, I document previously unrecorded accounts, practices and physical markers for a CL values assessment, using a combination of interviews and participatory methods in Kottivakkam Kuppam fishing hamlet, in Chennai, the capital of Tamil Nadu. Drawing inspiration from Ostrom’s CPR framework (1990), I recommend redefining the fishing hamlet as Cultural Landscapes, and integrate traditional knowledge to locally manage coastal commons using the CL framework. By documenting the socio-spatial interactions, the paper concludes that adopting such a framework not only safeguards the ecosystem but also encourages governments and visitors to engage with the landscape in a responsible manner. Recommendations include participatory tools, governance and sustainable livelihood models and programming components to address the complex challenges of coastal communities in Indian cities where livelihood spaces lock horns with elitist views of ‘beach beautification’ and ‘development’. ​​​​​​​
  • ‘Commons need communities to retain their identity and integrity. Where the community has receded, the government and private sector step in, and the commons have either shrunk or been lost to notions of worth dictated by capital and the markets.’  (Kumar et al,. 2014, ICCA Consortium)
  • My PAR method included a visioning session with children from 5-14 years. The age group I was not able to have a larger visioning session with was adolescents. Their drawings revealed many ideas about their values and spatial programs that can be incorporated. The drawings and interactions also revealed a high level of environmental awareness and inclination.
  • Top: Informal spaces for medical check-up, women playing, and children playing. Bottom:Community, Ecology, Livelihood, Recreation and Sacred spaces in Kottivakkam Kuppam.
  • Summary of informal conversations, transect walks, photo voice and visioning drawings with men, women and children.
  • Recommendations focussed on Livelihoods and spaces that can enhance and support livelihood and also provide spaces of recreation and resource for younger children, women, and particularly girls. These should also address interconnected issues related to coastal commons (right).