Cyber-Urban Environmental and Heritage Revitalization Communities and Movements in the Kathmandu Valley
Nepal, one of poorest nations in Asia, a hub of development institutions and activities, and a testing ground of development-branded projects and lifestyles since the last third of the 20th Century, has also become one of its most socially progressive and least restrictive in online communication, and, arguably, on the ground activism. However, its rapid urbanization , brought about by lack of economic opportunities, land capture, warfare, and destruction in rural areas, has caused a strain on the limited resources of its capital, Kathmandu, population 1,740,977 (National Population Census, 2011), resulting in its listing as one of the planet’s least livable cities (127th out of 140, Businessweek, 2012).
Responses to the negative environmental effects of urbanization in Kathmandu engage social media platforms using a combination of textual, photographic, and video appeals to mobilize members of online communities to act, both within cyberspace and in physical Kathmandu, to protect and revitalize the Kathmandu Valley’s natural, cultural, and built heritage and environment. This research will analyze the conservation strategies employed by individuals and organizations concerned with heritage preservation and environmentalism. It will investigate how their narratives of community, nature, nostalgia, and urban decay and renewal are expressed on social media platforms. This study particularly seeks to examine how these textual and visual cyber communications translate into community mobilization in the physical environment, as well as how community involvement in heritage preservation and environmentalism is portrayed in online communities and the resultant implications for understanding and strengthening community engagement in future heritage conservation and environmentalist efforts.
The research will explore how and to what extent these initiatives’ narratives place themselves as part of global, environmentalist urban revitalization and heritage preservation efforts and analyze the mutually influential quality of their discourses in cyberspace and street space. It will reveal how activists’ social media use impacts their in-country and diasporic online audiences as well as their own conceptions of their demi-urban spaces, semi-cyber places, and virtually global, practically local scopes of activism. In addition, the study considers the influence of the online practices of crowd-funding and crowd-voting in shaping offline behaviors.
Theories of narrative and dramaturgical communication and development approaches that are DIY and/or “hacked”, and their connection to the participatory approach, are used to examine the increasing prevalence of cyber-urban heritage preservation and environmentalism among young, middle-class, “new” Nepalis. In-depth, semi-structured qualitative interviews of individual activists and case studies of grassroots organizations and their initiatives are the method of inquiry. Collaborations between artists, environmentalists, and social workers, and partnerships involving non-profit organizations and social entrepreneurs are of particular interest. Additionally, the notions of sustainability and livability and their links to activists’ self-professed identities and activist groups’ explicit visions are interrogated.
Findings reveal a reconceptualization of communication for development and re-imagined practices of participation among individual Nepali heritage and environmental conservation activists, their global and local supporters, and in-country and diasporic groups advocating for social change in contemporary, republican Nepal.
1The World Bank report Nepal’s Urban Growth and Spatial Transition: An Initial Assessment (2012) summarizes Nepal as continuing to be the fastest urbanizing (yet least urbanized) nation in South Asia. Nepal’s urbanization rate is 4.7 per cent (Index Mundi, 2012).
Keywords: heritage, environmentalism, cyber-urbanism, urban renewal, social media, Kathmandu, Nepal