Social Rules and Uses in Public Spaces in Kathmandu
How do people use public spaces in big cities in Nepal? The capital city, Kathmandu, has grown very fast since the eightees. Since 2010, a big program of widening of roads has changed the urban scape. In 2015, whereas the works were in progress, two big earthquakes destroyed houses, infrastructures and heritage. In April and May 2015, the two earthquakes of more than 7,8 on Richter scale destroyed a big part of the UNESCO world heritage sites (almost 80% of some sites). In this difficult period, Nepalese are demonstrating a tremendous resilience despite the situation is getting worse since the blockage of supplies coming from the indian border.
This contribution propose to give a new lighting on urban sociology in Nepal in a globalised context. Through an ethnographic description of the appropriation of public spaces by citizens (for instance during strikes in Kathmandu), or through the analysis of big roads projects, our ambition is to answer to the question « how to conciliate the model of the city as a living place with the model of the city as an economic center ? ». This research has been conduced using ethnographic methods as participant observation or undertaking interviews. The theories currently used are based on urban sociology, the branch of sociology that tries to understand the interactions and transformations of the different kinds of society organisations and the forms of urban planning.
Kathmandou is a very shifting city. The rural exodus, the needed urbanisation due to demographic explosion, the growth of economic liberalism and global exchanges, the rapidity with which the infrastructures can be destroyed (to wide the roads or by earthquakes), all this leads a new kind of understanding of « the nepalese urban life ».
To understand the social rules and uses in public spaces in Katmandu, an analysis of two examples will be provided. First, through the analysis of several road projects, we will understand how citizens perceived them as invaded by the state, when some distances of wall to be destroyed were written on their houses. Secondly, we will see how people appropriated the public spaces just after the earthquakes, to find a secure place to stay during the time to check if their houses are safe.
The successive destructions of the environment of Nepalese in Kathmandu lead to some adjustments in the way of appropriating spaces. The caste system, the ethnicity, or the kinship still play a very important role in the social scene that the street is ; but the everyday lives in Kathmandu has changed the society, thanks to an adjustement of the populations to the economic modernity.