Public space is increasingly recognised to be central to spatial discourse of cities. A city’s urbanism is displayed in public spaces, representing a myriad of complex socio-cultural, economic and democratic practices of everyday life. In cities of the Global South, especially those with nascent democracies, different values attached to a space by various actors – both material and symbolic – frame the contestation, making the physical space a normative instrument for contestation. Tundikhel, once believed to be the largest open space in Asia, is an important part of Kathmandu’s urbanism, which has witnessed two civil wars popularly known as Jana Andolans, and the subsequent political upheavals, to emerge as the symbolic meeting point of the city, democracy, and its people. The paper argues that the confluence of the three modalities of power – institutionalisation, militarisation and informalisation – has underpinned its historical transformation, resulting in what I call ‘urban rupturing’: a process of (un)making of public space, through physical and symbolic fragmentation and spatial estrangement. The paper argues that the current public space construct in Kathmandu must be seen as an entanglement of complex, multi-layered and multifaceted conditions, where conflicts come naturally into play, leading to contra- dictions and estrangement of spaces. The incidence of spatial rupturing has intensified during the political transformation from absolute monarchy to republicanism, signifying new forms of inequality in the public sphere and an affront to the democratic aspirations of the New Nepal. The paper contends that unlike the common notion that public spaces such as Tundikhel are quintessentially public, hypocrisy is inherent to the ‘publicness’ agenda of the state and the institutional machinery in Kathmandu. It is an urban condition that not only maligns the public space agenda but also creeps into other spheres of urban development. Information was collected using both structured and unstructured observations[1], spatial-combing and archival research including a stakeholder workshop held in Kathmandu in September 2015.

Keywords: Global South, informalisation, institutionalisation, Kathmandu, militarisation, planning, public space, spatial estrangement

[1] This research was funded by British Academy and Leverhulme Trust (2015). The fieldwork comprised structured observations which involved activity mapping for different parts of Tundikhel to establish the extent of public access and use. Tundikhel was surveyed both in the weekday and weekends, three times a day for a period of one month. Unstructured observation included recording activities and behaviour patterns using field notes, photographs and videos where possible at any time of the day/week throughout the fieldwork period.