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Exploring Bengaluru: Urban Explorers – A summer camp for children at Wipro

Download pdf version of the Report here.

4 – 8 May 2009

“The time has come, the children say
to talk of many things.
Of trees and lakes, and butterflies
and where Bangalore’s going”

Between the 4th and 8th May 2009, Environment Support Group conducted “Urban Explorers’, a 5 day workshop on the urban environment, for 20 children of the employees of Wipro, Electronic City campus. The workshop aimed at helping the children develop a historical understanding of Bengaluru’s evolution as an urban centre, the effects of explosive urban growth on lower income neighbourhoods, peri-urban areas and the urban environment itself. An experiential learning pedagogy was followed, with a lot of emphasis on field visits and interactive sessions.

Journeying from Electronic City to Begur: Understanding the history of Bengaluru

The workshop opened with a session on Bengaluru’s history. Bhargavi Rao asked the children to draw a map of Bengaluru, and also identify the location of historical landmarks such as Lal Bagh, Avenue Road, the Kempe Gowda towers and so on, within the city. Building on their understanding, Bhargavi traced the story of Bengaluru from a humble mud fortress in a largely agricultural tableland to a city that is one of India’s fastest growing metropolises. The legends of the Chalukyas, the Hoysalas, the Cholas and the Kempe Gowdas enthralled the children; they also realized the influence of Hyder Ali, the Mysore rulers and the Britishers in shaping Bangalore into the city we know today.

After this session, the children visited the 1000-year-old Begur temple- that is where the Bengaluru story really began. The first reference to the city by its present name is found in one of the stone inscriptions of the temple, which is also famed for its exquisite architecture, design and the positioning of the five shiva-lingas. The children also did some bird watching in the Begur tank, and spotted egrets, coots and purple herons. They also got to know about the historical importance of tanks to human settlements. To meet the requirements of the explosive growth of the city, it is the commons on the urban fringe, which are the first casualties, as the children realized.

The unequal city

In the afternoon, Bhargavi Rao walked the children through a slide presentation of some of important land marks of Bengaluru that included temples, churches, mosques, historical places, tanks and important festivals of the city. This helped children learn and understand about many places of the city that had such great historical, social and ecological significance. This was followed by a session in which Leo Saldanha helped the children reflect about the inequities that they see in their everyday life- on why some people end up with more privileges than others. They discussed the details of the daily lives of people with low incomes, understood the stress that people face when everyday life becomes a struggle. They concluded that access to water, safe housing and schooling could become a life determinant and hence, every person in the city has a right to expect & demand the State to provide these to him.

The ‘Wasteful’ city

The second day started with a discussion on Urban Waste disposal. Sruthi Subbanna and Nandini Chami helped the children understand the categorization of the waste we generate: Bio-Degradable, Hazardous, Recyclable and Bio-Medical and why categorization is important for effective disposal & waste management. The children also watched a movie “Nagara Nyrmalya” to understand why segregation helps in effective waste management, and also caught a glimpse of the daily lives of pourakarmikas, the lifeline of our waste disposal system. Sruthi and Nandini shared a few instances of illegal dumping, and its effect on the communities living in the urban fringe areas.

After the session, the students were taken to Bettadasapura, a village close to Electronic City. After guiding the children to temple on top of a hillock, Mallesh K.R explained to the children how urbanisation can drastically alter the landscape beyond recognition. He contrasted the present day view with his mind’s view of the area 17 years ago, and the children were shocked by the disappearance of farm lands, the drying up of irrigation tanks and the rampant granite quarrying & the widespread dumping of wastes all along the approach road to the hillock.

Cycling, Bus, Nadiodu, Better street design: The escape route to Bengaluru’s traffic woes

Vijay Narnapatti led the post-lunch session on the reasons for Bengaluru city’s traffic woes, and helped the children brainstorm and develop their own street plans for effective traffic management. Vijay , an architect by profession, volunteers with Hasiru Usiru, a network of organisations and individuals engaged in the conservation of the parks, lakes and other open spaces of the city. He has played a key role in Hasiru Usiru’s efforts at developing low cost, effective solutions to Bangalore’s traffic congestion.

Vijay shared some of these experiences with the children, and pictorially& statistically demonstrated how increased reliance on public transport can substantially reduce congestion. The children were shell-shocked on looking at the number of two wheelers in the city, and appalled that a mere 6000 buses catered to the transportation needs of about 49% of the city’s population. Vijay also asked the children to share their perceptions of the difficulties of using city roads, the common traffic offences that they observed on the roads, and their views on street designs. After the discussion, Vijay asked all the children to map out their idea of ‘the perfect street’. From skywalks that provided for pedestrians, animals and cyclists to separate lanes for bus, car and cycle traffic; from roads lined with avenue trees to graded road interchanges, the children came out with fresh ideas. The second day thus focussed on presenting the challenges that Bengaluru faces today, all of which culminates into a single question: Are we aware of the limits to Bengaluru’s capacity to grow?

The Garden city

On the third day, Bhargavi started by taking the children for a walk around WIPRO campus to introduce them to urban greenery and Bangalore city’s popular street trees. The children were very excited to be able to identify & learn the names of the trees that they usually spot while travelling within the city: Gulmohar, Peltoforum, Pongamia, Acacia, Pride of India….. and many more! Following this session, the children visited the paper-recycling unit at Wipro before breaking for lunch. In the afternoon, Leo Saldanha made the children reflect on the shrinking green cover, parks and lakes by taking them through Google Earth Maps of Bengaluru neighbourhoods between 2000-09. At the close of the day, the mood was somber, for the older children were thoughtful about the decimation of the Garden city to various projects & to other developmental pressures.

The city that walks on water: Disappearing tanks of Bengaluru

The fourth day began with a visit to Agara Lake. Sruthi & Nandini took the children for a short walk along the shoreline, and asked the children to observe the activities they saw around the lake, and make a note of birds/animals/objects that caught their attention. The children observed people swimming in the lake, washing clothes and water being pumped out for watering the garden that had been developed along the joggers’ path running parallel to the shoreline. There were a number of egrets and common coots in the lake, and the children were pleased at being able to identify the Pride of India plants. After this, Sruthi & Nandini told the children about the alarming disappearance of Bengaluru’s tanks in the last 4 decades, the State’s neglect of maintaining the lakes; the conversion of tanks into bus stands, housing layouts, golf courses and stadiums by the State agencies themselves; and the importance of tanks to communities-in historical as well as modern times.

Struggles over water

After the field visit, Sruthi shared with the children other instances of struggles over water such as the Plachimada instance where local people fiercely opposed and succeeded in shutting down a Coca Cola bottling plant was depleting their groundwater table at an alarming rate. Subsequent to this, the children watched a film titled “Kali:A Flowing River” that described the slow death of the magnificent river Kali because of dams and pollution from a paper mill company. (West Coast Paper Mills). The day closed with a simulation exercise of a public hearing on a dam project. The children were given the background of the area, some details of the project and then were assigned various roles such as ‘Industrialist’s, ‘ Forest Officials’, ‘Rich Farmers’, ‘Marginal Farmers’, “Fishermen’, ‘Gram Panchayat’ and so on & asked to speak for their interests at the hearing. At the end of the exercise, there was a short discussion on how public hearings can be doctored, on how unequal control over resources & information affects decision-making.

The world of butterflies

On the final day, the children visited the butterfly park at Bannerghatta National Park. Under the guidance of Kishen Das who has been studying butterflies for over 15 years, they tried to spot the various species of butterflies, and also tried to understand the various exhibits displayed. Kishen Das also explained to them some aspects of the amazing world of butterflies – Batesian and Mullerian mimicry, the symbiotic relationship between some species of ant & caterpillar, and the differences between moths & butterflies.

In the afternoon, the children received their “Urban Explorer” certificates and also gave their feedback on the workshop sessions. On the whole, the children felt that the workshop had been very educative, and the field visits were very interesting. Click here to view some of the comments.

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