Speaking at Day 1

Opening Panel: Reframing the Role of Public Space in the Age of Pandemics

Mahak Agrawal
Founder & Researcher, The Spatial Perspectives, India

Mahak Agrawal is a medical candidate turned urban planner, exploring innovative, implementable, impactful solutions for pressing urban-regional challenges in her diverse works. In different capacities, Mahak has worked with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Town and Country Planning Organization, Government of India, Institute of Transport Economics, Oslo, to name a few. In 2019, she founded The Spatial Perspectives as an enterprise that uses the power of visual storytelling and open data to dismantle myths and faulty perspectives associated with spaces around the world. Based out of India, Mahak spends spare time to experiment and create sustainable artworks which showcase the cultural heritage of India. 

There is no point in going back because right over here we can either die from the pathological virus or we can
die from hunger.

Insight from "Health Disparity and Public Space in High Density Environments"

In highly dense slums/basis in India, social distancing is a privilege. Often, the only open space in slums is being used for various purposes, from bathing to dumping waste and washing clothes or just chilling. Despite the 100+ million toilets built since 2014, declaration of 'open defecation free India' in October 2019 by the Central government, over 300 million people continue to defecate in the open since the facilities are unusable. These unusable facilities present a high risk of faecal-water borne COVID-19 transmission. Also, the national lockdown enacted on March 24 prohibited outdoor activities and caused many industries to shut down, affecting the urban informal sector and its workforce. Embarking a journey in the scorching heat, hundreds of thousands of informal workers started moving from the informal settlements in the cities back to their original villages. Some- who left villages for cities for a better life and sold off their village land- decided to stay and rely on fickle aid packages from the government and NGOs. Amid the pandemic and social-economic crisis emanating from it, a huge challenge is to plan for safer and healthy communities after COVID-19, particularly for the informal sector and habitations.