Written by Parnavee Pathak | Guided by Sophiya Islam
How often do we find ourselves driving to a neighbourhood park or to a grocery store for daily needs? How much distance do we have to negotiate through traffic to reach our workplaces?
The global pandemic has influenced our perception of accessibility to neighbourhood parks, daily needs stores, and many such facilities vital to everyday life. Today, city planners and designers are exploring the idea of self-sufficient neighbourhoods to combat issues like climate change. However, it is not a new concept, as traditional Indian villages existed as self-sufficient neighbourhoods.
During the global pandemic of 2020, these neighbourhoods became vital as they could cater to their residents efficiently with access to essential services within walkable distance, reducing the risk of spreading the virus.
Mominpura, Nagpur © Parnavee Pathak
Self-sufficient neighbourhoods are compact and diverse in nature, and offer various spaces to Live-Work-Play for their residents. The mixed building-use pattern within such compact neighbourhoods minimises the need for transportation and promotes walkability as daily activities are brought closer together. With the growing population, depleting resources, and urban sprawl in cities, planning such neighbourhoods can lead to a sustainable future in our cities.
Three key aspects of self-sufficient neighbourhoods:
1. Spatial: Mixed-use activity patterns with all activities within walkable distances and a cohesive built form
2. Socio-cultural: A collaborative and interdependent social structure, where religious and economic backgrounds become unifying factors
3. Economic: Thriving business opportunities for the people, by the people, within the neighbourhood
The case of Mominpura
Mominpura is a neighbourhood located in central Nagpur. This ‘mohalla’ is an example of a self-sufficient and community-based neighbourhood within the city. Established in the late 1800s during the reign of Bhonsale Kings, Mominpura has been a workers’ residential area. It was during the colonial era that this neighbourhood started thriving into a community of Muslim Bunkars (weavers), also called Momins, who were immigrants from Uttar Pradesh.
After independence with the advent of sophisticated cloth production methods, the weaving community reduced, making way for small businesses and wholesale markets. Today the neighbourhood is economically productive and has grown into a commercial and residential neighbourhood for Muslims. Offering an amazing gluttony experience for everyone in the city, this neighbourhood is colloquially known as Chandani Chowk of Nagpur. Mominpura offers diverse spaces to live, work and play, making it a case worth exploring as a thriving and self-sufficient neighbourhood.
Thresholds outside homes, Mominpura © Parnavee Pathak
Mominpura is a blend of spaces for living, working, and gathering socially. Right from health care, education, religious landmarks, commercial spaces, residential units, social gathering spaces, and even cremation spaces, Mominpura stands out as a perfect example of a self-sufficient neighbourhood.
Inside the neighbourhood
The name Mominpura means a community of momins, i.e. firm believers of Allah. For several decades, religion and socio-economic backgrounds have unified the community and contributed towards collaboratively building the neighbourhood.
Community spaces in Mominpura © Parnavee Pathak
Historically Mominpura has been a workers' community and still has the same spirit of entrepreneurship as people have generated work opportunities for themselves. Along the winding narrow streets, there are houses that have been designed by the residents, and often social interactions take place through the thresholds of the dwelling units, creating a tight-knit community. Typically, the houses have commercial space on the ground floor and living units above.
Workspaces in Mominpura © Parnavee Pathak
Mohammad Ali Road - a connection with the city
One of the most vital streets in Mominpura is Mohammad Ali Road which not only caters to the residents within the neighbourhood but also establishes a connection with the rest of the city. Along the 420m stretch of this bustling street, one can find popular eatery joints, bakeries, attars, burkas, footwear shops, electronic stores, accessories, and whatnot. Along the street edges, there are important landmarks like Jama Masjid, Mohammad Ali Sarai, and Muslim Library, that have been around for ages and add to the heritage value of the street as well. It is during Ramadan that the street exhibits creative placemaking, where several temporary shops are set up making it an exclusive pedestrian street with no space for vehicular traffic. This street is essentially a workplace for the residents of and around Mominpura. Mohammad Ali road is most active during evening hours and operates past midnight, contributing to the socio-economic sustainability of Mominpura.
Mohammad Ali Road, Mominpura © Parnavee Pathak
Informal settlements are often perceived as unplanned and chaotic entities in our cities. However, evolving with time, based on the needs of their residents, these neighbourhoods exhibit all three key aspects of a self-sufficient neighbourhood - spatial, socio-cultural and economic. Thus the symbiosis of these aspects within Mominpura makes it an interesting example of a self-sufficient neighbourhood in Nagpur.