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Re-Envisioning the Mughal Riverfront Gardens of Agra: Heritage and the Community

The central philosophy guiding the Agra Mughal gardens project, in partnership with the Archaeological Survey of India, is that restoration works will benefit nearby local communities socially, economically, and culturally. Weaving together the aspirations of the communities with the development of heritage sites will allow for heritage to become a driver for overall development in the area.

A preliminary diagnostic study of the areas has revealed certain issues that are not only common to the two sites, but are also part of a general condition of degradation of urban heritage sites in Agra. First, the communities are alienated from the heritage: there are no existing links of habitat, livelihoods, education, and awareness with the sites. The slums are residual spaces with extremely degraded urban infrastructure, i.e. sanitation, sewerage, solid waste management, and water supply. Livelihoods, particularly women’s livelihoods, are minimal and tenuous and there is no benefit from tourism to the city’s slums. In addition, a serious lack of community recreational space and individual security, particularly for women and girls, further compounds the problem. At another level, there is a lack of outreach and consciousness of the sites’ significant history among the communities, who are unable to market this great asset to visitors.

To address these various challenges, multi-pronged strategies have been proposed that will address diverse issues via a specific site focus. The strategies aim to upgrade community spaces, enhance livelihood opportunities, spread awareness regarding heritage, and utilize it as a driver for local area development. A multi-purpose community center is proposed in the space adjoining I’timad-ud-Daulah’s tomb where there is a historic structure associated with Mahatma Gandhi. A heritage circuit incorporating lesser-known sites is planned with local youth trained as guides. A wastewater treatment initiative utilizing community drains is proposed for provision of water for the historic gardens. Training in heritage building skills is advocated for enhancing employability for local artisans.

The challenge now is to undertake the conservation at the two sites while also integrating the needs of the local community.