Awareness and participation towards encouraging sustainable urban water management: A case study of the Jakkur Lake, Bangalore

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School of Arts, Design and Architecture | Master's thesis
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This master’s thesis investigates how design interventions can enable public participation in the functioning of a sustainable urban water management system, specifically by increasing awareness of the system by involving members of the communities that are linked to it. A unique closed-loop urban water management system — the Jakkur Lake in Bangalore (India) — is utilised as a case study to do so. The Jakkur Lake is one of the largest and cleanest water bodies in Bangalore and is particularly special because it is a potential model for Integrated Urban Water Management (IUWM). This complex socio-ecological ecosystem highlights the symbiotic relationship between nature and humankind. By serendipity, a sewage treatment plant (STP) with a capacity to treat 10 million litres a day was set up north of the lake by the government bodies. The plant currently releases 8 million litres of treated water into the man-made wetland which further purifies the water by a natural process before letting it enter the lake. Therefore the lake is fed with this treated water everyday, which in turn recharges the ground, increases the water table and fills up the bore-wells and the beautiful old open wells — heritage structures that adorn this area and are in need of preservation. The constant water inflow has helped the lake become a hotspot for biodiversity. It also ensures that the lake is always full, thus providing potable water to people who use the wells around the area. This is what makes the system so special. By this remarkable process, raw sewage is transformed into potable water, and the communities dependent on this water source remain unaware of its origins. People living and working around the lake impact it through their actions and lifestyles in a variety of ways. For instance, the fishermen community is highly dependent on the lake for their livelihood while some others like the lake activists and members of the sewage treatment plant have a significant role to play in its functioning and sustenance. However, this is a wicked problem where stakeholders understand only their individual roles but not how they are connected to, and impact the larger system. The study uses ethnographic and design research tools such as interviews, photo-documentation, observation and participatory activities to understand and map out this intricate system. This empirical data is situated within a theoretical framework. A literature review builds background knowledge around the origin and characteristics of wicked problems and gives examples of existing strategies that help cope with these types of problems, as by definition, there is no ‘The solution” (Horst, Melvin 1973) for a wicked problem. The framework helps position this particular case within the world of wicked problems and proposes awareness of the functioning system as the first step towards tackling this particular wicked problem, drawing from other strategies that have been written about in the literature. The study concludes by elaborating on a proposed intervention — an ‘experiential’ audio-visual walk. This uses the lake as an exhibition walk-through that allows people to experience the space for what it is. A map and an audio guide help the audience in unravelling facts, personal narratives and offbeat aspects of entities around the lake, thus involving the locals, tapping into their knowledge and experiences while increasing awareness in an engaging manner. This is designed for an audience of any age group interested in learning about, or working around this lake, including the decision makers who have a lot of clout. The study ends by discussing feedback obtained from the user testing process, proposes value additions to the walk and provides possibilities of appropriating this model to other lakes around the city.
Whalen, Jack
Thesis advisor
Srikantaiah, Vishwanath
awareness, complex systems, wicked problems, water management, multiple stakeholders, participation