Photo Essay: Insights From Our Imagination Walks

Transitions Research's PULL Net Zero team, along with Tallulah D'Silva's Travelling Dome, organised a series of Imagination Walks in Panaji, Goa, to better understand the visions locals have for the future of their city. Through this photo essay, we communicate our insights and the benefits of walks as a social science research methodology.

In March, the PULL Net Zero team conducted two Imagination Walks in collaboration with Tallulah D’Silva’s Travelling Dome, one titled The Future of Panaji’s Built Environment and the other The Future of Nature. The City of Panaji has a target to achieve Net Zero emissions by 2050, and because we believe people must be at the centre of climate solutions, we wanted to understand from locals what they thought their city would look like in 2050. Will Panaji achieve its net zero pledge by 2050? What will the built environment look like? What will the role of nature be? What do you want your city to look like in the future?

Walking through the city with our participants, we uncovered place-based imaginations and new perspectives which we had not been able to glean from scheduled interviews with locals and experts.

1. Walkability

At the base of the Altinho steps at 7AM, we asked participants to close their eyes for a moment and listen to the sounds of Panaji. A few birds chirped, but the loudest and most common sounds were those of cars and bikes whizzing past. Then we began our walk  up the Altinho steps as Tallulah described how well-utilised the steps once were, especially by schoolchildren. It was a vibrant and lively area as most people relied on walking to get around. Now the space is often deserted, as cars are the primary mode of transport in Goa.  

Participants told us that they have a nostalgia associated with thise space, as it is used for processions during some religious events. They wondered if the steps couldn’t be revitalised with the addition of treehouses, swings, buskers and food stalls. With more people around, the space would also naturally become safer and more walkable. 

In Fontainhas, there were fewer trees and even more vehicles, sometimes double parked along the streets. As we dodged cars and bikes past Fountainhas’ brightly coloured buildings, we left the quiet and the lush greenery of Altinho behind. Greenery and walkability are key to peoples’ visions of the future, and this could be due to their nostalgia for a greener past too. 
“Public spaces and streets should be shaded naturally using bamboo, coconut, and other trees instead of artificial materials.”

2. Communities and Access

Our participants loved to walk in the shade of the large trees in Altinho, and the pretty views from atop the hill. They were thrilled to come across a tree with sweet candy-like fruits. Tallulah showed us how to eat them, so we all stopped to grab a few directly off of the ground. Everyone seemed to agree that edible trees are a great addition to any city street. One participant added that he had tried to plant trees around the city, but would often find they had been cut down a few weeks later. Community access and stewardship of green spaces could lead to the planting and preservation of trees. 
Where can we go and plant trees? Who decides which trees are planted and which should be cut down? I am not sure I know who is in charge of community spaces…”

A second question of access arose at the Phoenix Spring in Fontainhas. Participants recalled that at some point, one could just walk in, but they had not noticed when a padlock was introduced. One participant wondered why drinking local spring water was no longer a part of modern life. Another said that people used to wash clothes in the spring. Incremental changes in access such as the lock on the Phoenix Spring gate, or the cutting of trees, often go unnoticed, but locals wished this was not the case. 

3. Cultural Aesthetics and  Infrastructure 

Fountainhas lacks greenery, but it is flush with cultural significance. The area is strongly associated with Goan culture and has retained a lot of its history. Participants loved the distinctive hand-painted signs and small shops.  Meanwhile, near Patto and along the grey infrastructure of highways and concrete, locals felt they could be in any city in the world.

A lack of colour and culture seems to plague new developments and they happen so incrementally that often locals do not notice until they are asked how they feel while walking around newer areas. Parking facilities and highways sometimes make spaces almost exclusively accessible to vehicles, with fewer walkways and less aesthetic appeal. 

“A walkable/cyclable city helps reduce traffic… and helps connect one’s self with other citizens as well as with nature.”

4. Traditional Livelihoods, Food Production and Education

As we walked around the Bandhs and Salt Pans of Panaji, participants were surprised to find that so much natural beauty was ‘in their backyard’. Participants talked about how they wanted to be more involved in protecting local ecosystems. We learned that local livelihoods and traditional foods are usually sustainable, and not extractive. For example, in the Goan fish thali; the ingredients are all locally grown or caught. Local fishermen respect the ocean and fish sustainably, unlike the large trawlers that tend to damage the ocean floor. 

“All future development should be mindful of preserving these river edges, the coastal strips, the green areas and open spaces around and within the city.”

On hearing that there are often crocodiles in the waters, a child asked how the fisherman remained unafraid. Tallulah explained how fishermen have a strong connection to wildlife and know when crocodiles are more likely to be aggressive or docile, and she has observed them fishing peacefully with crocodiles nearby. People involved in traditional livelihoods have protected natural ecosystems even near urban areas. For example, their work depends on the essential mangroves that provide shelter to schools of fish, that sequester carbon, and prevent coastal erosion. Parents were thrilled to watch their children learn more about edible plants, watch local fisherman fish off of bandhs, and see how salt was being produced. Tallulah talked about the success she has had in inculcating a sense of pride around natural resources in youngsters through walks and camping trips, and parents seemed excited at the idea of giving their children the opportunity to enjoy and preserve nature.

Share this:

Other Events:

PULL Net Zero Imagination Walks

People’s Urban Living Lab (PULL) and Travelling Dome are hosting a series of Imagination Walks to envision what Panaji’s future looks like. Will we achieve...