A Socio-Ecological Analysis of the Loss of Public Properties in an Urban Environment: A Case Study of Pokhara, Nepal

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In this paper, the historical, religious and cultural aspects that led to the development of public properties (mainly chautaras--platform with huge shade providing trees--and community orchards, open spaces and water ponds) in Pokhara, Nepal, are discussed in detail in relation to their ecological functions. The processes (urbanization and modernization separating nature and culture) that led to the decline of these properties are then examined.

It is argued in this paper that while urbanization may be a necessity and important, the concept of separating urban people and culture from nature led to the decline of trees and other important properties which are equally important for the life of a city.

Pokhara, a tourist town in central Nepal, has undergone a rapid change in the last five decades. The urbanization process of the last five decades has brought many changes in social and ecological features of the town One of the main features of the town was the existence, in plenty, of the public properties, mainly open space, chautaras (huge shade proving trees and a platform where people can sit, rest and meet) and community orchards, and water ponds. These features were man-made, and, were maintained, as is argued in this paper, as they had many cultural, ecological and economic functions at a time when the mode of production was largely agriculture and livestock. Trees, particularly those used in chautaras, and ponds were also important from religious points of views.

As the process of urbanization continued, Pokhara became more and more exposed to modernization. The developmentist attitude of the government established after the downfall of autocratic Rana rule in 1950 gave priority to physical development even at the cost of nature. Pokhara, which is now (in 2001) a home to about 156,000 people, started attracting people who worked in foreign countries. Their resettlement and investment in the town is also responsible for its rapid pace of urbanization (see Adhikari and Seddon 2002). This town is the fastest growing town in the country. Population in the town has been growing by more than 8% per year in the last four decades. Tourism income and remittances are the main sources of income. Agricultural production, which was the main source of income until the 1970s, now contributes less than one fourth to the total income of its population. Clearly, it is not a main source of income for a large majority of households in Pokhara.

Changes in the economy and the shift in the attitude of people led to not only the lack of interest in planting trees and in maintaining open spaces and water ponds, but also to the destruction of these properties. These properties, particularly the trees, were seen as obstacles for the progress of the town. An attitude that a place covered by trees does not represent modern place started to occupy the mind of the people as Pokhara started to urbanize. Influence of the modern buildings and urban life and the concept of modernization and development created a notion that urban areas are modern and rural areas are backward. Urban areas, people and their cultures were thought as shabya (or civilized), and village areas, people and their folk culture were thought as ashabya or pakhe (uncivilized) or gaule (folk). In extreme case, the village people were also called jangali (people of forest), which means wild, uncivilized and without culture. Existence of a large number of trees and forest/tree grooves was considered to be associated with village life.

The above change in the concept of people is also generally found to impact upon the economy of Nepal as a whole. Professions dependent on land and forest like agriculture are now regarded as backward, and to be done by people who are illiterate and ignorant. Trade and job (service) are now celebrated professions. But until 3-4 decades ago people regarded agriculture as the best profession. …