Dr. Stephanie Butcher1
1University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia
Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, Kathmandu Valley is a site of deep cultural heritage. Cross-cutting the city is the mighty Bagmati river, which flows from the mouth of the holy river Ganges. It is lined with many of Kathmandu’s most important temples, shrines, ghats (cremation sites along rivers), and monuments, including Pashupati Temple—a UNESCO World Heritage site. The river is therefore both a deeply holy space, and a significant source of tourism revenue. However, the Bagmati river cannot be separated from the living functions of the city, and in particular, the growing informal settlements which have sprung up alongside its banks. These neighbourhoods are at odds with broader urban revitalization plans in the city, which are aimed at harnessing the tourism value of these riverside locations. Residents are therefore caught in competing narratives of the river: between its past and future use, as dwelling space or a tourist site, and as its polluters or as its protectors. Interrogating the concept of heritage, this article examines what kinds of urban futures that are imagined from past heritage; and what space exists for the urban poor.
Stephanie Butcher is a Research Fellow at the Connected Cities Lab, University of Melbourne, on the ‘Knowledge in Action for Urban Equality’, programme. As a social development practitioner, she has partnered with grassroots organizations in various cities to support community-led planning processes. Research interests include gender and diversity, participatory methodologies, and urban inequalities.