Breathing new life into the legacy of past civilisations calls for a creativity, imagination, tolerance, understanding, and wisdom well beyond the ordinary. The Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme (AKHCP), established in 1992, implements conservation, urban revitalization and area development projects in historically significant sites of the Islamic world undertaking the restoration and rehabilitation of historic structures and public spaces in ways that spur social, economic and cultural development. Its projects seek to mobilize local potential and resources in order to ensure their eventual self-sustainability through operational income, human resource development and institutional management capabilities. Through this integrated approach, the Programme seeks to demonstrate that strengthening cultural identity can go hand in hand with socio-economic progress.
Going beyond mere restoration of monuments, the Programme engages in activities related to adaptive re-use, contextual urban planning and the improvement of housing, infrastructure and public spaces. It carries out related socio-economic development initiatives directed at upgrading local living conditions and improving quality of life.
Investments in single project locations or regions are coordinated with other Aga Khan Development Network programmes so that they reinforce each other as they grow together into a critical mass for positive change. In all project locations, community participation and training of local professionals are essential components.
Located in the heart of New Delhi, adjacent to Humayun’s Tomb complex and Sunder Nursery, Hazrat Nizamuddin Basti is named after the revered saint Hazrat Nizamuddin Auliya, who lived here in the early fourteenth century. A settlement developed at this location during the saint’s lifetime and it has been continuously inhabited.
Following the successful restoration of Humayun’s Tomb Garden in 2004, the urban renewal project commenced with the signature of a public-private partnership ‘Memorandum of Understanding’ on 11 July 2007. The non-profit partnership includes the Archaeological Survey of India, the Central Public Works Department, the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD), the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC).
A synergistic, community centred and collaborative approach has been adopted to improve the quality of life for residents through a series of multi-input projects that aims to improve the urban environment, conserve monuments, develop public parks, strengthen basic services through interventions in the three core areas of health, education and environmental sanitation and engage community participation through a regular series of cultural activities and performances. In so doing, the project seeks to integrate conservation, socio-economic development and urban and environmental development objectives in consultation with local communities and relevant stakeholders. All programmes commenced following a quality of life assessment study.
In 2009 a physical mapping/survey of the Basti was undertaken to document the area with the intention of planning sensitive urban improvements. The survey has led to the preparation of street improvement plans which will be implemented by the Municipal Corporation of Delhi. Small public parks are being planned along the western edge of the Basti in areas that are deteriorating and are no longer safe and clean. These spaces will be landscaped to fulfil the needs expressed by the resident community. These parks will bring much needed community space and nodes of civic life back to the area and improve pedestrian circulation through the Basti, and there will be parks earmarked for women, children, cricket, community functions and weddings.
The conservation of monuments and the rehabilitation of open spaces in the Basti aim to restore their intrinsic cultural, historical and spiritual significance. Using state-of-the-art technology, including ground-penetrating radar survey, high-definition 3D laser scanning and geotechnical assessments, conservation started on the fourteenth-century Baoli (step-well).
At the eastern edge of the Basti stand two important tombs: the Chaunsath Khamba, a Mughal tomb, and the tomb of Mirza Ghalib, South Asia’s most renowned poet. Together, they form one of the largest open spaces in the Basti. Landscape works at both tombs have enhanced the historic character, restored dignity to these monuments and provided much needed community gathering spaces in this dense setting.