Urban Walker: A Vision to Explore Kathmandu’s Streets, Secrets and History

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Prabina Shrestha and her team of urban planners, architecture students, videographers and graphic designers wanted to create an application that made walking in Kathmandu a more conscious action and a memorable learning experience. They also wanted to promote walking to reduce traffic and pollution in the Valley. The functions of the potential app would be to highlight historical landmarks and secret knowledge possessed only by locals.
Their endeavors are currently at a pause, but Shrestha still has a flair for entrepreneurship and urban planning that she expresses through her work with Urban Utopia, Kathmandu. An organization that helps make informal settlements create incomes for themselves by establishing small self-sustaining businesses. Nevertheless, she still hopes to collaborate with someone to work on Urban Walkers. We spoke to her about her idea, her vision and what could become of Urban Walker. 

1. Could you give a general introduction to your idea? 
Our team was called Urban Walkers and our goal was to promote walkability in Kathmandu. It is a very walkable city but we just don’t have the infrastructure or the mindset for it. Things are much closer than we think if we consider the actual distance between most locations. Building off of that idea we looked into four historic areas and focused on Kathmandu for this competition. We started at Asan because one of our team members did his Master’s thesis on walkability and studied the area for it. I grew up in there too, but during the study I was amazed by how much I didn’t know about the place. It was interesting to me as an architect and could be for people without an architecture background as well. We were hoping this would increase walking and reduce the pollution from traffic which greatly affects heritage sites as well. 
We wanted to make an app that would promote walkability and through the app users could take certain routes depending on how much time they have available. Along this route, the app would give you information and pop-ups telling you interesting things and in the long term, we would collaborate with the community and the local government to set up heritage guides too.

2. Could you tell us more about the details about Urban Walker? 
We were focused mainly on heritage sites and significant structures. They are being reconstructed after the earthquake and even information on that is interesting. But there are also a lot of little things that are very important but don’t get highlighted. The major thought with that was to focus on these aspects. People from outside may not know about certain things from these areas. Much later we heard about the story cycle, who are doing these heritage walks in the Bagmati area. I think it’s a nice initiative but they have people who are trained as guides and take people along certain promenades and stuff. Another thing for our app was that locals know certain authentic stores and products in their area who could use more exposure. The app would help with that. We found that similar apps already exist as well. Probably not in Kathmandu but outside of it. So once we saw that we realized things could be a lot easier that way.

3. Are you still pursuing this idea? 
No, not currently because it was all very interesting but we couldn’t move forward because of several obstacles. I’m an architect and an urban planner, our team didn’t have anyone with business management experience and handling the economic aspects of an organization was very difficult. Initially during one of the talks at the SUTC Anil Chitrakar told us that an idea should be like “Gai lai ghas khaera dudh nikalnu milne jasto” which I thought was interesting. 

But yes, it was difficult. We didn’t have experts to deal with the programming aspect, the funding, and several other specifics. We also got busy with our lives and our work, so there just wasn’t enough time in the day to do it. 

4. What are you doing now then? 
I work with Urban Utopia, an organization that works with informal urban settlements. I’m a fellow with them and they are venturing into several other things too, but I’m focused on the Shankhamul settlement doing research to start a venture that could help the community. We’re doing research on the needs of the community and trying to create some kind of a venture that will exist and be sustainable in that community. 

5. Do you ever see yourself becoming an entrepreneur? 
I’m more focused on urban planning and architecture. I don’t know about entrepreneurship because I don’t really think that way, but I would want to do it if I could collaborate with someone more entrepreneurial.

For more information about Urban Walker, please connect with Prabina Shrestha at prabinakai@gmail.com.

Interviewed and article by Jyotika Shah.