People-Friendly Privatised Public Environments: Exploring People-Friendliness of Shopping Malls in Kolkata, India

Much of the existing Western literature on privatisation of the public realm and privatised public spaces focuses on and is overly dominated by the narrative of loss bemoaning the radical devaluation and reduced publicness of the public realm and the withdrawal of the public and public life from traditional public spaces to their privatised surrogates characterised by insular, introverted, exclusionary and unfriendly design as a direct consequence of privatisation. 

While the dominant narrative remains preoccupied with loss, a fairly recent counter narrative of public-isation of private spaces, based on urban practices predominantly observed in shopping malls in many cities around the world, challenges this overly pessimistic attitude towards privatisation and demonstrates that many privatised public spaces in fact exhibit an increasingly public character, contribute positively to the public realm and have succeeded at engendering environments that are inclusive, sociable and people-friendly. 

To investigate if the phenomenon of loss, grounded in a rather Western understanding and interpretations of public space, is restricted to Western landscapes only or prevalent in other geographical and cultural contexts, especially a non-Western cultural setting, this research relocates the discussions of privatisation and privatised public spaces to another geography outside its conventional locus of the developed nations of North America and Western Europe. Among all non-western developing countries, the rapidly urbanising and globalising landscape of India characterised by its diverse social, cultural and economic backgrounds and rich political history provides the perfect platform to examine how the process and products of privatisation are deployed, assess if they contribute to the decline and loss of the public realm, and explore the outcomes and transferability of these Western concepts in a different socio-cultural and political setting.