Tales from long ago and why we need them to secure a resilient today

Hita Unnikrishnan, B. Manjunatha, Harini Nagendra


We live in the Anthropocene, at a time when the human footprint is at its most pronounced. In the process of
rapid urbanization, that characterizes today's age, many ecological commons with complex histories of
governance and stewardships are reimagined in keeping with prevailing notions of their utility. This redefining of a
common often occurs in exclusion of former social and cultural relationships built around the resource leading to
entire communities being disconnected from it. The resultant loss of perceived value can enhance vulnerability to
threats including a loss of its identity as an ecological common.
In this paper, we use the case of a former lake (Sampangi lake) within the south Indian city of Bengaluru to
illustrate what makes understanding the past so important when it comes to management of urban ecological
commons. The Sampangi lake, now a major sports stadium of the city, was once an important ecological, social,
and cultural resource. Besides being an indispensable water source to the city up until the mid-19th century, the
lake also supported various other forms of provisioning and cultural ecosystem services – ranging across serving
domestic purposes, livelihoods, and belief systems. How then did this lake fade into obscurity and eventual
oblivion in the intervening years, and more importantly, what happened to the people who once had strong ties with
the resource? Do events of long ago resonate even today and if so, how do they still speak to us?
In order to answer these questions, we combine landscape change analysis through geospatial methods
along with official archival records and oral narratives to unravel the story of change and its impacts on this urban
common. We examine different changing notions of the utility of this lake pictured against a backdrop of rapid
urbanization, migration, and landscape change. We relate this historical picture with contemporary trends in lake
management to draw a parallel. In so doing, we demonstrate that obtaining knowledge about the history of a
resource, the history of its use, the various stakeholders accessing it, and the various conflicts it witnessed can help
prevent exclusionary histories, alienation of communities, and encourage citizen stewardship of the resource. This
can further shape more equitable, ecologically robust policy frameworks aimed at enhancing social and ecological
resilience and therefore longevity of the resource.


Urban commons; ecosystem services; historical transformations; conflict resolution; landscape mapping

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