Last week at the Lab was a bit of a teaser—a two-day glimpse of some of the exciting things to come that’s only left me hungry for more.
This is partially because—okay, I’ll admit it—I’ve quite missed the Lab. Like I tweeted at the end of the day Sunday on my train ride home, I nearly forget sometimes how incredibly long, yet deeply fulfilling a day at the Lab can be. And with the friends who keep popping by no matter where we seem to go, like the Lab’s now nearly resident environmental psychology geek Colin Ellard, or PPS’s Ethan Kent, who we got to know well in New York, both of whom swung by last week, it’s starting to feel like one big, oddly eclectic urban family strewn across the world from time to time.
The Lab opened Sunday (the Mumbai Lab’s week runs Thursday through Monday) with one of the program series I’m most excited about. It’s called Meet in the Middle, and it’s a panel discussion and conversation series meant to bring stakeholders and thinkers from all ends of the political agenda—from grassroots to government—to discuss solutions to some of Mumbai’s toughest issues.
The panel on Sunday kicked the series off with an introductory discussion about bridging some of Mumbai’s many “gaps” or disparities—in this case the gap between informal settlements and other areas in Mumbai, as well as the bottom-down/top-down gap, and the grassroots/institutional gap. The speakers and their individual interests were incredibly diverse—actually, almost a little too diverse to make for a neatly focused discussion, in my opinion. But what I found most interesting was how the conversation started with the germs of collaboration and bridging the divides in the city, yet ended up centered around two key concepts: access, and public space.
The emphasis on “access” ranged from: the importance of access to basic resources like food, water, and fuel; how the interdependence between informal settlements and other areas affects and enables access to employment and resources for each of the communities respectively; how perceptions of personal safety and societal pressures affect women’s access to the city and its spaces; access to government; and so on. What’s more, the discussion about access was largely anchored in public space—almost seeing public space as the key element where “access” to the city (or lack thereof) is defined, and also as the key element that various types of access to the city hinge on.
On Monday, the session got quite technical, but was equally fascinating—focusing on water and sanitation in the city. To clarify for anyone who hasn’t visited Mumbai, these are big issues here: not only is water quite scarce in the city, but available water is quite polluted. This leads to a host of issues for many in the city, but particularly those in the informal settlements.
While not all panelists saw eye-to-eye on everything, most seemed to agree on a few things—for instance, that rainwater harvesting is a good and easily implementable solution to Mumbai’s water scarcity, and one for which the technology already exists. They also felt that water and water management should not be privatized in a city like Mumbai, but that large-scale solutions are also not coming through to the micro-scale to improve the situation for individuals quickly enough. Thus the conversation turned to the commoditization of small-scale solutions that could help improve the situation more immediately for individuals, something most in attendance seemed to feel was an appropriate interim option.
Next week the discussions continue, peppered with many other colorful and eclectic events. If you’re in Mumbai, be sure to check out the schedule, or stop by anytime behind the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, or the mobile external site, situated at Horniman Circle this week.
And next week, starting December 20, be sure to come by Priyadarshini Park for a few really fun, engaging events: Football with a Kick, which will bring football stars and young athletes together for a friendly competition; Pop-Up Garden, a community-empowering gardening workshop; a screening of the absurdist comedy Limited Manuski; and Mumbai 2050: An Origami Vision—a workshop where children get to build their vision of an ideal Mumbai using origami.
If you’re not in Mumbai, well, stay tuned here!
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Photos: Christine McLaren (Meet in the Middle); UnCommonSense (remaining photos)