Lab | Log

Last Week at the Lab

On the We Like it Spicy tour

In the market on one of the Food for Thought tours

It always takes a week or two after opening for the Lab to really settle into place in a city. This week, it finally did: over the past few days, the Lab really came alive here in Mumbai.

The Lab’s mobile satellite site—in Priyadarshini Park in Malabar Hill this week— really became like a small community center from time to time, bustling with workshops and children’s events while others played on the Lab’s new carom boards and ping pong tables (yesss!!!) till late into the night. It goes to show that Mumbaikers—like people anywhere else—really take to opportunities to enjoy public spaces and interact in and with them when that opportunity is presented. Perhaps the games, or even an event space, should be made permanent fixtures.

One of the workshops I mentioned above was a design charrette with a women’s community group from Santa Cruz called the Society for Nutrition, Education, and Health Action (SNEHA). The goal of the workshop was to transform a space in the organization’s neighborhood into a garden. After learning about the space available, participants worked with architects on physical designs, mapping a blueprint and even building physical models of what the garden might eventually look like.

It’s interesting to note that, though each design proposal was unique, there were some key elements that all the proposals included: shaded space, seating, vegetables, leafy greens, and quiet, safe spaces. There seems to be a great need for spaces that are quiet, safe, shady, open, and green for people to experience calm moments to themselves and with company in Mumbai—especially for women.

Four fascinating food tours also took the Lab out into the city in a different way, bringing participants through various neighborhood markets to investigate food identity here in the city, with a fabulous panel discussion afterward. It seems that food has the ability to put many of Mumbai’s cultural issues into sharp focus. Food identity is a big topic in Mumbai, as the city has so many religions and cultures living together, with their own varied relationships with food—vegetarian and non-vegetarian, traditional fishing communities, and more. As the city’s demographics have shifted, shifts in the food landscape, as well as the cultural and physical makeup of the city, have also occurred, and resulted in tensions in the communities. The exact same phenomenon, however, has also resulted in exciting new fusions and innovation in food coming out of Mumbai. Dried dosas, anyone?

On the road with a Food for Thought tour

On the road with a Food for Thought tour

On the even meatier end, the Lab’s Meet in the Middle discussions continued with a hugely productive discussion about affordable housing in the city. The session’s panelists represented a very diverse range of interests, which gave a strong overview of the complexity of the housing issues in Mumbai, and avenues through which it can be, and is currently being addressed. This really emphasized a point that was brought up many times during the panel: “There is no one silver bullet.”

Mediating Public-Private Housing

Participants at the Mediating Public-Private Housing discussion

The discussion was centered around a few key themes, namely large scale versus small scale, and complexity. It was really made clear through many of the panelists’ presentations and the discussion that large-scale “fixes” to Mumbai’s affordability crisis and slum proliferation really fail to understand and make room for the complexity of the work/live environment of slum community, and thus have failed to provide for the needs of communities.

Many panelists touched on the need to move away from talking about affordable housing, and more toward a conversation about affordable communities. They discussed the fact that redevelopment, or “scaling up,” need not take place all at once, but could happen incrementally. In Mumbai, it seems that the most successful affordable housing models are coming from the bottom up. Slums are providing genuine affordable housing suited to the community, and many aspects of that housing are actually working quite well at the moment. The question proposed was: how can that fact be recognized, learned from, and built upon when looking for solutions? A need for viable solutions for a type of emerging middle class also emerged as a key point.

Sachin Tendulkar at the Lab

David van der Leer talks with Sachin Tendulkar

Oh, and to end on a light note—did I mention that Sachin Tendulkar visited the Lab? In a conversation with curator David van der Leer (and surrounded by several hundred screaming children) he reflected on his childhood growing up in Mumbai—having to pay for two tickets on the bus, for instance: one for him, and one for his large cricket bag. He also discussed the issues he sees in the city today—like congestion and noise pollution. His solution? A carbon cap-and-trade-like system . . . for honking! Limit cars to 10,000 honks, and force drivers to pay for any more, he said, and Mumbai will be a much better place. I, for one, am all for it. Who’s with me?

A taste of the coming week: join us for more Meet in the Middle talks, including one on January 4 about rethinking Mumbai’s skywalks and sealinks; and come by the Lab’s Batliboy location on January 5 for an in-depth discussion about violence in society.
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Photos: Christine McLaren