Lab | Log

Last Week at the Lab

I can’t believe I’m saying this, but Thursdays (which are actually “Mondays” for those of us who work at the Lab) are actually becoming my favorite day of the week. This is mostly because every Thursday I arrive at work only to find a different, amazing traditional Indian art form going mad in the Lab space, as part of the Transformer series.

It started with flowers, then moved on to lanterns, and this week I entered the Lab to find twenty rangoli artists (a traditional floor-decorating art form) going absolutely wild exploring their ideas about the city, and what they like and dislike about it, with powdered colors. Forget the swirls and symmetrical patterns traditionally associated with the art form—I’m talking stunning depictions of boot cleaners, dabbawalas, Bandra Bandstand lovers, and artistic representations about how to save and re-use water. It truly is wild what bizarre and beautiful forms of engagement about cities this project seems to produce.

Rangoli at the Lab

Rangoli at the Lab

The Lab’s off-site venue was at Sambhaji Park all the way up in Mulund East last week, which truly helped bring to light the importance of the Lab’s satellite units in Mumbai. The mere time it takes to commute to Mulund East—I spent 3.5 hours in the train, stopping every 500 meters on my first visit—is telling as to how important it is that its residents have a stronger voice in the conversation about city development, infrastructure, and investment. Plus, it turns out, they like to party. Check out the video above, and photo, below, of a flash mob-cum-impromptu dance party on the Lab’s second night in the neighborhood!

Flash mob at the Lab

Later in the week, at the same site, children, parents, and older community members got together for a workshop called Fooducate and developed a community garden plot in the park itself while learning urban farming and composting techniques. Architecture students were also challenged by a real-life slum contractor to design a slum house—in other words, to design the informal.


But don’t ask Lab Team member Héctor Zamora about any of this: I couldn’t have dragged him away from his ping-pong tournament with the locals if I’d tried. Which I didn’t, because he appeared to be kicking butt.

At the main Lab site over in Byculla, things were a little more serious, with Meet in the Middle tackling participatory planning in the city. This, it turns out, is not the easiest task in a city where even civic access to data and information remains closely guarded, and regular citizens like panelist Chetan Temkar have to personally go to every bus stop and train station in the city (!) to gather data to create transportation apps like his brilliant Smart Shehar. If that’s not commitment to the citizen engagement revolution, I don’t know what is.

As usual, too many programs, and too little space to talk about all the amazing, truly exciting stuff going on here at the Lab and in Mumbai. But stay tuned over the coming week for more. And if you’re in Mumbai, come find me at a few of the events I’m looking forward to the most in the coming week, like couples’ dance workshops at the Batliboy compound, or Bollywood painting lessons, and more in-depth Meet in the Middle discussions on Planning a Dynamic City and Mediating Public-Private Investment (including Lab friend Saskia Sassen on the panel!)

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Video: Christine McLaren; photos: Swathi Abhijit (Rangoli images), Stephanie Kwai (Flash Mob and Fooducate)