Yesterday, we shared a report from the Brooklyn edition of the recent TEDx City 2.0 event. Today, we’re bringing you a few thoughts from the simultaneous Mumbai edition of that event.
Last Saturday, October 13, marked the day of TEDx City2.0, where TEDx events (the local/independently organized version of the conference that produces the beloved TED Talks were held in cities all around the world under the theme of “City 2.0,” the city of the future. So it was with major excitement that, having begun only last week to finally settle into Mumbai fulltime, I discovered that a TEDx City 2.0 event, TEDxChurchgate, was being held right here, just a few stops away from my brand-new home.
I couldn’t imagine a better dive into the intellectual mind of the city’s city thinkers. The event more than delivered on that front, but in a different way than I had expected, with a more persuasive, call-to-action feel than I have witnessed in TED talks or events before.
A few days before TEDxChurchgate, when I contacted the organizer, Jerry Johnson, to beg for media tickets to the already more-than-sold-out event, he told me that I should not expect a night of talk about urban planning and infrastructure. Rather, he said, he believes that economic and budgetary decisions are guided by certain principles, and the event was intended to explore “the principles that can shape an ideal city of the future”— philosophy, psychology, sexuality, art, and so on. Thus the diverse cast of speakers, which included a film and television producer, a media professional with a focus on HIV/AIDS, a psychologist, an online entrepreneur, the founder of a public policy think tank, just one architect/urban planner, and even India’s first dot-com billionaire.
But as the speakers took the stage one by one, the overwhelming feeling I sensed throughout many of their talks was one of frustration, and urgency for change. Rather than taking a new concept or idea of some sort and unraveling it piece by piece over the course of their allotted eighteen minutes, many presented bare facts, culminating in a persuasive and passionate call for action.
For example, Roy Wadia, a former reporter for CNN International, HIV/AIDS advocate and communications specialist, and executive director of the Center for Civil Society, laid out pragmatic, practical suggestions for public and private systems of service delivery in the city—such as ward-level choice and competition in energy and water markets, vouchers for the poor to increase their choices between public and private education institutions, and stronger regulation in the private market—in an effort to create a system that begins to “convert coercion to choice.”
And, in what is perhaps the most unabashedly political talk I have ever seen in the TED arena, Rajesh Jain, the dot.com billionaire I mentioned, put out a passionate call for a union of “urban middle India” at the voting booths, to vote as one swing block. “We in urban middle India are India’s only hope,” he concluded.
Some of the talks did offer a more standard presentation of ideas. Online entrepreneur Joshua Zadar rolled out his concept of “free cities,” based on the concept (which I personally found flimsy and highly debatable) that more income equals more freedom; and architect/urban planner Christopher Benninger presented his Principles of Intelligent Urbanism. But overall, I was left with one very distinct impression: that those “city thinkers” thinking about the city here in Mumbai—or at least those that I saw at TEDxChurchgate—are not just satisfied with talk. They want action.
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