Mumbai Urban Design Competition winners announced

Mumbai Environmental Social Network (MESN) in collaboration with Solomon Guggenheim Foundation launched a design competition in November 2012 seeking a redesign of  Mumbai’s busiest and most choked traffic junction, Kala Nagar near Bandra Kurla Complex. The competition, administered by Lord Cultural Resources Private Limited, overlooked by Trupti Amritwar Vaitla of BMW Lab, and supported by Vivek Phansalkar, Joint Commissioner of Police, Traffic of Mumbai, was open to students and professionals; it challenged applicants to restructure the junction’s traffic flow and explore ways to reimagine its infrastructure with new public spaces and pedestrian flow and function. A jury that included former Bogotá mayor Enrique Peñalosa and Mumbai traffic police commissioner Vivek Phansalkar selected the top five projects from a pool of 43 entries from urban design professionals and students worldwide.

The selection committee awarded three honors in the professional category and two honors in the student category. A ‘people’s choice’ winner, selected from either category, was decided by more than 200 community votes at the skywalk of the Kala Nagar Junction and visitors to the Lab at the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum.

About the winning entries:

In the professional category: Radhika Mathur presented a plan featuring a pedestrian skywalk and dedicated bus lanes; Sweta Parab and Hrishikesh More designed a series of circular pedestrian promenades; and Mayuri Sisodia and Kalpit Ashar proposed weaving together multiple modes of transportation on two floating, angular islands.

Radhika Mathur

In the student category: Andres Perez and his group suggested a wide, tree-shaded pedestrian plaza, while a team from the D. Y. Patil College of Architecture included an elevated pedestrian walk with seating and concessions tucked under a freeway overpass.

Students of D.Y.Patil College of Architecture, Mumbai

And lastly, the competition also presented a people’s choice award to Vedika Tulsiyan, Jaynish Shah, and Karan Sancheti, who proposed an ambitious pedestrian ramp with bleacher seating capped by an elevated, gable-roofed garden.

Now the question to Mumbai: Whose entry they will select and implement to actually solve the problem? Is it going to be one picked by the citizens or the one chosen by esteemed panel of judges?

CRIT Mumbai participates in Audi Urban Future Initiative

Collective Research Initiatives Trust (CRIT) is a group of individuals that delves into understanding the urban realm of Indian cities through research and pedagogy. The group was conceived in 2003 and since then through its activities has studied and participated in initiatives such as housing, urban mapping and various issues in emerging urbanization.

The group recently participated in the Audi Urban Future Initiative Awards of 2012 where it stood as one of the four finalists. The competition was won by Boston based practice Höweler + Yoon Architecture. The winning entry was a re-imagination of the highway as the vision that unifies the I-95 corridor between Boston and Washington D.C. into a mega-region called ‘Boswash’.

When CRIT was invited to participate in the Audi Urban Future Award 2012, they were posed three questions: What will the future of Mumbai look like in 2030? What will CRIT’s role will be in this envisaged future? What is its vision?

Image: Prasad Khanolkar, CRIT

CRIT’s response for the award (below) is quoted from the Audi Urban Future Initiative website:

On urban futures

Ideas about future cities have been dominated by two imaginations: First, of a utopian coherence unified by robust information systems and coordinated by super infrastructure; and second, a city engendered by catastrophes of environment, poverty, and deterioration. Inherent in these imaginations of coherence and catastrophes is the idea of time as a singular linear rhythm, of space as an entity with fixed coordinates and of people as homogeneous and inert mass. The city, on the contrary, multiplies time(s), blurs boundaries, mixes categories, provides platforms, builds connections, and opens up probabilities to transact–creating possibilities for divergent future trajectories. To talk of “a” future for cities, be it utopian or dystopian, forecloses the possibilities that cities open.

On urban mobility

When mobility is seen as transport, it ends up in a problem-solving exercise that produces mega projects, intelligent vehicles or infrastructures that claim to be intelligent. Within the urban realm, the concept of mobility needs to be understood beyond transportation, as transportation itself is embedded in the multiple processes that shape the city. For CRIT, mobility is a twofold concept. First, it involves the different kinds of movements that are brought about by urban transformations today. These include access, migration, gentrification, class movement, etc. And second, mobility or to mobilize is the ability to navigate the complex urban ecosystem of geographies, legislations, claims, powers, relationships, and information to construct one’s path amidst these movements.

This response is left a little open-ended and perhaps can be dealt with in the second generation of problem-solving and while it points out a few classic issues clearly it doesn’t point to clear steps forward. At this point, Mumbai does have a few glaring issues that can be dealt with with a sense of emergency.  In my observation, I have seen a number of think tanks emerging studying Indian urban issues and since the issues are largely multi-layered and complex, they are not being broken down to smaller, manageable, tangible projects which will solve some immediate issues facing the cities. Discourse and research can continue but there is a need to spell out actions and act on them right away through small and medium enterprises and largely enabled through governance.

One, I can say is mobility and transport: curbing private and single occupancy vehicles and complementing them with a robust mass public transit system; walking and biking friendly roads and lanes are imperative; clusters of mass functional housing near business corridors is another; lastly, cleaner and safer Mumbai will include better trash management, more public and open spaces, public amenities like libraries, parks and so on. The current fragmented approach of exclusivity and divisive approach to the city will only lead to conditions for corruption and crime. Intervention is necessary and organic, and a romantic idea is not an answer to Mumbai’s visible plague. The time is now.

BMW Guggenheim Lab reaches Mumbai

The BMW Guggenheim Lab is a mobile laboratory with a purpose that travels to various cities and explores urban issues and through public engagement aims to understand urban fabric and its culture in context. The Lab comprises of interdisciplinary teams of urban planners, sustainability consultants, educators, researchers and traffic consultants and it aims to serve as a platform to facilitate and encourage a dialog between citizens and professionals about the urban spaces we inhabit.

The BMW Guggenheim Lab was launched in Berlin and ran from June through July; later it ran in New York from August through October. The Lab has now travelled to Mumbai and is currently camping at its central location, Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum and will run through 20 January 2013.

Pallavi Shrivastava, WAN’s Mumbai Correspondent, had the opportunity to interview the Lab’s Curator, David van der Leer. Below are excerpts from the interview which gives an idea of the Lab and what it aims to do through its various events and activities. A full schedule of the Lab can be found here. Some of the interesting ongoing discussions and reflections on Lab have been written by the bloggers. Find them here and here.

Pallavi: What has been the idea and inspiration behind the BMW Guggenheim Lab and what is it looking to explore in the cities it is traveling to?

David: The BMW Guggenheim Lab is a project that Maria Nicanor and I started a few years ago in the hopes to bring everyday urban citizens into conversations about cities that are typically limited to city officials, policy makers, architects, designers etc. Would the conversation get more diverse, would we get to new ideas? We wanted to test what would happen if our conversations would take place outside in the city instead of in auditoriums. And what we have learned so far is that the conversations are indeed different in tone, and that we come to new ideas.

How were these specific cities selected? Did the BMW Guggenheim Lab have any set criteria before it narrowed down on these three cities?

The Lab has been interested in going to different continents. The nice thing about the current mix of cities is that we have cities of three completely different scales and densities, with very different social contexts. Together they give us a decent outlook and understanding of some of the key issues taking place in urbanism today.

After New York and Berlin, the Lab is currently in Mumbai. Were there any similarities in terms of urban design issues and also any stark difference that the Lab team has had the understanding of?

The conversation in each of the cities that we go to is different. In Mumbai the conversation has quite strongly focused on the relationship between the individual and the community and its impact on design issues and policy decisions. The Lab Team for Mumbai has worked up a series of design projects and research studies which is quite different from the approach in some of the other cities.

For Mumbai specifically, how does this city differentiate itself in terms of challenges, learning’s and urban context?

Mumbai is one of the densest cities in the world. As a result, the urban issues that we are running into in many other places tend to get intensified here. Just think of Mumbai’s issues around transportation, or housing. Just to name a few.

Coming to public spaces issues in Mumbai, what has been BMW Guggenheim Lab’s learning and unlearning so to speak?

Several of our studies for Mumbai are focused on the topic of privacy. In most of the local languages there is not a good word for privacy, which already shows how little the topic is being discussed. Our studies show that people in Mumbai have rather intense home environments and as a result of that look for privacy all around the city sometimes in most unexpected places. It would make sense if this had an impact on the design, for instance, public spaces but it doesn’t always. So this is one of the issues that we are looking into.

Does the BMW Guggenheim Lab team feels that Mumbai citizen’s response to the Lab has been similar as it was in New York and Berlin? If not, what has been the difference in their perspective?

The great thing about the Lab is that it is different wherever we go. In Mumbai the interaction has been very direct – with many great questions about what the Lab can do for this particular city. For me personally it is most important to get everyday Mumbaikars to speak up about their city – which in the long run can have impact on policy decisions and the development of design ideas. But probably more important in the short run is a series of very tangible projects that have been developed for Mumbai (the design and studies).

How were Lab sessions and events curated and what was the background research before narrowing down to current sessions that are currently taking place in Mumbai?

In each of the cities that we go to we bring together a team of four Lab Members. In Mumbai we are working with Trupti Amritwar Vaitla (architect and planner, Mumbai), Hector Zamora (artist, Mexico and Brazil), Aisha Dasgupta (demographer, London and Malawi) and Neville Mars (architect and planner, Netherlands and Shanghai). Together they spent several months in Mumbai to do research, meet with tons of people, and see lots of areas in the city. They developed the general premise of the Lab for Mumbai, which we then developed further with them as well as with a team of local programs experts.

The beauty of our project is that it is all about the process. So we will be able to explain to you better what our project has really turned into at the end of the run of the Lab – as we need the engagement of Mumbaikars to come to further new insights.

Moving forward, what does BMW Guggenheim Lab see changing through these initiatives and how does it hope to see positive changes envisaged through the Lab?

It is interesting to see how this is also different for each of the cities that we go to. In New York a neighborhood organization (First Street Green) continued our work on the Lab site after we left with great cultural programs focused on the neighborhood and the city. In Berlin we have various design and research projects that took on a life of their own. My favorite one there was a crowd-sourced bike map project in which Berliners could suggest where to lay bike paths – a project that is now being analyzed by the city council and that seems to have a serious impact on where bike paths will be installed over the coming years.

But again in the long run it is very important that everyday urbanites start to speak up and think about their cities much more- which over the coming decades will have a serious impact on design and policy.

Building Livable Cities: Ideas Symposium

When architecture is both beautiful and ethical, it invites belief. So said Paul Goldberger in Why Architecture Matters. While the term beautiful can be subjective, the term ethical is inclusive, true to local context, equitable and ecologically viable. The Building Livable Cities Symposium held in Mumbai this week exhibited the same sentiments by almost all the speakers. The symposium was timely as India stands at an inflection point of transition to urbanization where we need to come up with our definition of aspiration and through that the articulation of the built spaces of tomorrow. The speakers were an eclectic mix of architects, urban practitioners, researchers and educators, everyone exploring answers to issues like open spaces, relevant architecture, transportation, policies and good governance.

Yehuda Raff, a spatial planner from Cape Town Partnership, South Africa kickstarted the event with his talk. He described his sense of perceived similarities between India and South Africa in urban spaces. He felt that Indians have an amazing sense of work ethic which is missing in South Africa. His point on South Africans lacking creativity is worth making note of. Indians have been engaged in creative pursuits for a long time in history and that makes our country culturally rich and vibrant, thus the cues for urbanization are different from what one may have in a charter city like Dubai or Abu Dhabi.

Jeffrey Raven, Director and Associate Professor of Master of Architecture in Urban + Regional Design at NYIT School of Architecture and Design, spoke of architecture that responds to climatology and how forms, direction and materials should be considered to leverage local climate, wind and solar energy.

Raj Janagam, founder of Cycle Chalao has been striving to implement a program to encourage bike-sharing riding program. He shared his successes and failures at making the program work in the cities in India. Perhaps there are larger issues to be resolved before bike sharing will become truly possible. The automobile industry that has infested Indian cities will not be easy to thwart and overthrow but it needs to be done before benign habits of urban living take over.

Teresa McWalters, a researcher studying incremental growth and self-made architecture in Mumbai spoke about the functioning of organic urban sprawls, although I felt there was romanticizing of settlements and frugal economic mode of trade. Representation of aspirations through someone else’s eyes can be misleading and biased. Do people living in those squats not aspire for things to be different, cleaner, and more functional? Juxtaposed with new egotistical skyscraper architecture which affects them positively or negatively? Isn’t it the case of severely opposing aspirations bumping roughly with each other rather than coexisting peacefully?

Ethan Kent of Project for Public Spaces (PPS) started off with a very basic observation which is at the heart of problem. “If you plan for cars, the city is going to have cars.” If we don’t want cars as our only mode of transportation, we will just have to build that idea into our very fabric of urban daily living. One line that stuck in my mind was: “We keep celebrating very narrow idea of architecture and it has become about a building and not about clusters or communities.”

Other speakers included Jay Narayana (Gateway Planning in Texas), Caroline Lobo (Orcutt Winslow in Phoenix) and Marci Cohen (Commissioner of the District of Columbia Zoning Commission), who all covered the ideas of political will and good governance in improving cities, urban renewal of decaying or under-utilized pockets and how we can incorporate fun in our urban spaces if we apply ourselves.

Coming together and having a dialogue that facilitates the generation of ideas and looking at our cities in more ways than one is rewarding and it renews your passion in the field of architecture. Building Livable Cities Symposium was one such event.

Thank you to The Urban Vision team for such a wonderful interactive session and for bringing professionals from various walks together. Architecture is about everything and to understand architecture you have to understand many forces that drive it, shape it. Hence, folks from multi-disciplinary backgrounds form for a more vibrant outcome in design and architecture.

Places and people: Journal in Transit

If you haven’t heard about the unfolding of India’s shining tale yet, you are probably not listening enough. It is probably the singlemost fictional story which many are selling. Not that India is not shining with this newly liberalized state of policies but its bathing only perhaps 5% of its population with its glory.

My recent trip to New Delhi just enforced my belief that India is anything but shining for the rest of the 95% of its population which lives right under a shadow cast by this light.

I got out of the new Indira Gandhi International Airport (designed by Woodhead) and was received by a driver who was pre-scheduled for me. A young boy who didn’t look more than 18/19 years of age, slender and undernourished. Walking along towards the car, he reached out for my bag without looking up. I declined, saying ‘It’s not heavy, don’t worry’. His subservient demeanor was something he has perhaps accepted and internalized as part of what comes with living on the fringes. He didn’t speak much and only answered in monosyllables to my queries on distance and travel time while navigating through Delhi roads and landscapes that appeared less chaotic and more green.

Image courtesy: Woodhead

Next, I embarked on to a glitzy Taj Palace at Sardar Patel Marg. The hotel is a little old and looks a worn-out now but still carries the grandeur that Taj has made their reputation in the luxury section worldwide. Later, inside the restroom, after washing my hands I was accosted by a short, thin young girl, staff of Taj, with a ceramic tray carrying a neatly folded napkin with a purple flower on the side. But it occured to me while taking the napkin that I might as well had just picked it up from the stack myself, did I really need her assistance?

The question that surfaced for her was if this was what she really enjoyed doing, offering guests hand towels on a tray with a flower and slipping in a ‘thank you’ and remaining inside that enclosed space of a restroom during all her working hours. Maybe that luxury of preferences hasn’t crossed her mind.

While heading back to Mumbai, I was a bit rushed and nervous to miss my flight that all thoughts and obeservations had vanished.

But entering Mumbai, I had one last  enduring meeting of the day with my cab driver, who to my surprise was a woman. Something unusual on Indian soil. Being tired, I kept quiet and just wanted to observe her mannerism driving her cab on Mumbai’s ruthless traffic and road conditions. But it was not to be.  With that she launched into her saga.

She was a mother of two young kids and looked quite young and her voice carried a trace of frustration. She takes care of a family of four. Her husband died abruptly about 4 years ago in a road accident. Until then she was a housewife but that event triggered her to look for work which will give her income to survive. She went on to lament that she makes about 300 to 400 INR on a decent day and about 600 to 700 INR on rare better days. But there are days, like Mumbai Bandhs and festivals when people don’t go out much resulting in drying up her daily wages completely. And those days get difficult to manage. Being a woman driver has its own perils, she mentioned. But she went on to say, she is sending both her kids to school that will ensure better days in future. Amen to that.

These are perhaps India Shining’s step-children who can see the light from a distance but not glow in it. These are India’s misfits who haven’t been able to transition successfully into the wealth camps of rapid urban development. They have either failed or at best remain displaced far away from opportunities that could have trickled down to them as well with an inclusive system.

Sabarmati River Front Development

Most of the urban developments ideally anchor on one central idea of a public space and that can be ecological or economical driven around which then subsequent developments spin off, setting the rhythm of what may arrive. Mumbai is devoid of such centrally thought out single anchor and thus it gives you multiple, scattered and non-cohensive entities in urban forms. Sabarmati River Front Development is in sharp contrast in what is happening or rather not happening in Mumbai’s urban development mumbo-jumbo. I had the opportunity to learn about Dr. Bimal Patel’s Sabarmati River Front work in Mumbai during World Architecture Day. It is socially relevant and inclusive which is evident in several examples he showed of completed work and what he envisages in time to come.

River Sabarmati is important to the city’s urban ecology and has been long acknowledged that appropriate development of the riverfront can turn the river into a major asset; improving the quality of environment, ecology and life in Ahmedabad.

HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd.

The Environmental Planning Collaborative (EPC) was commissioned to prepare a comprehensive feasibility study to develop a 9 km stretch of the city’s riverfront. EPC provided development management services to Sabarmati River Front Development Corporation Limited (SRFDCL) until 2002. During this period its mandate was to direct and monitor all the preparatory work. Since then HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd. (HCPDPM) headed by Bimal Patel has been responsible for the project’s urban, master plan and architectural design.

Public spaces cannot be privatized. Public spaces cannot be exclusive. Mumbai, with certain convoluted system, managed to do both, pretty ruthlessly.

Thus, Sabarmati River Front Project due to its very nature and aspiration remains multi-dimensional public asset which will not only create thriving citizen-centric networks of parks, promenades, bazaars, cultural hub but also work as a structure that will ecologically enhance the city and its people’s relationship to the river. It is one of the most robust urban renewal project that India is witnessing, keeping context and local culture intact without walking all over it.

HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd.

The ongoing process of the project is premised on these following steps methodically. Firstly, it is to reclaim land, cleaning up existing contamination to the river and then on to build flood protection wall and laying grid of sewage interceptors that will prevent any further contamination. The sewage lines will carry untreated mass to augmented treatment plant and slum dwellers have been relocated to built communities of modest housing.

Next, the project provided 11.5 km long pedestrian promenade at the edge along the banks of the river. The promenade is very well connected to proposed streets with wide sidewalks inclusives of bicycle paths which both encourage walking and cycling, basic of basic amenities which have been stripped away from Mumbai residents.

Ongoing and future work includes promise of culture centre, museums, sports facilities, trade fair grounds and open air markets. All of this will enhance Ahmedabad’s local living conditions for residents and experience of tourists. The simple joy of being able to walk along the river bank, to sit in a garden and enjoy the serene beauty of the river is now a reality through Sabarmati River Front. The project is currently ongoing, but several parts of the projects are open and being used by the public and the reclaimed space is home to events such as the kite festival.

Transformation through urban renewal in a cohesive manner is possible and only way forward if we were to avoid fragmentation and isolated growth spurts and communities can thrive and benefit from inspirational project like Sabarmati River Front and that is the lesson Mumbai cannot turn oblivion to.

HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd.

Project Details:

Client: Sabarmati River Front Development Corporation Ltd., Ahmedabad

Site Area: 200 hectares

Year of completion: 1997 – Ongoing

Images: HCP Design Planning and Management Pvt. Ltd.


World Architecture Day Mumbai

You will always stumble on inspiration when you least expect it and somehow that inspiration will revive your eroding faith and will turn you hopeful again. Unexpected, my experience was exactly that, when I attended World Architecture Day on Monday 8 October here in Mumbai. All the speakers talked about a city of the past when Mumbai was Bombay, a city of hope, vibrancy and opportunities which has come to degrade in such ways that somehow hope has gone missing. I came back satisfied and rejuvenated, with an urge to do more.

Mostly all the talks, especially the ones by Professor K.T.Ravindran, Vikas Dilawari, Bimal Patel and Christopher Benninger tackled some of the most basic issues plaguing Indian cities.  But they all have, through their exemplary work, tackled these problems head on, fearlessly. They all talked about reincarnation of the city with urban renewal and regeneration.

Dr. Bimal Patel’s work on Sabarmati Riverfront in Gujarat is etched in my mind. He has changed the paradigm of public space and continues to do so with his exemplary work. Its enduring, inclusive and socially relevant with the context very much in forefront.

Architect Vikas Dilawari’s conservation and preservation in the built environment of several communities in Mumbai has rightfully earned him many accolades, with examples of years of persistence and dogged determination.

Architect Christopher Benninger is now working very closely with the Government of Bhutan in having a feasible urban plan which will be worth its while in facing forces and challenges in coming years while going through urbanization. He remained utmost humble, extremely funny yet profound all the way.

Almost all of the speakers spoke of major issues of decongestion, affordable housing, open spaces and public spaces, inclusive slum rehabilitation while keeping them within the context of the city realities with respect to rapid urbanization of India.

The coming together of architects and built environment fraternity without a commercial aspect attached to it was the first of its kind in Mumbai. There was passion, honesty and only true speaking of their minds. It was truly a celebration of architecture and aspirations that all of us carry and will continue to do so to claim our cities. It was a day to remind us that architecture is one of the core professions and architects will remain key drivers in economic growth, supporting aspirations and nurturing the innovation of city dwellers. World Architecture Day left me inspired in more ways than I can explain in words and I hope to carry this message forward to others in days to come.

Tadao Ando’s Mumbai Visit

Architect Tadao Ando had visited Mumbai a couple of months back and unfortunately, I had give his lecture a miss. But this event and the visits of architects from elsewhere have generated an interesting mix of debate in the architectural fraternity here in India. More on this a little later.

Tadao Ando is a Japanese architect whose work has been primarily in Japan and his volume of work carries a distinct style specific to him. He is highly regarded for his extensive contribution in the field of architecture and has bagged several notable prizes. His style of creative use of lighting and maintaining natural settings giving a Zen kind of outcome are hallmarks to his work.

The most unforgettable example that comes to my mind is of Church of the Light in the City of Ibaraki, Osaka which Paul Goldberger in Why Architecture Matters explained about as ‘a simple rectangle of smooth concrete, sliced through by a freestanding wall set a fifteen-degree angle to the rectangle, as if it were a huge panel that had been swung on hinge’.

He explains his reaction of being in Church of the Light as something transcending a spiritual quest. And while experiencing religious buildings he mentions something profound on the effect that Architecture and built environment can have: “Ultimately this is a space that has been created to tell us that for all we know, there is something we do not know, something that we will never be able to know.”

Church of the Light by Tadao Ando

Recently in India, few notable Indian architects have been opposing the entry of foreign architects as it threatens their work share which they think should ideally belong to them. Now, this is both disturbing and conservative in my view. Ideally, let there be a fair competition to strive what is best for India. We can’t claim ownership of territories in a globalized world. This also limits excellence.

Let the stakeholders have a sound process in place of deciding and ultimately figure out what is best for them. How can we force it top-down? I see it as a great opportunity for the built environment in India to improve and excel their local practices in terms of quality, process and outcome. We are currently sitting on a huge deficit of skilled workers in built environment and we cannot afford to reject the talent pool that is coming to India from other parts of the world. Instead, we have well laid out policies which are inclusive in job generation for Indians and foreign workers and drive towards quality.

With what the world is today, where major chuck of opportunities lie with developing nations, it will be quite natural for businesses to go towards the source of opportunities. Either the gates are closed or shut. Partially open gates are still open gates. And this is the message Indian Community of Architects is sending out to the world, ‘that we do see the need of your expertise but we feel threatened by your competence and hence our reluctant approach in welcoming you’. We are being tyrannical in our approach here.

Tadao Ando was in Mumbai looking for an opportunity in architecture and he will probably be working with Godrej Group on a residential project. But that is all there is to it so far.

But given the current architecture scenario, there is so much scope for architecture and design work that we don’t have to hoard and mark territories. There is room for local architects, foreign architects and hybrid architects much the same. Whatever those terms have come to mean. I say this because I do not understand their correctness in this architecture context in our eroded identity where we have come unstuck from our roots, for better or worse, we don’t know yet.

What we lack is a vision of a overall city, a holistic urban plan, our architectural aspirations. Once we have that cleared, the rest of the smaller pieces of this jumbled puzzle will be easier to put together.

Wikipedia Takes Mumbai III

Inspired by Wiki Loves Monuments, Wikipedia has come to Mumbai by the name Wikipedia Takes Mumbai III, scouting for similar heritage sites in the city and capturing them in pictures. The first Wiki Loves Monuments competition was held in 2010 in the Netherlands. In 2012, the competition extends beyond Europe, with a total of 32 participating countries.

Wiki Loves Monuments is an annual international photography competition held during September in which participants take pictures of historical monuments and heritage sites in their region, and upload them to Wikimedia Commons. The aim of the event is to highlight the heritage sites of the participating countries.

Just a day ago I read about lawyer Gautam Patel’s take on conservation and preservation in a city like Mumbai. He is of the opinion that architecture which is dilapidated should be let go to make way for changes. He goes on to say that not every architectural detail and every ramshackle structure is worth keeping. And he further added that citizens’ participation in such decision-making should be well considered. Fine points although I must contest their validity in case specific to Mumbai. In the city of Mumbai where heritage protection laws are loosely formed and applied, where and how to draw a line of what appears worth saving to me is worth saving to you too?

Then the point of citizen involvement is truly an inclusive thought but honestly for citizens of Mumbai whether saving heritage architecture is of priority is debatable. They are struggling for far more basic amenities like clean water, sanitation, affordable housing and sane commute for survival, so heritage conservation does appear like a lofty concept and will remain a coterie endeavor for a few more years in Mumbai.

That said, with events like Wiki Loves Monuments, it does generate people’s interest in the city’s precincts and architecture and its heritage, and more importantly the past that otherwise would have remained in a quite background of a declining city. Few will document through pictures and some will write about the experience, making it work as a passive awareness campaign whose benefits both tangible and intangible will be slow and organic but certainly positive in times to come. So, events like Wiki Loves Monuments work as quiescent catalysts and in less explicable ways for quantifying immediate benefits.

In conversation with Prathima Manohar, Founder of Urban Vision

Last week I had a chance to converse with the founder of Urban Vision, Prathima Manohar, an urban think-tank of India. Urban Vision is organizing a week-long Immersion Program in Mumbai for Architects, Urban Planners and Real Estate & Infrastructure Professionals in one of the weeks in December 2012. More about the program and its ideology from her.

Pallavi: What is the idea behind the India Immersion Program – Study Tour? And how did it come about, can you give a brief background of the program?

Prathima: The India Immersion Tour has been designed to create opportunities for exchange on innovation in a wide spectrum of issues in the arena of architecture, built environment, planning, city building, real estate and infrastructure development.

The goal of the program is to create ways for participants to better understand the challenges & opportunities in India’s growing infrastructure & real estate sector; understanding the appropriate legal and regulatory frameworks; meeting potential partners; fostering new business connections and collaboration; advocacy of innovative practices that can enable inclusive & sustainable urbanization.

India is only about 30 per cent urban at this point. So, there is a huge opportunity to leapfrog into a society that is environmentally and socially sustainable; especially by learning from the successes and failures of the more urbanized & developed parts of the world; this is a focused program aligned with that approach of knowledge  exchange.

Pallavi: What kind of participants do you envisage participating in this program? What does the program and participants aim to achieve from the program?

Prathima: The program is aimed at architects, planners, real estate Professionals & other Infrastructure specialists. It will be a small and diverse group who are looking to learn more about trends in Indian urban development and better understand the market.  The program will allow them to increase their knowledge of the India market through experiential learning.  The opportunity to connect with & learn from the key leaders who are shaping India’s Real Estate & Infrastructure sector. We think that this program offers international practitioners an excellent platform to learn more and build connections in arguably one of the most exciting and growing markets in the world.

Pallavi:What is the format of the program?

Prathima: Our itinerary will feature one week of extensive and intimate meetings in Mumbai with leaders & experts from the industry along with networking receptions, study tours, conference & a charrette.

Pallavi: Do you think getting professionals from multi-disciplinary background together on one platform is more beneficial than focusing on single field of expertise, say architects or urban planners?

Prathima: I agree. We have tried to emphasize on bringing together a diverse set of individuals in terms of geography & disciplines.  It adds much more to the richness of the dialogue.  Dean Nitin Nohria of the Harvard Business School had once said to me, ‘Great innovations happen at the intersection of things’. I think diverse perspectives are much needed to think through innovative solutions to address this big transformation we are going through as a nation.

Pallavi: What is the response like been so far from the industry? Are there challenges that you have come across and would like to express?

Prathima: It has been great up till now and we hope to make this program part of our annual calendar. We have already had applications from Africa, North America, Europe and the Middle East. We also hope to host similar programs in other important cities in the world.

Pallavi: What according to you, are the major challenges that are faced by India right now with respect to urban planning and built environment?

Prathima: Urbanization in India was never addressed in a strategic and planned manner. All our plans are often outdated even before they are released. They are also so rigid that they limit a city’s ability to develop in line with new contexts and needs. The dire and unbearable conditions of our cities are a result of slow and minor interventions to ever worsening conditions. They are a result of a complete lack of long term strategic thinking. We need to develop long term vision. Unplanned development will not only have an adverse impact on real estate investment and development; but also on our macro-economic and societal development.

There is no dearth of ideas on what principles we need to adapt to create inclusive, environmentally sustainable cities; but the problem really is about implementing these ideas. Even the most highly regarded cities of today whether London or New York have gone through successful urban transformations after having dealt with massive challenges at some point in their history. Even developing world cities like Bogota or Curatiba in South America that have more dire problems of crime and drugs have been able to move towards the path of successful urban transformation.

So, it is really a leadership challenge in India. Today, our cities do not have accountable and empowered administration that can carry on bold visions. We need to review our city governance structures and make them more accountable and transparent.

Pallavi: Do you see larger issues still being ignored by the government and key players at this point of time in responding to rapid urbanization that is taking place in Mumbai?

Prathima: Urbanization is widely recognized as an essential component of economic growth. But in India, we have clearly not been able to capitalize on urbanization and use it to work as part of a national growth strategy. In fact, I would go on and add that we have actually been able to attain a commendable level of economic success in the face of failing urban infrastructure and services. Even though only 30% of India’s population live in urban areas; cities contribute to over 60% of the country’s GDP and account for 90% of government revenues. But as reflected in state of most of the Indian cities- little attention is given to their well-being and advancement.

The challenges are enormous and will require a response from all segments of the society. We must not just only look towards the government to address these big challenges but also look at how we can engage the civil society & the private sector entrepreneurs. We must of course continue to push our government for policy reforms & innovative policy agendas that can lead to transformative change in our cities. We should work on amplifying our small urban innovations or successes.