Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Focus Mumbai - A Call for Ideas

About a month ago, I was in Mumbai in the office of architect, activist, and urban planner PK Das, to research and write about public housing and public space in Mumbai through two projects that I had worked with him on almost a decade ago – the Bandra Bandstand Seafront and the Chandivali Slum Rehabilitation project. I was talking to PK about a wide range of subjects related to the city of Mumbai, and visiting as I was from the US the topic inadvertently veered towards globalization and its effects on city planning, urban design and architecture. Over the course of a couple of days—somewhat by chance—we were joined by two more individuals who were studying and writing about Mumbai. (PK’s office is a Mumbai hot spot, where a numerous visiting scholars, activists, journalists, architects and planners from around the world seem to convene to learn more about the myriad aspects of the city.) Nicolas was/is doing comparative research on slums and housing policy in India and Brazil and Maura was interested in studying one of the most remarkable building types that make up the city of Mumbai – its Chawls: worker housing built in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

Our meeting shifted to the newly revamped Phoenix Mills where the discussion coalesced into the thought of creating a forum dedicated to ideas on/about the city of Mumbai. We discussed how a focus at the local level had led to global perspectives—slums, for instance—and how global capital was radically altering the cityscape at an unprecedented rate creating a very unique moment in the history of the city that had to, somehow, be captured. We thought of initiating a forum that would capture this change, the various global perspectives, and speak of the city through manifold lenses ranging from urban geography and anthropology to architecture and art. We wanted to invite various voices to contribute to evolving ideas that discusses forms, events and processes of the city.

The outcome was a blog with multiple authors, each bringing a unique (world) view, from the outside, looking in. During the course of the meeting while I was frantically taking notes on white paper napkins (a la architects sketch) Nicolas whipped out the perfect notebook, which is now the record of that meeting and an inspiration to take it forward. Let’s see where it goes.