Constrained by its geography and the holder of multiple dubious distinctions — including being among the world’s most unlivable cities — Mumbai will yet again dream of being a trailblazer city when the think tank BMW-Guggenheim Lab comes to town today.
Designed to inspire avant-garde thinking on urban crises, the Guggenheim Lab is six-week long initiative of New York’s Solomon R Guggenheim Foundation, and it has picked Mumbai as its first Asian destination after visiting New York and Berlin.
The Mumbai Lab Team of architects, urban planners, researchers and artistes are working with programme consultants Pooja Warier, Aaron Pereira, Naresh Fernandes, Sourav Biswas, Surabhi Sharma, Swati Sanghavi, Vikram Doctor, and Ammar Mahimwalla.
Calling itself part urban think tank, part community centre, and part public gathering space, the Lab will continue till January 20, 2013, exploring Mumbai’s unique challenges of space and growth and its infrastructural, social and cultural missing links. The programs will be presented at the Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Byculla, with additional activities at satellite locations.
But does any of this contribute to local discussion or lend context to city planning and policy discourse? Curator of the Mumbai Lab, David van der Leer, believes it will.
He says previous editions of the Lab actually addressed local issues tangibly.
In New York, said van der Leer, the Lab built a network of more than 150 academic and governmental collaborators besides engaging with more than 56,000 people over 53 days. “One result of the Lab’s run in New York was that the project rejuvenated a NYC Parks property that had been unused for more than 50 years, gave it new purpose and adapted it for ongoing community use,” said van der Leer. A community group now hosts events very similar to those at the Lab in the property.
In Berlin, an interactive bike map called Dynamic Connections was incubated at the Lab, which allowed more than 4,000 citizens to map current and future bike paths as well as flag routes that needed improvements. The data from the Lab’s map will be the basis for suggestions for improvements in urban transportation in the coming months. “This is just one example of how the Lab is a catalyst for citizen participation and grassroots planning initiatives, which have the potential to impact large-scale urban change,” said van der Leer, adding that curators of the Lab get repeated requests to present the generated ideas to academia and policy makers such as the UN Habitat. Many see the Lab as an excellent example of how to involve citizens more actively in complicated planning processes.
The Mumbai Lab’s theme is ‘Confronting Comfort’ and will consider the possibilities and opportunities for sustainable, energy-efficient urban development. After all, while the city is home to India’s most extensive urban rail system, 50% of Mumbai’s population does not require any form of motorised transport. The Mumbai Lab will extensively address transportation issues, as well as housing, the environment and governance.
Already announced are a competition to redesign traffic movement at one of the city’s busiest traffic junctions in Bandra and a ‘Land Link’ design competition that will explore ways to refit existing infrastructure of water pipelines for pedestrian and motor transport functions. A series of panel discussions on pressing urban topics has also been planned, “born out of the belief that real, sustained urban change cannot happen unless we can bring all stakeholders to the table for an informed discussion.”
“For us, the most important outcome of the BMW Guggenheim Lab is for people to begin thinking about and discussing their urban environment,” said van der Leer, explaining the aim of the project. “Over the long run, our goal is to explore, experiment with and ultimately inspire forward-thinking approaches to city life through the engagement and participation of the public at large, not just city leaders and bureaucrats.”