What looks like a city of aesthetic or economic contrasts may actually be a marker of the relation between urban space and individual agency.
People with various expertise engaged themselves for a pragmatic yet humane urbanism.
The Homegrown Neighbourhoods workshop (Jan 8th-14th, 2013) looked at social and urban development processes in Mumbai. It involved a four day period in Mumbai exploring neighbourhoods and meeting people with whom we are working with – mainly in Shivaji Nagar (Govandi), Uttkarsh Nagar (Bhandup) and our office in Dharavi. This was followed by a three day reflective and discussion based session at the institute office in Aldona, Goa.
This workshop saw the participation of friends and colleagues from various institutions around the world including the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, the Swiss Polytechnic Institute of Lausanne, the Politecnico do Torino, the Max Planck Institute of the Study of Religous and Ethnic Diversity in Goettingen, Columbia University and Harvard. It kicked off a collaborative research project aimed atproducing critical concepts that can be used as tools of engagement for a pragmatic yet humane urbanism. By the end of the year we hope to have a series of essays exploring related themes in depth in various contexts and forms. We also hope that this collaboration will result in the organization of more workshops, studios and seminars with students and participants from Mumbai and other parts of the world.
This was a significant moment for our ongoing work. We could reflect with academics and researchers from all over the world about themes close to our practice and deepen our engagements conceptually and intellectually. As practitioners we are acutely aware of how valuable the discursive space is and we were lucky to share experiences and ideas with a group of people that understands the spirit with which we work.
The Mumbai chapter involved explorations of “homegrown neighbourhoods” (the term which provides the title) in small groups and many discussions on the move. Participants could observe, discuss, critique and respond first hand to the contexts that shaped the themes of the workshop. The themes emerged from our ongoing work and the resource persons in Mumbai were essentially our local partners with whom we interact on an everyday basis.
The intense sessions of observation, immersion, dialogues, became the fodder for the sessions in Goa. The office of the Institute in Aldona was formally inaugurated through the workshop. Debates about the informal and formal divisions that shape most perspectives on urban spaces today were critiqued and argued around threadbare, the concept of the tool-house was given the treatment by fire and the complex realms of economic activities and spatial arrangements – resonating at abstract and concrete levels – occupied much thought. What was particularly rich was the perspectives that came from the range of disciplines the participants represented, and the conversations across the Francophone and Anglophone social science realms.
The workshop is a start of a series of collaborations between the participants who will continue to interact and communicate with us to deepen, sharpen and critically evaluate the concepts and ideas that shape our practice. From April onwards, we shall be putting up short blog posts that frame the themes and ideas discussed and emerge from these ongoing discussions. These broadly center around the idea of the tool-house, which acts as a touch-stone for building bigger theoretical frameworks on cities and urbanism.
We are particularly thankful to Vincent Kauffman and Luca Pattaroni, from Lasur, EPFL who provided the basic infrastructure and also bought in a big group from their institution. To Peter van der Veer of the Max Planck Institute for supporting the attendance of their members, to Mark Wigley Dean at the Graduate School of Architecture and Planning, Columbia University, for supporting the participation of Yehuda Safran and Smita Srinivas, and to all our friends who came on their own.
We are grateful to our advisor, the writer Amitav Ghosh who so generously opened his house to welcome the guests in Goa and whose intellectual contributions that evening remained with us all through the sessions the next two days.