Urban Typhoon @ KRAX

April 25, 2008

The Presentation at KRAX: Barcelona – April 25, 2008

KRAX is a project that investigates, promotes and connects urban creativity in Barcelona with that of other cities. KRAX believes that Urban Creativity generates alternative proposals and reactions that are necessary to the city’s transformation. Autonomous initiatives emerge in response to the lack of value that public institutions place on the need for collectivism, participation and self-management in the process of building the city’s future. These initiatives exist at the cultural, social and economic levels, and we recognise the need to acknowledge and involve them.

1. In a sense, conversations between Urban Typhoon and PUKAR happened before we (Matias & Rahul) actually started on our joint projects. Matias’s urbanological adventures in Tokyo and Mumbai and Rahul’s experiments with urban identity and digital technology in the The Pukar Neighbourhood Project, Mumbai, had many common points of departure. For example – working creatively with residents in specific localities, raising questions about urbanism and forging deeper links with the lived experience of Mumbai and Tokyo. The different strands were woven together by the setting up of airoots/eirut that helped us go deeper into the idea and practice of Urbanology. This translated into the organization of Urban Typhoon, Koliwada Dharavi and the development of two new projects: URBZ and dot.

2. Mumbai: The city where many of our future projects are headquartered shares much of its character and personality with other metropolises – including Istanbul, Tokyo and New York. It produces many mythologies about itself – through literature and movies, gossip and routine conversations. It is capable of influencing the agendas of critical ventures such as PUKAR and Urban Typhoon and co-opting them into its own goals – most of which work like most other cities today – obsessed by real-estate development and desire to control the movement of people who immigrate to it for a living. The encounter between our projects and the city is like an encounter with a fiery uncontrollable dragon.

3. Pukar and Urban Typhoon connect and differ with each other in many ways. Pukar’s desire to work with the residents of Mumbai, look at research and knowledge production as means of engagement and focus on the youth as an investment into the city’s future overlaps with Urban Typhoon’s agendas of breaking through the professional and layperson divide that dominates urban environments today. The points of departure include Urban Typhoon’s commitment to the idea of bringing together people from diverse backgrounds and skill levels in brief but intense encounters and working directly in a locality or neighbourhood. Pukar works through a structured process of research practice through the youth on a long-term basis. Pukar’s partnership with Urban Typhoon Koliwada, Dharavi underlined these differences and similarities. In many ways, the success of Urban Typhoon’s ability of connecting with the youth was something that fed back into PUKAR’s agenda and helped re-think some ideas of research and action.

4. Dharavi – Koliwada: This celebrated and mythologized neighbourhood came to us through many entities and personalities. Working with SPARC – Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centers and the National Slum Dwellers Federation headed by Jockin was an introduction to Dharavi, conversations with Bhau Korde, old-time resident and activist and Ravi Keny – the secretary of the Koliwada Jamaat in Koliwada were key entry-points as well. The neighbourhood is everything that it has been accused of being – dynamic, difficult, energetic, intense, brutal and extreme. It is a mammoth workshop/residential space and deals with density levels that are unimaginable and amazingly workable. Koliwada itself is an older presence and has a complicated relationship with Dharavi. It is a village that has been around for more than four centuries and got absorbed in the larger phenomenon of Dharavi – imbibing its energy and also maintaining its autonomy.

5. It was in this space that we were invited to organize the Urban Typhoon. Of bringing together visitors from all around the world – many of whom had never visited the city before to work with the community for a week, transcending linguistic, cultural and many other barriers. Urban Typhoon – Koliwada was the most condensed and intense learning experience ever. More was learnt about the possibilities and limits of all that we set out to do in these few days than anticipated. It challenged the way we thought of the idea and practice of participation and community lead urban transformation. At the same time, the Typhoon became a clearer tool of intervention in our minds. The fact that the brief encounter was capable of having an impact because of its condensed structure – its tactical and immediate quality was something that helped connect strangers in a deeper way because it was not claiming to do anything more and that the urgency and speed that it was built-into it was something that became an advantage.

6. URBZ.net and dot: At the same time the Urban Typhoon also helped set up long – term projects in Koliwada Dharavi. URBZ is a detailed city based portal lead by user-generated content. It focuses on images and multi-media data linked to localities. The portal aims to be the preferred choice of all those who conceive of themselves or their work as framed by or connected to cities, localities and habitats. Media and art practitioners, urban planners, professionals, the travel and tourism industry, governments, architects and activists are some examples of target users. dot – Digital Organic Tech is a multimedia, multilingual, multidirectional and participatory communication tool for the residents of Dharavi. It is the first of many such centres and outposts in Dharavi. The main focus of dot centres is expression and communication in any possible form, whether it is oral, musical, video, artistic, written, web-based, low-tech, high-tech, whether it is aimed at fellow Dharavites or to the rest of the world. Its location itself is part of its design, identity and execution.

7. These ventures and initiatives are all ways of learning through practice and engaging deeper with issues of urbanism. These engagements will continue to be shared through airoots, where the world of cities and urbanism emerges as more complex and one that needs further critical interrogation. Some of these ideas have been written in an essay “ The Buzz of the Bazaar” ( Art India – March – April 2008).

An Excerpt:

‘There is something solid and quantifiable to the idea of the city that allows architectural narratives to dominate our idea of urbanism, and through it, all contemporary life. The idea of the city starts from the fiction of evolutionary growth – from the tribal to civilized man, from the unsettled and light to the rooted and heavy, making the notions of scale, monumentalism, and density, some sort of in-built genetic conceptual pools that dictate the way human civilization evolves. It’s as if they contribute as much to the escalation of urban intensity as does the impulse of urbanization itself. Every civilizational moment that feels it has arrived has its own peculiar notion of evolutionary movement from the tribal primitive to the urban sophisticated.’

A video of the presentation is available on the KRAX website.

Global Riot in Koliwada

April 17, 2008

What happens when you spike the practice of activism with the spirit of a reckless party? The decades old clichéd word – drained of life and blood by do-gooders and well-meaning social workers – turns into a constructive riot. Don’t believe us?

Check out these links:

www.dharavi.org
www.urbantyphoon.com

Airoots has only now recovered from something that it was involved with – along with a large, adventurous team of residents from Koliwada-Dharavi (Mumbai), and artists, architects, academics and activists from all around the world. We worked together with enthusiastic, reluctant, negative and involved residents to learn how participatory urban planning translates into practice.

We are all still learning. It was sobering and encouraging in different ways and some of the subsequent posts will explore and discuss how exactly.

For now we invite those of you who have not yet checked out these sites to do so right away!