Urban thinking has become dramatically less focused on infrastructure

How does the design of a city affect its inhabitants? How do urban spaces or lack of them, walkways, roads, sounds, vehicles etc make people feel about the city they live in? These are the core questions which were explored over two years and then summed up in an exhibition in New York at the Guggenheim museum.

The exhibition, Participatory City:100 Urban Trends, marked the culmination of two years of engagement by the BMW Guggenheim Lab with communities, citizens, activists and policy makers on urban design across three cities, New York, Mumbai and Berlin. The exhibition ran for three months, from October 11, 2013 to January 5, 2014.

The cities, said the organisers of the exhibition, represent a common urban character of a "megacity". But, beyond that, they are vastly different in terms of infrastructure, design, pressures and urban issues. They were also found to be most representative cities from USA, Asia and Europe.

The exhibition put together 100 urban trends from each city and incorporated audio-visuals from the Guggenheim Lab on various discussions and interviews on urban design and concerns. The idea was to bring important trends to the fore and initiate a discussion. "Urban thinking, whether related to architecture or urbanism, has become dramatically less focused on infrastructure, and more on the ultimate goal and reason for the existence of cities-that is, the well being of people that inhabit them and constitute their very soul and essence," explained Maria Nicanor, curator of the Guggenheim Lab.

Nicanor added that effort was to highlight urban experiences and pitching for solutions as well. In Mumbai, the Lab pitched its tent at the Bhauji Laad museum. Among the prominent trends that came put of discussion in Mumbai was the issue of private space. In the space strapped city, people came out to discuss their idea of private and public space. What surfaced strongly was the fact that the city offers little private space to many of its inhabitants and in slum housing, it leave almost no space, private or public. Honking, lack of green spaces, water problems encroachments, density of population were some of the trends which emerged from Mumbai. Citizen empowerment, bottom-up engagement, right to informations, community gardens, rainwater harvesting were some of the trends which came up as solutions. In New York, trends like accessible health care, climate change, green spaces, urban mobility, public spaces, urban sound and urban psychology were some of the trends which emerged.

Berlin, where the Lab was also greeted with a lot of protests, saw concerns for ageing population, climate change, architecture of necessity, open governance and urban fatigue come to the fore during various discussions. The Lab in New York was set up at a vacant plot in a small neighbourhood. The plot had fallen to neglect and was infested with rodents. Once cleaned and paved during the Lab, the plot is now maintained and has become a venue for community meetings and art related programs. In Berlin, the Lab helped create a consolidated online map for biking.

Source: The Times of India

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