As I laced up my boots this morning, in my little Parisian studio, I was transported to that magical evening in Quito last year when, entirely by chance, I happened to buy them. In that moment, Paris blended into Quito and I hugged myself, thankful for the opportunities, and holding close that all consuming love for travel and adventure.
Back to that October evening in one of the highest cities in the world. The altitude must have made us dizzy, my friend and I, because we were giggling and chattering like schoolgirls as we walked back from the craziness of Habitat 3, a large conference on sustainable urban development that the United Nations had organised. The day’s events had overwhelmed us, and we were looking for fun. My brown boots, bought lovingly my Rahul a few years ago in London (hilariously via a series of whatsapp messaging that flew across the world as his colleague modelled each pair in a succession of shops in suburban London) were beginning to fall apart. On a lark, I entered a footwear store we crossed. This was no ordinary shoe shop selling mass manufactured shoes made half the globe away! Nope, this was a shoemaker’s atelier, where each piece had been handmade with love and care. I was over the moon! Looking around, I saw this pair. Black military boots that looked like they would be super comfy. And they were, perfectly fitting too!
I refused to take them off and the shoemaker was thrilled. He showed us his entire workshop. He babbled incessantly in Spanish regardless of whether we understood him. He kept calling me “Chica” with great affection, making me sit and pose with my new boots as he tried to click pics from his really basic phone, staring myopically into it. Finally, after my dear talented friend had bargained sufficiently, we had a final obstacle to overcome. Change!! No one takes a 100 dollars easily in Ecuador. So we put shutters on the shoe shop and marched down to the local grocery store, where change was available. Here, we were accosted by excited cries of “Namaste, meri jaan!” by local girls who had apparently picked this up from an Indian friend! We walked away in total elation. Boots bought and adventure had.
All of this flashed before me this morning. I missed my friend a little, and I hugged myself a little. My boots felt snug and a new city beckoned…
What are they doing? What are they doing? I looked on in disbelief as the two young men sitting opposite me in the Delhi Metro coach proceeded to be engaged in an activity that I have gladly left far behind in my childhood. Won’t keep you hanging…one of the young men was searching, with great concentration, the other young man’s head for lice! And then catching something and squishing it between his fingers!
I fought down the surge of panic. In my childhood, I had a perpetual lice problem and applying the dreaded smelly DDT and later the mild and often ineffective Mediker were Sunday rituals. I told myself these people were a full three feet away and surely, lice cannot jump that long!
Then my panic gave way to amusement. These two were oblivious of how bizarre their actions were. They were in their own world and acted as if weeding lice off each others’ hair on the Delhi Metro was the most natural thing in the world!
Just before this, an aunty had reached out on the platform and quickly pulled down my t-shirt because it had ridden up a bit; she did it as if she was personally shamed by my wardrobe mishap! Soon after the lice picking scene, two ‘senior citizen’ ladies with the blackest possible hair were discussing loudly across the aisle whether the footwear they were wearing was appropriate for the rainy weather, with one lady showing off her intelligence and pointing to her ‘boot’ repeatedly, which was in fact a rather run down sports shoe!
You want your set of goofy experiences people, just board the Delhi Metro anytime! The tickets aren’t too expensive and the entertainment is free!
I could post a zillion pics of my kids for this week’s Word A Week Photo Challenge on the A Word in your Ear blog, seeing as the world this week is Smile. But I refrain from being the over zealous mom. I cannot but extend the word Smile into the word People. It is certainly the warmth of the people in our lives that makes us go on, day after day, despite hard times. And what best way to take strength and inspiration from them than to pay tribute to their smiles, that most precious gift that can instantly chase away gloom and lighten the heart, quicken the step and bring us back on track, when we fear we will lose our way.
“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 the people that inhabit them and constitute their very soul and essence.” I am quoting from the ‘100 Urban Trends’ report brought out by the BMW Guggenheim Labs after a 33-day series of free workshops and citizen consultations in Berlin. This glossary of terms is an attempt to document the “temperature” of a specifc time and place, Berlin in the summer of 2012 and it is interesting to note how some things havent changed and at all and yet, how citizens and urban professionals alike are moving towards a more human, more experiential understanding of what a city is. So much for those bizarre robotic urban imaginations depicted in sci-fi movies. Cities for people are here to stay!
I find it heartening that this sort of people-centric thinking is gaining prominence and read it as a sign that there will be a growing movement towards changing the bureaucratic and technocratic mindset to a more interdisciplinary one. Here are some of the concepts I found really reassuring and exciting:
The idea of community life and accessible and well designed urban commons (better known as public spaces) is now well understood and established. There seems to be concern that urban environments are reducing the number of connections we make and a recognition of a need for city design to help us maximize human connections.
The role of citizens and non-designers/non-experts in how a city evolves- terms like ‘activist citizen’ and ‘bottom-up engagement’ are turning traditional thinking about urban planning and design on its head. Collaboration, crowd-funding, digital democracy, self-solving, place-making are some of the related terms that give an insight into the muria ways citizens can influence their urban environment. The citizen is no longer being viewed as a passive player at the mercy of policy and regulation, but as a powerful force of change.
Sustainability as a growing concern is reflected strongly and is intertwined with the ideal of a healthy city. This in turn includes ideas like the need for experimentation, walkability and cycling as a means to get around, a concern for food security and the links between urban and rural, mixed-use over the typical use-wise classification of spaces, intelligent buildings and smart cities, the reduce-reuse-recycle adage, the need to promote the share culture, the idea of upcycling (increase the value while reusing) rather than merely recycling,…many innovative trends can clearly be seen in this area. To me, these moves towards sustainable living combimed with bottom-up efforts can really be a potent combination for positive changes to happen. However, all of this will hinge on the ability to create awareness, dialogue, debate and a deeper and wider understanding of the issues among non-designer, non-expert citizens.I found it interesting that the report acknowledges the sheer complexity of urban form, and how the megacity is changing our notions of the centre-suburb model. This is a significant shift that will influence lives and the practice of city design considerably.
The idea of “Minimum Variation, Maximum Impact” in which small changes can be made to move towards more “sustainable and socially responsible cities” seems like a good way to do things.
The powerful concept of ‘cities as idea generators’ was in here too, and it is vital for cities to leverage their innovation power in order to grow economically and to survive in an ecological sense as well.
The idea of technology as a driver of change came across strongly, as a means to interact and have dialogue, as a means to deliver services, as a means to collaborate, design, a whole bunch of functions in fact.
[On another note, Disneyfication was a term I loved here. Its something I’ve always thought about and never realized it was an actual term! It refers to “a process of urban transformation that increases homogeneity and simulated reality rather than the preservation of historical elements and cultural difference.”. Poor Walt! I’m sure this wasn’t his intention….]
What does this report mean for another city, another time, another context? I work in India, in the Delhi-NCR area, which happens to be one of the fastest growing urban agglomerations in the world! I certainly see many of these trends relevant for my city. As an urban practitioner, the 100 Trends outlined here help me think through and prioritize issues even as I often gasp with the sheer complexity of what we do as urban problem-solvers! Most importantly, some of the terms here helped me find specific ways to move to a more people-centric, people-driven agenda for city development, and that’s a big reward.
I love family occasions, especially rituals and ceremonies. The dressing up, the little things we sit and do together like packing sweets (yum, Jayani kaki’s pedas are the best), packing return gifts, going through lists, the gossiping and retelling of family yarns that forms the background to all of this activity, the food that has to be produced and managed to keep everyone energized, the list goes on.
I get teased a lot about my love affair with my camera at such occasions. And I’m not particularly good at photography either. Yet, some of the moments that get captured by the camera are priceless. To me, the emotional value of these clicks is immense. I know I will treasure them for years to come. Here are some of the pics I particularly love of people I particularly love!
For big city people like me, forays into small town India are endlessly fascinating. This time, I swear I was on my way from Pune to Sangli without even really knowing how to locate the town on the map! Now I know that the Sangli-Kupwad-Miraj urban boundaries are home to about half a million people. That more familiar names like Kolhapur (chappals) and Pandharpur (reigning deity Vithoba!) are neighboring cities. That sugarcane and turmeric are the flavors of this area and its main industry. The feel of the city is semi-rural and people are simple, expressive and friendly.
Here are a few snapshots of the creatures (human and otherwise) and frames my lens encountered in Sangli!