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At Home: Community Conversations on Health


Decorated domestic items speak volumes to exhibition audiences from within the low-income neighbourhoods at Dharavi as well those who have arrived from across Mumbai.

Last week in Mumbai, I visited an inspiring exhibition at my former ethnographic research stomping ground of Dharavi. It was a treat to be taken there by the artist who created the conceptual framework for the show, Nandita Kumar – and to meet many of the slum-based artists she had collaborated with. The installation grew out of a community-based initiative by SNEHA (Society for Nutrition, Education and Health Action) which cited an opportunity to connect resource constrained urban residents with health experts and artists – to share skills plus knowledge, discuss issues and create ways of spreading messages further in a locally engaging and meaningful way.
 

Children readily engaged with a hand-operated television set featuring ‘good news’

The installation space, set up within a school at the heart of Dharavi, housed artworks which spoke to local domestic settings – hence the exhibition’s name Ghare Pe – At Home. During my afternoon visit a number of neighbouring school groups excitedly swarmed through and were shown round by the participating artists – who confidently explained their artworks while encouraging onwards conversation on health issues. Young students were intrigued by the many household items which were both familiar yet creatively provocative. The interactive and tactile nature of the show reeled them in as Nandita had intended.
 

Both youthful and elderly visitors were taking in the show – here checking out a cupboard filled with stuffed emoticon balls. These intended to illustrate how women have diverse emotions but are unable to express all of them openly within acceptable social norms.
 

Stainless steel canisters are gifted to women at marriage. Here the artist, Sneha, reveals: “I store rice, dal, wheat, jaggery, peppercorns, tamarind and dried chillies – an array of ingredients. To me they are like the flavours of my marriage”
 

Embroidered figures were inspired by topics from diet to vision
 

Locals were confronted by images from their own neighbourhoods – here of a woman facing mental health issues who lives on the street outside a roller door.
 

An embroidered item from a workshop session exploring personal health histories. “Three caesareans. One appendicitis. One miscarriage. And like an ending to a poem, one last family planning scar” Image source.
 
The initiative behind the exhibition, Dekha Undekha (Seen, Unseen) brought together mentors in photography, textiles and ceramics with local residents of Dharavi and beyond through a series of workshops run over the past year. Participants were asked to draw household items and body parts that they were happiest with alongside other exercises which helped them grasp artistic abstraction and skills, connect as a group, discuss health issues plus focus on themes. Conversations went back and forth between composition, concepts and technique plus personal hygiene, mental health, maternal care, sanitation, waste disposal, domestic violence and superstitions.
 

Exploring everyday addictions
 


Dishracks displaying household utensils are exhibited with pride across homes at Dharavi. Blended with photography they speak here about local health issues – especially surrounding sanitation.
 

Embroidered work depicting bacteria. “If you think about it, looking at microbes through a microscope makes them appear like they all set for a wedding – stained in many colours of royal purple, hot pink and pistachio green. They look so dressed up!” – commencing a conversation about what can be done to prevent the spread of diseases.
Image by Neville Sukhia

 



Sneha’s stovetop exhibit portraying domestic harmony and violence.

Spirited local artist Sneha has been a victim of domestic abuse. One of her artworks encompasses a decorated stove top. “Some days are marriage, some days are war.” One side of the stove shows happy days full of colour while the other side is filled with fear and a darker side of home life. She told me assuredly that “learning about intention, sequence, themes and action helped guide the emotions we felt to connect with the health issues we discussed in a way that would appeal to people out here.”
 

Asmabee with a selection of photographs by various local artists, including her own.

Dharavi-based artist, Asmabee, hadn’t touched a camera till about a year ago. Last month she earned a photography prize at the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival in well-heeled South Bombay. She acknowledges that participation in Dekha Undekha has given her confidence and won her local respect. Having worked at Dharavi a few years back, I was in awe at the ease of the local artists I met in articulating both their personal feelings and aspirations for their communities. They had also zealously encouraged visitors from their diverse neighbourhoods to come see the show and to continue discussions beyond its walls. Ghar Pe has been an expertly conceived exhibition and goes a long way in triggering significant conversations and solution-seeking – applaudably with, not for those in low-income communities. It would seem that At Home is a great place to start.

Related posts:
Random Specific Images of Dharavi on Flickr
Women Together: Incentivising Savings

Decorated domestic items speak volumes to exhibition audiences from within the low-income neighbourhoods at Dharavi as well those who have arrived from across Mumbai. Last week in Mumbai, I visited an inspiring exhibition at my former ethnographic research stomping ground of Dharavi. It was a treat to be taken there by the artist who created [...]

Celebrating Street-level Ingenuity

I was excited to return from summer holidays down here in New Zealand, to receive my copy of the first issue of Makeshift magazine. Makeshift is the product of a global network of editors, researchers, journalists, photographers and videographers uncovering stories of street-level ingenuity. I was invited to contribute via my participation on the REculture blog which explores the post-consumption economy of repair, re-use, repurpose and recycling – predominantly by those in low-income communities.

Makeshift is a quarterly magazine and multimedia website about creativity in unlikely places – from the favelas of Rio to the alleys of Delhi. These are environments where resources may be scarce but where ingenuity is used incessantly for survival, enterprise and self-expression. In different cultures it goes by different names: DIY in the US, jugaad in India, jua kali in East Africa and gambiarra in Brazil. Makeshift seeks to unify these cultures of production into a global identity. Makeshift is about people – the things they make and the context they make them in.

Makeshift has been pulled together both artfully & articulately by Steve Daniels in New York. (I’ve featured Steve before on Random Specific for his insightful work Making Do: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy as part of a post on Amplifying African Creativity) Paying dues to the blog from which Makeshift evolved, this first issue has been themed REculture. Steve is quick to point out that informal economies operating in environments of scarcity tend to form sustainable trade ecosystems as they regularly reintroduce waste back into their supply chains. He perceives a new era “in which corporations, policy makers and designers must adapt to informal systems – devising platforms that empower people and communities to create.”
 

Russian photographer, Sergey Maximishin’s stunning images from Kenya’s jua kali sector.

The REculture issue contains imagery, infographics and articles on Mexican horseback recyclers, Kenyan hackonomics, Indian textile refabricators and more. My former collaborator, Niti Bhan, weighs in on contrasting approaches to waste from Delhi to the Phillipines and beyond: “Maximising returns on their investment and minimising their use of scarce resources, local makers develop affordable and locally relevant solutions to everyday challenges posed by the scarcities of the environment… extending the life of the product though a variety of characteristic behaviours…” She highlights the lessons to be learned from pursuing the limits of use from every resource.
 

Global-roaming anthropologist, Jan Chipchase, shines a light on the Afghani ‘dirty fuel’ street economy which keeps people on the road and generators running in a context of scarce reliable fill-up stations.
 

 
A savvy aspect of Makeshift is that it was crowd-funded on Kickstarter – the world’s largest peer-to-peer funding platform for creative projects. It raised over $40 000 USD in a matter of weeks from 600+ backers via it’s Kickstarter campaign – over double it’s initial goal. A fitting approach to funding for a magazine which celebrates bottom-up approaches and collaborative networks. Keep an eye out for Makeshift’s next issue on mobility – ingenuity on the move.

Related posts
Post-consumption Creativity
Indian Grassroots Innnovation
Sustainable Solutions from Mumbai Streets

I was excited to return from summer holidays down here in New Zealand, to receive my copy of the first issue of Makeshift magazine. Makeshift is the product of a global network of editors, researchers, journalists, photographers and videographers uncovering stories of street-level ingenuity. I was invited to contribute via my participation on the REculture [...]

Simplicity, Sanitation & Storytelling

 
Today is World Water Day and Random Specific is taking the opportunity to feature a very special clip by Andrew Hinton for Tippy Tap. I was lucky enough to meet Andrew at the UnBox Festival last month in Delhi – where he gave me an impromptu private screening. He went on to become a winner in the esteemed Do Gooder Non Profit Video Awards a few days back.

I’m not going to tell you any more than that folks.
Just watch it, dig it, share it.

Related posts:
Excreta, Et Cetera I
Excreta, Et Cetera II

  Today is World Water Day and Random Specific is taking the opportunity to feature a very special clip by Andrew Hinton for Tippy Tap. I was lucky enough to meet Andrew at the UnBox Festival last month in Delhi – where he gave me an impromptu private screening. He went on to become a [...]

Novel Tales and African Teens

Youth in the slums of Nairobi. Future readers of literature delivered by mobile phone?

Yoza publishes short, hip novels and classic literature on mobile phones for African youth. Designed to encourage reading, writing and responding, Yoza engages African youth with stories and social issues. The project, which was spearheaded by Steve Vosloo – a technology researcher in Cape Town – and financed by South Africa’s Shuttleworth Foundation, is dedicated to a participatory culture hungry for micro-doses of literature that are accessible as pixels not paper.

Officially launched last September, Yoza is based on Vosloo’s observations that African youth are book-poor yet mobile-rich. An estimated 90 percent of urban South African youth have access to cell phones and 70 percent of those phones are web-enabled. In stark contrast, more than half of South African households own no leisure books and only 7 percent of public schools have functional libraries.

Illustrations from Yoza’s premiere edition: Kontax

Yoza’s first story, Kontax, followed the adventures of a local graffiti crew around Cape Town. Its 20 pages were initially published over a month of daily dispatches via a mobisite and later on the popular MXit social network. Each episode, released in both English and isiXhosha, was around 400 words long. Prizes were offered for the best comments and sequel ideas from Kontax readers.

Via Yoza, 17,000 users accessed the full premiere Kontax series for free — well eclipsing the South African “best-seller” standard of 5,000 book sales. Each chapter costs the reader around 1 US cent to download. Explains Vosloo, “Mobile data is cheap relative to voice and SMS — and of course, books. It’s also about access.” According to Vosloo, readership exploded when Yoza was made available to MXit’s 15 million local subscribers — a share currently far greater than Facebook’s.

Yoza content on MXit social network and on a mobisite (Image courtesy of Yoza)

The comments feature allows Vosloo to stay in touch with what readers want. “It’s become clear that youth are keen to be both educated and entertained,” he notes. “We get many requests for stories which are relevant to their lives. We’ve had requests for story lines which cover drugs and teen pregnancy, careers, money and more.” Feedback has helped to shape onwards content which includes Streetskillz, set during the football World Cup, Sisterz which explores dark family secrets and teenage life plus Confessions of a Virgin Loser which follows a boy steering his way through a complicated world of peer pressure, teenage sex and HIV/AIDS. Social issues provide a further avenue for interaction. A story which touched on domestic violence elicited a slew of comments in support of the affected character and posts of personal accounts which empathised with her situation.
 

South African students read and respond to Yoza content. (Image courtesy of Yoza)

Alongside popular culture content, Yoza has also been adding episodic versions of classics from Shakespeare to Wordsworth and other curriculum related texts. Feedback from teachers in low-income schools tells of class assignments given in conjunction with Yoza content and applauds the access to classic literature which the platform has provided. While some may criticise the informal use of language by readers – comments across the site also highlight an engaged audience ready to amend mistakes which have eluded Yoza’s editors. Although youthful readers may comment in text-speak, they eagerly respond with corrections on errors which creep into stories.

Looking to the future, Vosloo has been speaking with various potential sponsors who understand the bridge he has created between reading, response and social issues. One such discussion has been with a bank around the notion of a series featuring elements of financial literacy within its storyline. An aspect which is attractive to sponsors is the appetite created through releasing stories in installments but also that the entire series is then available on the Yoza site and continues to attract commentary. “It’s a bit like the transition from a box-office to DVD release,” adds Vosloo. “There’s the initial rush to devour a fresh feature yet the legacy contributes to a growing library of accessible content.”

An edited version of this article appears in my Change Observer Report on Design Observer.

Related posts:
Mathare’s Micro-farms and Market Gardens
Amplifying African Ingenuity

Youth in the slums of Nairobi. Future readers of literature delivered by mobile phone? Yoza publishes short, hip novels and classic literature on mobile phones for African youth. Designed to encourage reading, writing and responding, Yoza engages African youth with stories and social issues. The project, which was spearheaded by Steve Vosloo – a technology [...]

Excreta, Et Cetera II

Earlier this year I wrote about research exploring sanitation in low-income urban India that I had been involved in as an external consultant. Playfully dubbed The Potty Project, the study by Quicksand has pursued a user-centered examination of behaviours, experiences and attitudes to existing modes of sanitation in a variety of selected slums across India. Lately they’ve been posting their key takeaways from the investigation which have provided some of the comprehensive insights featured below.
 

Pointing to the different norms around cleanliness inside and outside the home. Noting that provision of clear identity around who owns sanitation facilities is likely to drive more responsible use. Read more.
 

Highlighting the failure of toilet facilities to account for issues like menstrual waste and adolescent sensitivities. Read more.
 

Calling attention to the factions which may exist within a community that need to be considered in inclusive mobilising of residents around improvements. Read more.
 

Discussing how breaking up various tasks around sanitation allows for social interaction which diminishes the sense of delay. Read more.
 

Noting that users of shared facilities passively co-create behaviours which are established together over time. Read more.
 

Cross-pollination of The Potty Project insights on OpenIDEO

An aspect of the project which I particularly applaud has been the open sharing of research findings as they unfolded. Co-researcher and social media manager Kassia Karr, who joined Quicksand from Boston, notes that blog posts and tweets extended the reach of observations and created new connections for the team. Senior colleague, Ayush Chauhan, adds that “these channels have been a great way to communicate, in real time, with an extremely diverse community – client, peers and related practitioners – spread across the globe. It’s also been affirming that the findings have found their way into other forums not related directly with the project but in the larger domain of sanitation discussion and have provided inspiration in those contexts.”

A further aspect I commend on the project has been the approach of working visually.

“The interpretive nature of language is often a handicap when the real information lies in the texture of observations and the nuances of behavior – both hard to capture in the written word. Good research must have the power to inspire as much as it has the mandate to inform and that’s where capturing experiences of people through visual narratives – film, photography, illustrated scenarios – opens doors for people to interpret information and bring to bear their own experience and understanding of the context.

There are three areas where visual storytelling brings value to our projects:

+ With clients who are often removed from the context, understanding user issues through the immediacy of films & photography is both informative and unambiguous. Also allowing for wider participation in the process of translating research insights into action.
+ With users especially from an unlettered or a vernacular context, visuals help researchers focus the interactions on issues that may otherwise be hard to articulate
+ As design researchers, telling a story through illustrations and scenarios is more effective in communicating key ideas and abstract concepts that don’t have a precedent.

– Ayush Chauhan, Project Lead and Quicksand Co-founder

Quicksand are committed to extending the reach of design-based approaches and with their close partners Co-Design are presenting the UnBox Festival in New Delhi, February 2011. The main event is across three days of ideas, stories, spectacles and exchange to build momentum around design thinking and inter-disciplinary collaborations. The festival will bring together designers, policy makers, entrepreneurs, activists, educators, artists and others interested in social and cultural change. UnBox intends to work and play across contexts and mediums – workshops, debates, brainstorms, picnics, literary readings and travel. “Together, we’ll rethink and stretch design practice through imagination, provocation and stimulation.” I’m certainly looking forward to joining them there.

Related posts:
Excreta, Et Cetera I
Sanitation, Simplicity & Storytelling

Earlier this year I wrote about research exploring sanitation in low-income urban India that I had been involved in as an external consultant. Playfully dubbed The Potty Project, the study by Quicksand has pursued a user-centered examination of behaviours, experiences and attitudes to existing modes of sanitation in a variety of selected slums across India. [...]

Mathare’s Micro-farms and Market Gardens

Earlier this month on a fleeting visit to Kenya for Nokia’s Open Innovation Africa Summit I met an array of innovative folk like venture catalyst Emeka Okafor, Ushahidi co-founder Erik Hersman and mobile novelist Steve Vosloo. But the most interesting person I met during the trip happened to be after the summit was over, when I went on an early morning foray in search of entrepreneurial activity in the slums of Nairobi. I came across Festus Ambche, 38, tending a flourishing half acre plot of edible produce at Mathare.
 

Festus arrived in Mathare from a family of farmers and saw the opportunity to put his agricultural knowledge to use. He rents his plot from the local council and sells his large variety of produce in the neighbouring slum – direct to residents and also at the local market. He’s also been experimenting with sack gardening and, noting it’s relevance for the cramped conditions of Mathare, has been sharing his learnings with others.
 

Sack gardening became increasingly popular during the post-election violence in 2007/08 when food prices rose by up to 50% and access from volatile sites like Mathare to regular food sources became a challenge. A number of non-profit groups, school and self-help organisations began to promote the efficient, low-maintenance and low-cost sack gardens as a way of enhancing food security. Spinach, kale, chard, peppers, spring onions and tomatoes could be grown with relative ease for household use. Some families began selling their surplus harvest to neighbours while others grouped together to create micro-enterprises around their collective crops, including nurseries to supply the growing flock of Nairobi’s sack gardeners with seedlings.
 

What started as a way of improving food security has blossomed into a number of entrepreneurial ventures, driving an increased demand for fresh, local produce. Folks I met seemed proud of the independence that their doorstep gardens could provide. Many residents are rural migrants with roots in farming and are rekindling agricultural knowledge they had left behind, via their sack based micro-farms. Meanwhile, for Festus, business is booming – with the community showing more interest in what can be grown closer to home and from trusted sources.
 
Related posts:
Women Together: Incentivising Savings
Mobile Enterprise

Kibera’s Garden in a Sack: Urban Agriculture Magazine (500KB, PDF)

Earlier this month on a fleeting visit to Kenya for Nokia's Open Innovation Africa Summit I met an array of innovative folk like venture catalyst Emeka Okafor, Ushahidi co-founder Erik Hersman and mobile novelist Steve Vosloo. But the most interesting person I met during the trip happened to be after the summit was over, when [...]

OpenIDEO: Better Together

“That OpenIDEO thing is great isn’t it?” My mother, approaching 80, discovered Google Buzz a few months back and has been following me on Twitter from there. Via one of my tweets, she had a look around OpenIDEO and was fascinated by the scope of inspiration and global collaboration. As a doctor she has always been somewhat in the dark about what I do for a living but from following my Twitter links she’s started to get the idea. “It’s about design and people and making the world a better place, right?” she offered as a perspective on my professional pursuits.

[vimeo]13707896[/vimeo]

 
So it was helpful when I announced recently that I had a contract with IDEO as a Community Manager on OpenIDEO, that she already knew what it was. OpenIDEO is a place where people design better together for social good. It’s an online platform for creative thinkers: the seasoned designer and the new guy who just signed on, the art student and the MBA, the active participant and the curious lurker. This diversity makes up the creative guts of OpenIDEO. And the best part is it’s constantly in beta – so the platform continues to evolve over time.
 

After a challenge is posted on OpenIDEO, the three development phases – inspiration, concepting, and evaluation – are put into action. All resulting concepts generated are shareable, remix-able, and reusable in a similar way to Creative Commons. Participation is incentivised through the Design Quotient (DQ) which measures users contributions. Collaborative behaviour is encouraged through features like the Build Upon function. Challenge topics have ranged from ways in which affordable education can be delivered in the developing world to how kids’ awareness of the benefits of fresh food can be raised. Even the randomised OpenIDEO logo was designed through the challenge process.
 

Just now we’ve got two challenges open. The Sanitation Challenge is in conjunction with IDEO fieldwork in Ghana – and asks how human waste management and sanitation can be improved in low-income communities. The Innovation Challenge seeks to set an agenda for the upcoming i20 Summit of global innovation leaders. Come over and join us – because creativity loves company.

Selection of my OpenIDEO contributions:
Story Telling on Wheels (Winning Concept)
Innovating *With, Not For* Communities (Winning Agenda Concept)
Growing Knowledge (Concept)
Posters Made of Soap (Inspiration)
Making Policy Public (Inspiration)

Related posts:
Creative Waves Through Collaboration
Solution Seekers at Play

“That OpenIDEO thing is great isn’t it?” My mother, approaching 80, discovered Google Buzz a few months back and has been following me on Twitter from there. Via one of my tweets, she had a look around OpenIDEO and was fascinated by the scope of inspiration and global collaboration. As a doctor she has always [...]

Excreta, Et Cetera I


I was recently invited to participate as an external advisor, from here in New Zealand, on an extensive research project currently being conducted in India. The exploration is focused on sanitation in low-income urban India and has been dubbed The Potty Project.
 
The study entails a user-centered examination of behaviours, experiences and attitudes to existing modes of sanitation in a variety of selected slums across India. This is expected to highlight specific opportunities for innovation which might include business model, design, technology and/or communication interventions.
 

The comprehensive research endeavor is being conducted by the dynamic bunch over at the multidisciplinary Delhi-based innovation consultancy Quicksand. Their focus on user-centered design principles has attracted assignments from Google, IDEO, and the United Nations Development Programme. They’re big on participatory methods and the use of visual aids for research. And best of all for me (being so far way from the action) they are smooth users of Tumblr, Vimeo, Flickr and Twitter – to share images, video, methodological musings, interim analysis and anecdotal interludes – both from the field and back in the office. Much of this flows through The Potty Project blog and occasionally we talk more detailed sh*t (literally) between the Quicksand team and various global advisors via Skype. I get the short straw being out on a limb in terms of time zones – sorry guys if I get incoherent by 4am in the morning!
 

While rigorous research is being done to summarise the key impact parameters, sanitation spectrum and slum topologies – as always there are some peripheral wee gems that are observed along the way. The images above highlight an informal solution for soap dispensing.

Quicksand’s services span research, film-making, product development, exhibition/experience design, education and beyond – but here’s a quick taste from a couple of their other projects in the sanitation sector:
 

User Experience Research
for Safe Water Strategies in Base of the Pyramid Markets.
 

[vimeo]7733886[/vimeo]

 
The Ripple Effect Film. Quicksand’s documentation became an important medium for IDEO and Acumen Fund to demonstrate the value of design thinking in driving issues pertaining to social development and impact.

Related posts:
Women Together: Incentivising Savings
Disrupting Urination Norms

[All images via Quicksand and The Potty Project]

I was recently invited to participate as an external advisor, from here in New Zealand, on an extensive research project currently being conducted in India. The exploration is focused on sanitation in low-income urban India and has been dubbed The Potty Project.   The study entails a user-centered examination of behaviours, experiences and attitudes to [...]

Amplifying African Ingenuity


Next week ushers in this year’s Maker Faire Africa which celebrates the spirit of African ingenuity, innovation and invention. I recently interviewed one of its founder’s Emeka Okafor for Design Observer: Tinkers, Hackers, Farmer, Crafters. He spoke with conviction of

“the interchange between the emerging global dynamics and local inspiration in Africa. This speaks to a far-reaching conversation in which the questions are posed: How do we regain our creativity? How do we redefine what we mean by a society that is advanced?

He went on to describe the experimental platform which is neither a science fair, conference nor trade show – but which rather values all makers who have uniquely responded to a need with an adaptive sensibility.

“If you place a tinkerer who works on the side of the road next to an Ivy League engineer, dynamics are bound to get interesting. Folks begin to recognize, reassess and remix value… This is something I came to appreciate in curating TEDGlobal in Africa. When you place the biochemist next to the poet or the visual artist next to the physicist, you can rely on synergies springing from their shared curiosity.”


Last year’s MFA featured a potent mix of inventiveness from robotics through to black-smithing and agricultural innovations – punctuated by recycling endeavours and global-local craft mash-ups. The event had it’s own locally fabricated radio station and endearingly analogue black-board blogger, Alfred Sirleaf.
 

This year’s MFA promises another round of multidisciplinary ingenuity. Digital fabrication is set to feature alongside artisanal eyewear. Workshops will share solar technology skills with young people and mobile hacking tips with all ages. The event will also see the African launch of Steve Daniels’ book Making Do: Innovation in Kenya’s Informal Economy. Steve’s rigorously insightful book provides a comprehensive exploration of jua kali – informal artisans who work in industrious clusters across Kenya:
 

“Wandering through winding alleys dotted with makeshift worksheds, one can’t help but feel clouded by the clanging of hammers on metal, grinding of bandsaws on wood and the shouts of workers making sales. But soon it becomes clear that this cacophony is really a symphony of socio-economic interactions that form what is known as the informal economy. In Kenya, engineers in the informal economy are known as jua kali, Swahili for “hot sun”, because they toil each day under intense heat and with limited resources. But despite these conditions, or in fact because of them, the jua kali continuously demonstrate ingenuity and resourcefulness in solving problems…

… Steve Daniels illuminates the dynamics of the sector to enhance our understanding of African systems of innovation… The study examines how the jua kali design, build and manage though theoretical discussions, visualizations of data and stories of successful and struggling entrepreneurs.”

Maker Faire Africa promises to shine a light on a wealth of African talent and turn up the volume on their diverse voices of inventiveness.

Related posts:
Indian Grassroots Innovation
Creative Waves through Collaboration

[Images – 1 + 2: From White African’s Maker Faire Africa set on Flickr, 3: from the portfolio of C. Kaibiru, 4: cover detail of Steve Daniels’ book Making Do]

Next week ushers in this year's Maker Faire Africa which celebrates the spirit of African ingenuity, innovation and invention. I recently interviewed one of its founder's Emeka Okafor for Design Observer: Tinkers, Hackers, Farmer, Crafters. He spoke with conviction of "the interchange between the emerging global dynamics and local inspiration in Africa. This speaks to [...]

The People’s Way: Enhanced Urban Mobility

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Earlier this year I checked out a robust, sustainable urban transport strategy supported by digital technology and user-centric design which earned the global Sustainable Transport Award from Washington. Ahmedabad’s Janmarg (People’s Way) initiative incorporates dedicated bus corridors amongst other interventions to prioritize multi-modal, eco-smart transport options to serve a population fast approaching 6 million. By analyzing current and emerging local mobility patterns and aspirations alongside concerns for accessibility, safety, energy efficiency and connectivity – urban planners were able to adapt the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) model which had transpired from developments in Curitiba and Bogota. Most importantly its impact is being felt at street-level in a city which encompasses both tradition and modernity.
 
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Ahmedabad is India’s seventh largest city and fifth richest (ahead of Delhi and Mumbai), providing Gujarat with a thriving centre of commerce while hosting a large student population. Like most Indian cities its roads are becoming more strained as an increasing number of private vehicles compete for space with buses, trucks, rickshaws, pedestrians, hawkers, bicycles, cows, camels and the occasional elephant. While some areas of the city flourish via industries such as pharamaceuticals, textiles and construction – others flounder – and all are exposed to mounting levels of pollution. Faced with such issues the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation approached one of the city’s prominent tertiary institutions, the Centre for Environmental Planning and Technology (CEPT), to explore and propose solutions.
 
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Consulting architect Meghal Arya applauds the breadth of the planning considerations, which accounted for users, providers and operators. “Janmarg is likely to raise the whole city’s value,” she says, “but best of all it raises expectations about civic services in India.” Arun Amrutla (above), an Ahmedabadi man who has been crippled since birth, seems to agree. “Its so easy for people like me to get on and off the Janmarg buses,” he says. This kind of system, he continues, can truly change people’s lives — especially those who are physically and financially challenged. “Janmarg gives us access to parts of the city that we couldn’t access before — for education, employment or enjoyment — so it’s more our city now than it ever has been.”

Read my full coverage of Ahmedabad’s Janmarg initiative on Places (Forum of Design for the Public Realm) at Design Observer.
 
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Bus operators Pancal Kirti and Jitendra Patel – who received yoga classes to encourage physical resilience and solidarity as part of their training.
 
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Eight year old passenger Rudri Mehta travels with her mother to visit popular recreational spot Kankaria Lake.
 
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Bus shelters, designed by Arya Architects, employ passive solar design.
 
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Janmarg includes cycling and walking lanes. These pose challenges given that they have not previously been common in Ahmedabad but awareness building initiatives aim to shift attitudes and behaviours in the city.
 
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The service attracts a wide range of passengers from youth to the elderly, factory owners to tribal migrants. Many cite ease of use and timely arrival as key drivers for using the service over alternate modes of transport.
 
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Well over two hundred religious structures were relocated by negotiation to make way for bus lanes. Three, including this one, remain – constituting a kind of tribute to enduring tradition within progressive urban development.
 
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Earlier this year I checked out a robust, sustainable urban transport strategy supported by digital technology and user-centric design which earned the global Sustainable Transport Award from Washington. Ahmedabad's Janmarg (People’s Way) initiative incorporates dedicated bus corridors amongst other interventions to prioritize multi-modal, eco-smart transport options to serve a population fast approaching 6 million. By [...]