UnBox Labs 2014: urban challenges and opportunities

Creative practitioners and researchers from across India and the UK have spent two weeks exploring the theme of Future Cities at UnBox LABS 2014 in Ahmedabad.

The team exchanged of ideas around the application of design principles and innovation to public services and the urban environment. Claire Mookerjee shares her thoughts on the diverse challenges that face cities in both India and the UK.

“The opportunity that presents itself at UnBox Labs amongst such a wealth of talent and expertise is in choosing the most impactful thing to innovate for Indian and UK cities. Both are facing significant challenges, some shared and some very different.

India’s rapid urbanisation lies ahead, most of which will occur in informal or ungoverned ways. UK cities are in need of significant renewal, suffering from over-burdened infrastructure, services and a housing shortage. Indian Cities need to absorb millions of new residents whilst UK city authorities struggle to house everyone even with flats lying empty. There is an agility in response shown by Indian cities whilst UK cities are cumbersome and wasteful. Yet there is a potential humanitarian disaster waiting around the corner for India if basic sanitary infrastructure is not provided for rapidly expanding cities. The challenge for India is to accommodate this expanded urban population in a more resource-efficient way than the West has done.

Informality in the city – as demonstrated by so many of India’s urban practices – brings social intelligence and sophistication. It respects our true nature as social animals. In some respects UK cities are trying to ape these systems, becoming once again mixed-use, with conspicuous production as well as consumption, and allowing empowered entrepreneurialism, sharing economies, material social consciousness and recycling. But of course there is a flip side: inequality and insecurity.

Is there a sweet spot? Through our discussions and explorations at Future Cities Lab, we should strive to develop prototypes and ideas that interact successfully with people and institutions. Perhaps we should have in mind Partha Chaterjee’s take on the Indian post-industrial city: ’like science, cricket, cinema, medicine and even terrorism, this time too our native vernacular genius will corrupt the imported model of the post-industrial city and turn it into an impure, inefficient, but ultimately less malevolent hybrid.’”

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