Talk Space

There can be several ways to gaze at the city and to describe it. A planner might see the city as a set of problems or bottlenecks waiting to be solved. A sociologist might see the city as the quintessential site of the class struggle. An architect might see the city as an exhibition of antiquated styles and a crucible of new designs and new forms. From all these perspectives, the city is in some way or other a grand theatre. But what if we look at it from another perspective altogether, that of the citizen? From this perspective, the city is ‘ordinary’. The aim of the Talk Space at Do Din was to see whether shedding the highly coded academic and bureaucratic jargon, and accepting this basic perspective of the city as ordinary might allow disparate groups to initiate conversations along creative or critical lines. Underlying this central aim, however, were many smaller agendas.

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Perhaps one of the advantages of considering the city in its ordinariness is that it does away with the notion of a privileged seer or knower. Firstly, this has profound impacts on the historiography of the city. The archive of the city, earlier centred in government records and academic writing, is now further delegated to the memories of communities and of citizens and their stories of the myriad artefacts of the city. The forgotten story of a planned neighbourhood, the unheard story of how waste has travelled through the city over the years or the untold story of a river that has fallen from grace, enrich the history of the city. These stories are not a part of official records, but they reside in the memories of citizens. These memories constitute an invaluable source of data not only for understanding the city, but also for planning the future of the city. Disregarding this historically and spatially particular data results in the kind of discrete and ill-conceived developments we see today. The tragedy is that so much of this memory is privatized. Several individuals are sitting on supposedly authentic data, but the data remains enclosed. The Talkspace at Do Din was thus an experiment in this new historiography of the city. It was a platform where light could be shed on spaces that were invisible to the conventional gaze and also a platform for voices that were unheard. Secondly, the disavowal of privileged stand-points enables a crowd of citizens to go past the usual exercises of intellectual throat-clearing and governmental apologies, towards actually addressing the city’s problems. Another advantage of the view that cities are ordinary is that it offsets the established hierarchical relationships between different cities. This makes it possible for citizens from different cities to exchange observations and lessons un self consciously.

The Talkspace thus facilitated the multiple visible and invisible folds of the city to be unravelled, it sparked an initiative towards restoring the memory of the city and it generated edifying discussions regarding urban transformation drawing on experiences from across a host of cities.

It was organized around the following themes

1. Water & waste

2. Mobility

3. Municipal accountability

4. Memories

5. Heritage