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Catch smart ideas inspired from Dharavi as part of the Urbz gallery

A gallery dedicated to urban planning sounds like a great idea. But if not executed well, it could end up as just a pipe dream. A mix of this might to be in the making at the new Urbz Gallery in Sion Koliwada that is scheduled to open, this evening. Less than 48 hours to its opening, there wasn't any sign of the exhibits that were to be displayed.

The exhibits were yet to be displayed at the gallery when we visited the space on Wednesday evening
The exhibits were yet to be displayed at the gallery when we visited the space on Wednesday evening

"We are working on a very tight deadline. Most of the works will arrive tonight, and we will put it up on Friday," admitted a harried Rahul Srivastava, co-founder of Urbz, when we caught up with him at the site on Wednesday.

Located at the T-Junction in Sion Koliwada, away from the filth-strewn lanes of Dharavi, which it hopes to re-vision, the gallery is situated on the top floor of a two-storey tool-house structure that defines most of Dharavi's commercial landscape. Visitors need to climb up a heavily slanted steel staircase to access the tiny 10ft x 27ft gallery.

Students adding new roofing material to a house in Dharavi
Students adding new roofing material to a house in Dharavi

There are two more similar rooms that made for a restricted workspace for the Urbz team, which includes architects, urban planners, and student interns from varied backgrounds such as sociology, media and architecture. "We look at ourselves as learners. We study Dharavi to find and envisage practical solutions for the community," shares Srivastava. He refers to the process as "handstorming", which requires actual implementation of an idea rather than just imagining it.

Towards a better Dharavi
The opening exhibition is a culmination of four such "handstormed" solutions that Urbz developed with students from NYU — Abu Dhabi Campus during their visit to the city in March this year.

This well near the fish market in Sion Koliwada has been traditionally used to meet the daily water needs in the area
This well near the fish market in Sion Koliwada has been traditionally used to meet the daily water needs in the area

"When you look at Sion-Dharavi, you see a cluster of problems, but if you study it properly, you will find interesting solutions to most of these problems. For example, there are six wells in the neighbourhood that have traditionally served as a source of ground water for years," shares Srivastava.

Interestingly, one of the exhibits is based on recording and studying community resources like wells, and creating a board to record and maintain its water quality. We were also told about an economical roofing system created using blue plastic sheet and foam to bring down room temperature of a house in Rajiv Gandhi Nagar in Dharavi. Made of 10mm thick layer of foam and aluminium foils, sandwiched between layers of blue plastic sheets, the setup helped cool the home.

Students interacting with locals while researching for the app, Chalk It Up
Students interacting with locals while researching for the app, Chalk It Up

The other exhibits include an app called Chalk It Up, to help Dharavi's residents share their concerns about various topics with government and local bodies, and offer space-saving solutions for their houses. Sadly, none of the exhibits were on display at the gallery till the time of us going to print.

"Through this exhibition, we also want to highlight the need to involve the local community in urban development projects. For example, take the tool-house structures that have emerged in Dharavi. They play an important role in the sustenance of this commercial district — offering its population a way to live and work at the same place — a crucial aspect that most SRA projects have failed to recognise," says Srivastava. For Dharavi's sake, we hope the exhibits and its execution see the light of day.

On Today, 5.30 pm AT Urbz, Room 56/AB, first floor, T-Junction, Dharavi, Koliwada.
Log on to: Facebook.com/urbz.org

A tool-house in the making
Though not part of the exhibition, Urbz is also working with local residents to create house plans that offer maximum space utilisation while retaining the tool-house fabric. These house plans can be built on very small areas.

What is Urbz?
An experimental urban planning and research collective made up of individuals from diverse fields, including planning, architecture, design, anthropology, economy and information technology. It was founded by Geeta Mehta, Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava. The collective has offices in Mumbai, Goa and a team in Latin America (Sao Paulo and Santiago).

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