(Far left) The founders of Kokum; and the Goa Medical College, the venue of the Goa Social Design Festival
Ayaz Basrai (architect, BusRide Design Studio) can’t solve all your life problems. But he can certainly design a space better. He can use available resources well, make the space look good and ensure it surprises.
Reboni Saha (industrial designer, Mozaic) can’t solve all your life problems either. But if, say, you have managed to generate a mountain of garbage by consuming copiously, she can tell you how to deal with it so that nobody notices. And maybe help you make some money in the bargain.
Basrai and Saha will be at Goa’s first Social Design Festival mid-month, holding workshops on “Design and Craft” and “Design and Urban Waste Recovery” with fellow mentors. The workshops are open to urban planners, waste warriors, engineers, product designers, artists, architects — anyone with an interest in the subject and open to learning. The festival won’t solve all of life’s problems either but will offer a peek into how to begin to tackle some of them.
Three days of workshops and two days of conferences have been carefully put together by Kokum, a not-for-profit design trust that seeks to bring together government planners (those who can implement a design in the public domain), multi-disciplinary design experts (those who can come up with solutions to the problem) and active citizens (those facing the problem) to solve some of Goa’s most pressing social problems. Five Goa residents and active citizens — Dean D’Cruz (architect and planner), Avik Sarkar (industrial designer), Rahul Basu (consultant and activist), Saha (industrial designer) and Ruturaj Parikh (architect and writer) — set up the trust in 2017. Some of them will act as mentors at the workshops in their own areas of expertise.
So if you want to know why a sparsely populated capital city like Panaji (with a total resident population of merely 110,000) has no space for cycling or is congested due to street-parking (average vehicle ownership in Goa is three per household of 4.2), head to the workshop on urban mobility in Panaji. Apart from insights into this specific issue, you will learn how to apply the same lessons in other constrained spots. The mentors for the workshop include Malini Krishnamurthy, a Mumbai urban planner, and Oliver Goodhall, a London architect and public space expert. London and Mumbai may be worlds away from Panaji but face equally daunting or worse challenges.
While the focus in the festival’s inaugural edition is on Goa, the founders say that lessons from the workshops can be extended to any city in India. A new flyover in your city but traffic jams nonetheless? Poor design. A new marketplace in your neighbourhood but no car parking to be seen? Ill conceived. One dramatic downpour in your town and life comes to a standstill? Too little attention paid to urban planning. No matter which Indian city or small town one considers, its platter of problems is threatening to spill over — simply too many urban spaces in India were designed without keeping people in mind; and certainly most were designed without considering the possibility of a rapid population increase.
“What we are saying is that design is central to one’s quality of life. Social problems are primarily design problems. If we design it right, the problem should ideally be solved, or not occur to begin with,” explain Basu. The IIM-Ahmedabad alumnus and angel investor moved from Mumbai to Goa more than a decade ago and has been an active citizen of Goa ever since. Besides campaigning aggressively against mining through the Goenchi Mati Movement, Basu is also involved with the Goa Foundation, the Future We Need and the India Network for Basic Income.
This edition of the festival, primarily funded by Kokum, is being held at the leafy campus of the Goa Medical College, which overlooks the Mandovi river. Built in 1842 by the Portuguese, this is a classic building in a state famed for its unique architecture. The festival’s founders are hoping to make it an annual feature (and looking actively for sponsors), and also exploring whether it can be organised in other cities around the country. If they manage to make some headway with even one of Goa’s more intractable problems, they can expect other cities and other active citizens all over the country to soon breathe down their necks.