Exploring urban well-being with The Curio-city Collective

Traffic in Kolkata, India  (Radiokafka | Shutterstock.com)

Launched at the start of 2020, The Curio-city Collective podcast will deliver two engaging episodes every month on the well-being in cities across India. The topics will range from sustainable city design and planning, to waste management, and even play. We had a conversation with the three Founders, Arpita Joshi, Deepika Khatri, and Srinidhi Raghavan.

Can you introduce our readers to your podcast, and the people behind it?

The Curio-city Collective podcast was launched on the 1st of this year. The podcast is an extension of our NGO The Curio-city Collective (TCC), which works on well-being in Indian cities. We live in complicated times, where as citizens many of us in India are experiencing our cities grow at a breathless pace, facing challenges that leave many feeling overwhelmed and disempowered.

As city dwellers ourselves, we started TCC to pull together ways and means — small and large — through which urban dwellers could re-engage and contribute to the narratives shaping our cities, and change these dynamics.

We are three women, who have been working in the development sector for more than a decade, and have been colleagues and friends for a while. TCC is an outcome of wanting to build a more positive democratic citizen and community-driven conversation around cities that we’ve grown up and lived in.

The founders of The Curio-City Collective: Arpita Joshi, Deepika Khatri, and Srinidhi Raghavan (image courtesy of The Curio-city Collective)

I find it interesting that you are looking at cities, which can be such an impersonal idea, and looking at it so personally; through the internal realities of its inhabitants. Why did this come about?

We often personify cities and recognise specific characteristics which make them unique by using phrases like ‘Amchi Mumbai’ (My Mumbai) to own them. In ways that we embody it, live within it, find community and familiarity within the landscape — a city space is deeply personal. Yet, its vastness, structure, and how life is navigated within it can make a city feel impersonal and distant.

It is this distance we want to bridge. How can a city begin to feel more like a community, a collectively shared space where we feel seen and cared for? It seemed that the best way to explore that question is through the voices, conundrums and actions of people who live in these cities!

The TCC well-being framework (image courtesy of The Curio-city Collective)

How do you choose what to focus on within your podcast? Even within the subject, the potential topics are vast.

Our primary approach is through the lens of holistic well-being in cities. We created a framework inspired by global conversations looking at new ways of understanding development in cities and nations, beyond the lopsided idea of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

We undertook a survey asking people what they found inspiring and despairing about the cities they lived in. It was a revelation for us to see the range of topics, and based on this, began carving our episodes in these fields. We wanted to begin with small dives into larger pools of conversation. For example, mental well-being, is a big topic.

With our first two episodes, we’ve made our first forays into it. The hope is to keep the conversation going as we connect to other elements that influence mental well-being and add other aspects and perspectives in coming episodes and campaigns.

What can be done within the larger environment to reduce emotional distress in the first place?

In our survey on loneliness in Indian cities, we asked our respondents “What are the ways in which cities can be made to foster connection?” We got a wide variety of responses from 20-year-olds to the elderly who suggested support groups, helplines, communities built around shared interests, safe green public spaces, rethinking work and commute — amongst several others as ways to rethink connection in cities.

Incidentally, these ideas are very much along the lines of those being explored by progressive urban architects, planners etc who are asking similar questions! It tells us that conversations and engagement with the people inhabiting these city spaces is paramount to co-creating solutions that work for a city. This is something urban planners and decision-makers need to do a lot more.

(image courtesy of The Curio-city Collective)

What are some of the topics that Curio-city will cover in future podcasts?

In the ongoing season we will be covering the issue of waste accumulation in cities through our four-part series called ‘Trash Talk’. Huge piles of garbage have become such a ubiquitous sight in our cities and most municipalities are constantly battling growing volumes of waste. We wanted to speak to it from the perspective of citizen action and engagement.

We take our listeners on a journey from exploring what waste dumping is doing to our oceans and cities, alongside how individuals and groups around the country are coming together to address this issue through personal and collective action.

In the days to come we’ll also be speaking to other ways of making our cities more sustainable and livable through varied practices in architecture and design, what it is to ‘play’ in the city and much more!

This interview has been edited for brevity. It was first published in the March print edition of Business Today, and on their website.