Mumbai and Losing My City Literacy

I think I’ve talked before about my concept of “City Literacy:” navigating, understanding, and thriving in a city is a skill set. Without this skillset, cities are mostly large and confusing places that don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense. I look at my parents are people who do not have a great sense of city literacy.

I also believe (strongly) that city literacy is a skill, and as such, it is something you can learn. What this trip to India, and in particular, Mumbai, has also shown is that this skill can be lost through non-use. This is my first trip to an emerging market since January, 20191, and it’s been overwhelming.

Part of this is that I’m in India at the start of the monsoon season: the weather out is nothing short of oppressive. I start to sweat when I think about going out. Even just a few minutes on the street and I drenched in sweat. For me, the heat means I have to process two things: the heat, but also the city around me. For better or worse, my best reflection is now happening in the air conditioned Ubers I am taking around the city, not necessarily in the streets where real life is happening.

I feel bad about my performance here. But, there are mitigating factors. First, as mentioned, there is the heat. There is also the entire post-COVID world. I was talking to DN today, and we both remarked on how we are both more tentative in a city; not sure how much we want to push ourselves or others. And third, just that I haven’t had a chance to practice living in the emerging market city.

My main insight for the day is that although I may not have as finely honed skills as I would like, these are skills, and can be learned. The lesson to be taken away from this encounter is not to be terribly afraid of cities, but instead, to immerse myself in them.

My hotel for the work week is the Westin Mumbai Powai Lake. It’s a huge and beautiful hotel and about 1km off the main road. Unfortunately, It’s not going to help me address these concerns. I don’t think I can “learn” much for the rest of the week (although I’m going to try). Instead, I need to think about a few weeks in LATAM when I am back in Seattle, and work out these city muscles.

  1. January 2019 was to Jakarta. A quick check of photos shows no emerging market visits after that. This seems like such a waste.