Mumbai Conference, 2-3 November 2007


“Understanding the Maximum City


I am recently back from the exciting and fabulously successful Urban Age Conference in Mumbai, India.  The Urban Age is a series of world-wide conferences, dedicated to studying the problems and issues facing cities in the 21st century and creating dialogues designed to find solutions.  (See the UA’s own very informative website: www.urban-age.net)   100 years ago, 10% of the world’s population lived in cities, while 90% lived in rural areas.  We are at a moment in history when the world has just crossed the point that more than 50% of its population now live in cities—and the United Nations predicts that by 2050 approximately 75% of the world will live in cities.  This fact means that the nature of cities will have an incredibly important impact on the nature of life on this planet.   The Urban Age program—centered at the London School of Economics, and funded by the Alfred Herrhausen Society (the international forum of Deutsche Bank)—is headed by our dear friend Ricky Burdett (who was also the Director of last year’s Venice Biennale for Architecture [q.v., my review, www.columbia.edu/~rr322/TheBiennale.htm], co-curator of Global Cities, this past summer’s exhibit in the Turbine Hall of the Tate Modern in London [q.v., my review, www.RLRubens.com/GlobalCities.htm], and is now Chief Advisor on Architecture and Urbanism for the Olympic Delivery Authority in London.)    These conferences are designed to form the framework for the development of an ongoing dialogue between government leaders, academic experts and urban practitioners—it brings together architects, city planners, government officials, transportation experts, real estate developers, and the academics who study these areas.


On 2-3 November 2007, Urban Age held the first of its new series of conferences—after the original series of six conferences which began in New York in February 2005 (q.v., my review, www.RLRubens.com/UA.htm) and which culminated in Berlin in November 2006 (with Shanghai, London, Johannesburg, and Mexico City in between).  The Endless City, the book representing the integration of the findings of the first series of conferences, is being released by Phaidon Press in March 2008.  It was co-authored by Ricky Burdett and Deyan Sudjic (member of the Urban Age team and author of The Edifice Complex: How the Rich and Powerful--and Their Architects--Shape the World, and many other books, and now Director of the Design Museum in London).  Mumbai was the first of three annual meetings in this second series; the next will be in São Paulo in Dec 2008, and the final one will be in Istanbul in 2009.


Before the beginning of the Conference proper, the first annual Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award was presented by Josef Ackermann (CEO of Deutsche Bank). Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, Governor SM Krishna of the State of Maharashtra, and actress Shabana Azmi also spoke at the event. The Award was given jointly to two Mumbai  projects which have transformed the lives of its citizens:  the first, Triratana Prerana Mandal Initiative, is an entire community center that was developed by a group of shantytown residents around a public toilet facility they created and maintain (toilets being one of the many services that are in critically short supply in Mumbai); the second, the Mumbai Waterfront Development Centre, is a coalition of citizens who came together from the skyscrapers and the slums, to create a promenade by the sea (access to recreational public space being another acute problem in Mumbai).  The award comes with a monetary award of $100,000.


Originally called Heptanesia (“city of seven islands”) by the Greeks, these seven islands on the west coast of India were called Bom Baia (“good bay”) by the Portuguese in the 16th century.  100 years later, it came under the control of Britain’s Charles II and the British East India Company, and became called Bombay.  The early population consisted of Koli fishermen, East Indian Company officials, and migrants from Gujarat—including a community of Persian Zoroastrians known as Parsis, who, despite their small numbers, figure very significantly and powerfully in Bombay right up until the present day.  In the 19th century, the British began a massive land reclamation project that eventually fused the islands into the single continuous peninsula that it is today, jutting out into the Arabian Sea, with a spacious, protected harbor to its east.  In 1995, in a move that was more anti-Muslim than anti-colonial, the name was changed to Mumbai by the then ruling Shiv Sena party of Bal Thackery—an extremely right wing, ultra-nationalist, Hindu-centric party, who, along with the right wing BJP (the Bharatiya Janata Party) in general, took control of the Central government of India from 1998-2004.  Most English speaking natives still refer to it as Bombay, although the Hindu names for the place have always approximated Manbai or Mumbadevi, or Mumbai.


Mumbai is an unbelievably intense place:  the Mumbai Conference was entitled, “Understanding the Maximum City” (borrowed from the title of Suketu Mehta’s excellent 2004 book, Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found; Suketu was a participant in the Conference and was one of the jurors for the Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award).  The Mumbai Metropolitan Region has almost 18 million people in 4,355 km2; but the city of Mumbai itself (under the control of the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corporation [BMC], covering  greater Mumbai) has 12 million people in just 438 km2—at a density of 27,348 pers/ km2, which, for comparison, is almost 3 times as dense as New York City.  Mumbai is growing at the rate of 43 people per hour! Much of the growth is from immigration; but, as in many cities, it is a movement of people into the city from rural areas in India rather than from other countries.  As bad as living conditions are in Mumbai, they are far better than conditions in the rural villages of India.  There are always people everywhere in Mumbai—and everywhere they seem continuously in motion; the city teems with human activity.  And this level of constant activity and the indomitable spirit of the city’s inhabitants create an amazing energy.  The streets in southern Mumbai are packed solid with the ancient Indian-made Fiat taxicabs which weave in and out of each other with often less than an inch of clearance between them.  And every inch of space—and often every inch of sidewalk—is taken up with stalls and tiny dwellings.  But it is a city full of urban energy and vitality.  It is the sort of place that those of us who love urban intensity feel drawn to and excited by—even while we feel stricken and repulsed by the appalling living conditions that are also part of this city.


Tour of Mumbai:

The morning of my first day there (1 November Thursday, the day before the official beginning of the Conference), Harry Cobb (the excellent architect with whom I powerfully connected at the first Urban Age Conference in NYC, who was a founding partner with I. M. Pei of Pei, Cobb, Freed and Partners, and who is doing two huge development projects in Hyderabad) and I arranged a tour of the city.  We were shown around by a young Mumbai architect, Rika Chaudhry, and were joined by Enrique Norton (the architect from Mexico City, now in NYC).  We saw slums and high rise buildings, markets and residential neighborhoods, government and commercial buildings, and elegant hotels and new office buildings that line the city’s scenic, seaside Marine Drive.  There were Hindu neighborhoods, Muslim neighborhoods, Parsi neighborhoods—and neighborhoods that seemed incredibly mixed.  We walked though the densely Muslim Chor bazaar (“thieves market”) just off Mohammed-Ali Road, with its countless mosques, and bustling with intense street life—all in the shadow of the JJ flyover. It was very striking how peacefully Hindus, Muslims, and Christians still seem actually to be co-existing, given that an uneasy tension between Hindus and Muslims has been a fact of the political life of Mumbai since the vicious riots of 1992-3, in which Hindus in Bombay were incited to attack and kill their Muslim neighbors, especially in the slums.  (In Mumbai’s most notorious slum, Dharavi [q.v., below, for a description and discussion my tour of Dharavi, and also a more detailed discussion of these riots, their causes and their aftermath], this peaceful, even positive and friendly co-existence is rather amazingly even more pronounced.)  It has been clearly established that those riots were purposefully instigated and directly manipulated by the Shiv Sena:  essentially they convinced the poor Hindu population of the city that the acute lack of housing and poor living conditions they endure were caused by Pakistani immigrants—of which there are virtually none!  Almost all of the city’s Muslim population are people who descend from those who were living in India at the time of the Partition in 1947.  (Approximately 10% of the population of India is Muslim; but, one must remember that with its enormous mass of 1.2 billion people, that makes India the second largest Muslim country in the world!)  As Arjun Appadurai (who unfortunately was unable to attend the Conference) wrote in his extraordinary article, “Spectral Housing and Urban Cleansing: Notes on Millennial Mumbai” (Public Culture, 2000 12(3):627-651 [click here for a link to this article, which is most worthy of being read in its entirety]), “In keeping with more than two decades of the Shiva Sena’s peculiar mix of regional chauvinism and nationalist hysterics, Bombay’s Hindus managed to violently rewrite urban space as sacred, national, and Hindu space.”  We saw the elegant residences and apartment buildings of Malabar Hill (an extremely upscale area in which the  home of the Governor of Maharashtra is located), and the beautiful mansions and enclosed green courtyards of the Parsi neighborhood.  We also saw the fabulous 1983 Kunchan-Junga apartment building of Charles Correa (a long-time participant in the Urban Age Project, and who, along with Doshi, is one of the two reigning giants of Indian architecture).  It is a 28 story rectangular solid with a 21 meter square base, where the basically minimalist form of its sheer, flat walls is rhythmically punctured by its series of two-story tall alternating corner terraces—reflecting the fact that the entire building is made up of interlocking luxury duplex apartments on alternating floors.  We even had the rare opportunity to get inside and see the layout of four of the apartments, which essentially wrap around the terrace of each apartment and open onto it from multiple directions in much the same way a traditional India cottage would surround and open onto its enclosed courtyard.  Parenthetically, terraces work when they are two stories tall, in a way that single storied terraces simply never have worked for me.  The outward impression of these terraces is also punctuated by brightly colored painted side walls that follow geometrically the angles of the sun hitting them, which gives them the look from a distance of being sculptural and three dimensional in a most interesting way.

Tata Institute Urban Age India Workshop:

That afternoon Harry Cobb and I were part of a small workshop for academics (consisting of 20 Indian experts and 15 of the Urban Age international experts), given by the Tata Institute of the Social Sciences, and chaired by its Director, S. Parasuraman.  There some of the basic issues facing Mumbai were laid out; and these were the issues that formed much of the discussions of the Conference proper:


·        India is a democracy in which the poor vote (at the rate of more than 90%!) and the rich do not—quite the reverse of the situation in the U.S.  And yet the poor do not really have influence in any way commensurate with this fact.  There are innumerable ways that the poor are disenfranchised

·        The city of Mumbai itself suffers from important forms of disenfranchisement:  although it provides the lion’s share (70%) of the State of Maharashtra’s tax revenues, little of it comes back to the city; and. even more importantly, control of much of its own functioning is in the hands of the state, rather than the city itself—the main locus of power is in the hands of the State’s Chief Minister, who is not in any way directly accountable to the electorate of Mumbai, and who, in fact appoints Mumbai’s Municipal Commissioner

·        Consequently very little goes to building or maintaining infrastructure in Mumbai.  In fact, little infrastructure Victoria Terminus, Mumbaihas significantly been created since the British left in 1947.  Water, sewage, and sanitation are dreadfully inadequate.  The public transportation is completely inadequate:  what exists is a totally overburdened rail system that dates from British times—a system that moves 6.5 million people a day into and out of the center of the city, into two railroad stations (Churchgate Station and the ornate, Gothic Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus [formerly, and still usually referred to as Victoria Terminus, or VT], the latter of which itself serves over 3.5 million people per day)  An average of 13 people a day are killed on or by the trains of Mumbai

·        While there is great wealth in Mumbai, the quality of life for the vast majority is appalling

·        60% of the population lives in slums or worse; it is estimated that almost 1 million people in the city are pavement dwellers, living on the city’s footpaths; and this 60% of the city’s population occupies what is estimated to be only 8% of the city’s land! 

·        Housing is in acutely short supply on all economic levels; prices are unbelievably high and quality incredibly low—and even pavement dwellers usually have to pay rent

·        Property rights and land ownership are incredibly  complicated and unclear—and seem to be so in a purposeful way to allow manipulation.  Land in Mumbai is complicated by the fact that some is under private ownership, some under city control, a great amount under the control of the State of Maharashtra, and a considerable amount of the most important under the control of the Central Government.

·        65% of the population of Mumbai work in the informal economy (up from only 35% two decades ago); and un-reportable cash transactions are a way of life on every level of Mumbai society


Thursday evening, there was an opening reception for the Conference held at the beautiful, grand, “Indian Gothic” Convocation Hall of the University of Mumbai.  There were opening remarks from Wolfgang Novak (Managing Director of the Herrhausen Foundation), Ricky Burdett (Director of the Urban  Age), Tessa Jowell (Minister for the Olympics and London), and Charles Correa (one of India’s greatest architects).


The Conference Proper:


The Conference itself took place on 2-3 November, Friday and Saturday.  The Urban Age team had spent the past year and a half researching the issues facing Mumbai and India in general, meeting with various local and international experts on the subject, and beginning dialogues with the important players.  These preparations gave great depth to the sessions of the Conference itself.  Before the Conference, participants were sent the Conference Newspaper, which contains articles and information relevant to the sessions that were going to be held and the issues that were going to be under discussion.  (A copy of this most informative and interesting publication is available online at http://www.urban-age.net/0_downloads/UrbanAgeIndiaNewspaper-web.pdf .)  The Conference format, as usual, consisted of a series of sessions on different topics.  Each session would begin with one or more presentations, varying in length from 10-20 minutes, usually followed by a panel to discuss the presentations.  Some sessions consisted of a series of shorter 10 minute presentations by members of a panel, then followed by a discussion.  Questions from the floor were handled efficiently by their being submitted in writing and having the chairmen of each session cull from them salient questions to raise for discussion.  Speakers and discussants were drawn from academic experts, government officials, businesspeople, and journalists from Mumbai and other parts of India, along with members of the Urban Age staff and the Urban Age team of international experts.  (A complete program for the Conference, outlining the content of each session and listing all of the speakers and discussants can be found at http://www.urban-age.net/0_downloads/UrbanAgeIndiaConferenceProgramme1-3November2007.pdf .)  As always, some of the most exciting, animated, and interesting discussions took place informally in the spaces between the main formal ones—before and after sessions and at the several teas, lunches, and dinners associated with the Conference.


There was much exploration and discussion of the role and effects of GLobalization and the changing world economy on Mumbai.  Saskia Sassen, Lynd Professor of Sociology at Columbia University, in her major presentation on “Cities in a Global  Context,” noted that while all cities have inequality, the effects of globalization increase these inequalities.  Global capitalism has brought vast amounts of money into the city’s economy (recently there has regularly been double-digit annual growth in the GDP), although it has brought with it the typical increase in the disparity between wealth and poverty.  It is interesting that, in contrast to Shanghai, where, in the midst of an authoritarian, communist country, the city has essentially been set free and given the autonomy to avail itself—for better or for worse—of the totality of what these new global forces provide, Mumbai, in the “world’s biggest democracy,” has specifically not been allowed the freedom even to govern itself in many important aspects—but rather exists under the far-from-benevolent control of its state government.  With its centuries old focus on commerce, Mumbai has an economy that is heavily centered on cash—with both the open, ostentatious show of it, and the hidden, manipulated secrecy of it.  Covert, untraceable cash transactions are at the center of virtually every area of Mumbai’s economic life—in real estate, in trade, in government, and, perhaps most extremely, in the Bollywood film industry.  The result is a most inefficient and corrupt (a word that is of supreme importance in understanding the problems of Mumbai, and perhaps of India in general; but a word that was never directly and publicly spoken by anyone at the Conference) situation, where there is great personal enrichment, and little ability to do anything on a civic level.  As Jayant Patil, Minister of Finance of the State of Maharashtra noted, “Mumbai is a city where the poorest of the poor live, but where you can see the richest man in the world.”  It is not the poverty that is so striking in Mumbai—and, in fact, the slum dwellers of Mumbai are not so totally impoverished.  Even in the worst slums, people are busily working and earning money.  (It is important to remember in this context, however, the difference between working and having a job:  the latter grants much more stability, security, and rights—and it is work that is available in Mumbai, not jobs.)  The industriousness, energy, and optimism of the people of Mumbai—on all economic levels—is most impressive.  It is the appalling quality of life that is so devastating.  Amitahb Kundu, Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, noted that while poverty in Mumbai was declining, the quality of life, education, water, and sanitation was still alarmingly bad; infant mortality and maternal mortality both were rising.    There is an acute lack of  a reliable, drinkable water supply (there is public water in slums like Dharavi, even though it is available only 2-3 hours a day; but the water pipes actually often are laid in the very same open concrete ditches that the sewage flows in, and the sewage ends up contaminating the fresh water; and that is only a more obvious and extreme version of the water supply problems of the city as a whole—even the wealthiest neighborhoods lack drinkable water for the very same reason, that there is cross-contamination with the sewage system). There is an even more acute lack of sewage systems (the primitive open sewer system I have just described in Dharavi is a very new addition:  it seems mostly to have been done in the past 5 years, and it is very inadequate at that—and it flows untreated into a creek, and from there into a mangrove swamp and then the ocean).  There are severe public health problems engendered by the water and sewage problems, combined with the intense overcrowding that characterizes the city—resulting in the rising level of infant mortality and maternal mortality.  And there is the horribly dehumanizing problem of lack of toilets in the city:  more than ½ million residents have no place to defecate in privacy, and have to do so in the open.  (This situation is so humiliating that the female members who are in this predicament have taken to defecating only between the hours of 2-5 AM, when darkness and the lower level of activity provides a bit more privacy.)  As Suketu Mehta, author of Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found, put it:  “No city this rich should treat its people this poorly.” And then there is the question of housing…


There is an acute housing shortage on every level in Mumbai.  It is hard even for its wealthiest inhabitants to find luxury housing to meet its needs:  there are the rich neighborhoods of Malabar Hill and some areas of Colaba and some other pockets throughout the city where luxury housing is available; but the demand far outweighs the supply, and prices are extremely high (we saw one rental unit that rented for ~$25,000/month).  And there is a lamentably inexorable pull toward the building of gated communities off in the northern suburbs.  The problems are even more intense for the middle class residents, who are faced with paying nearly New York level prices (high end housing exceeds $1,000/ft2) for apartments that even demoralized New Yorkers would find bizarrely run down and unlivable.  But, worst of all, the situation for the poor—the majority of the city’s population— is dreadful.  Over 60% of residents live in slums of various descriptions:


  • Chawls:  authorized rental tenements constructed between 1920-1956 by factory owners and landowners for low-income workers and later by some public sector organizations for their workers, 3 or 4 story buildings always with one-room units (usually each ~100 ft2 in area) usually with a common toilet/lavatory, and eventually populated by increasingly large groups in each unit—often multiple generations of a family, or sometimes some non-familial grouping, as of male laborers [in 1969, 20,000 chawls housed 2 million people in dilapidated conditions at the end of a long floor of units
  • Patra Chawls:  semi-permanent versions of the same thing, some authorized, some not
  • Zopadpattis:  squatter housing
  • Pavement Dwellings:  hutments built on the footpaths of Mumbai’s roads, in which the living conditions are usually the worst, since they did not qualify for any of the improvement schemes—and in which almost one million live, and actually pay rent for their spots to do so.


Arjun Appadurai (ibid.) rather brilliantly described the situation of housing in Mumbai as being “spectral,” since its nature is so different from normal conceptions of housing, and since it has a quality that is more ephemeral than what is usually associated with housing:


…there is a vast range of insecure housing, from a six-foot stretch of sleeping space to a poorly defined tenancy situation shared by three families “renting” one room. Pavements shade into jopad-pattis (complexes of shacks with few amenities), which shade into semi-permanent illegal structures. Another continuum links these structures to chawls (tenement housing originally built for mill workers in Central Bombay) and to other forms of substandard housing. Above this tier are the owned or rented flats of the large middle class and finally the fancy flats and (in a tiny number of cases) houses owned by the rich and the super rich. These kinds of housing are not neatly segregated by neighborhood, for one simple reason: the insecurely housed poor are everywhere and are only partly concentrated in bastis (slums), jopad-pattis, and chawls. Almost every one of these kinds of housing for the poor, including roofs, parapets, compound walls, and overhangs, is subject to socially negotiated arrangements. Very often, control over these insecure spaces is in the hands of semi organized crime, where rent and extortion shade into one another.


Even in the apartment buildings of the rich and upper middle class…there is a constant pressure from the house poor. The poor set up house anywhere they can light a fire and stretch out a thin sheet to sleep on. As domestic servants, they often have small rooms in the large apartment buildings of the rich, and these servants (for whom such housing is a huge privilege) often bring friends and dependents, who spill out into the stairwells, the enclosed compounds, and the foyers. The official tenants, owners, and landlords wage a constant war against this colonization from below, but it is frequently lost because—as in all societies based on financial apartheid—one wants the poor near at hand as servants but far away as humans.


At the same time, small commercial enterprises sprout on every possible spot in every possible street, attached to buildings, to telephone poles, to electricity switching houses, or to anything else that does not move. These petty enterprises are by nature shelters, so many commercial stalls are, de facto, homes on the street for one or more people. The same is true of the kitchens of restaurants, parts of office buildings—indeed, any structure where a poor person has the smallest legitimate right to stay in or near a habitable structure, especially one that has water or a roof… In this setting, for the very poor, home is anywhere you can sleep. And sleep is in fact the sole form of secure being. It is one of the few states in which—though usually entirely in public—there is respite from work, from harassment, and from eviction. Sleeping bodies are to be found everywhere in Bombay and indeed at all times. People walk over sleeping bodies as they cross streets and as they go into apartments, movie theaters, restaurants, and offices. Some of these people are sleeping in spaces to which they are legitimately connected through work or kinship. Others, as on park benches and street corners, are simply taking their housing on the hoof, renting sleep, in a manner of speaking. Public sleeping is the bottom of the hierarchy of spectral housing, housing that exists only by implication and by imputation. The sleeping body (which is almost always the laboring body or the indigent body) in its public, vulnerable, and inactive form is the most contained form of the spectral house. Public sleeping is a technique of necessity for those who can be at home only in their bodies.


 There is a major issue of the status of the land on which slums are built, heavily institutionalized by the slum census of 1976.  There are three classes of land, that owned by the state government, that owned by the central government, and that in  private ownership.  Slum colonies that were recorded in the 1976 census were classified as “surveyed slums,” if on state government land, while those on private land were classified as “notified slums”; those on central government land were neither surveyed nor classified.  This created distinctly different classes of slum dwellers, with varying rights and vulnerabilities.


Nevertheless people are increasingly drawn to live in Mumbai.  The pattern basically is a movement from the dire poverty of the villages of rural India into the slums of Mumbai (and other major cities), as people seem to know that in the cities there is at least the promise of work.  Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of Delhi, said that the slums of India’s large cities were essentially “holding areas” for workers who come into the cities to find a better life.  The pattern is compounded by the extreme poverty and poor conditions of village life in India; and some of the participants at the Conference spoke to the need to ameliorate these problems being an essential piece of dealing with the problems of India’s cities.  But, one way or the other, Mumbai will need to find ways to deal with its expanding population, its acute shortage of housing, and its crumbling infrastructure.


Some of the acuteness of the housing problem is attributable to the draconian measures of the Rent Control Act of 1947, which actually totally froze rents at their 1940 levels, and lead to the deterioration of housing stock, and the growth of an enormous illegal, under-the-table system of payments.  (In the late 90’s these laws were revised, but it appears not adequately to have addressed the problems introduced by the original laws.)  The Urban Land Ceiling Act of 1976, which was intended to curtail land speculation by limiting the amount of vacant land that could be held privately, also had an adverse effect, as it ended up restricting the ability to do reasonable development and instead resulted in the acquisition of large areas of land by the state government—and, at the same time, it turned out to be completely by-passable by developers who were able to take advantage of the “exemption clause.”  Sanjay Ubale, Secretary, Special Projects, State of Maharashtra claimed that 1/3 of the available land was effectively taken out of availability by the Urban Land Ceiling Act.  Complex issues of property rights, land ownership, and redevelopment all complicate the situation in incredibly unproductive ways, and appear deliberately designed to keep land in short supply (as pointed out by Shirish Patel, Planner at SPA Consultants in Mumbai).  The series slum redevelopment programs over the years seem to have made conditions worse rather than improve them, and the numbers of inhabitants living in slum conditions continues to grow rather than decline—and the conditions therein seem steadily to be worsening.  Sanjay Ubale, actually makes the claim that slumification was begun in the 1970s by state action.  A central point in the major presentation of Richard Sennett, Professor of Sociology, LSE and MIT, was that in dealing with the planning and changing of cities, one ought to follow the first principal of medicine’s Hippocratic Oath—to “First, do no harm”; this is an often violated principal when it comes to redeveloping cities.


Here is my attempt briefly to summarize some of the labyrinthine history of slum and urban redevelopment legislation of Mumbai.  It draws heavily on Neelima Risbud’s 2003 “The Case of Mumbai, India” [click here for a link to this very informative article], and on the marvelous book by Kalpana Sharma, Rediscovering Dharavi (Penguin Books, 2000; with limited and expensive availability from Amazon.com, although more readily available elsewhere; of which, more later).  It is woefully inadequate, and probably full of errors due to the limitations of my familiarity with its complicated history, and most of it was not part of the Conference proceedings proper—but it may be of use in understanding some of the history of redevelopment in Mumbai:


Following a plague in 1896 that left the rich afraid that the diseases of the dense impoverished slums would spread to their communities, the British set up the City Improvement Trust (CIT), widened roads, improved housing conditions, and created the northern suburbs of Dadar, Wadala, Matunga, and Scion.  Very little was done for decades after that.  After Independence, there was plenty of vacant land that could have been used for housing; but, instead, the lands owned by the government were “reserved” for public projects that were never done, while private land owners warehoused their vacant land for future financial advantage.  Starting in the 1950s, a demolition policy was actively pursued in south Bombay.  Significant slum clearance of the “bull-doze-it all” sort began to be done by the BMC (Bombay [then] Municipal Corporation) in the 1960s.  The Maharashtra Slum Areas Act of 1971, while it spoke of improving existing slums and providing them with basic services, it actually enhanced the government’s powers to implement wide-scale clearance schemes, with the owners of slums on private land engaging in wholesale evictions.  The Slum Improvement Act of 1972 promised life quality betterments in the form of community taps, community latrines, drainage, and streetlights, financed by grants from the central government; there were improvements done to slums situated on state and municipal owned lands, but virtually nothing was done for those on central government or private land; and the overall situation of the improved areas did not ultimately improve, as more people were quickly attracted to these areas, and the money to maintain the improvements quickly dried up.  The State of Maharashtra’s Vacant Lands Act of 1975 declared all areas encroached on by squatters to be considered vacant and subject to removal, and that  compensation could be extracted from those occupying land in an unauthorized fashion.  The Maharashtra government conducted the Survey of 1976, which, while it left out many segments of the city’s urban poor (e.g., the pavement dwellers), counted who was in the slums and gave to those counted a photopass, “recognizing” these people and making them eligible for many basic services (e.g., metered electrical connections, water, etc.), although not for any tenured rights to their living space.  In 1976, the Urban Land Ceiling Regulation Act (mentioned above), was passed, ostensibly to take for public use excess private land then under private ownership; but it did not translate into meaningful action, and had the negative effect of making much land unavailable for reasonable development, while at the same time not restricting exploitative real estate development via certain exceptions.   In 1985, the Prime Minister’s Grant Project (PMGP) (instituted by Rajiv Gandhi) dedicated Rs 100 crore (1  billion Rupees, or ~$25 million at today’s conversion rates) to improving squatter settlements, largely in Dharavi; it resulted in the formation of the Correa Commission (under the leadership of architect Charles Correa), which, while it rather inadequately surveyed the demographics of Dharavi, correctly concluded that the solution required tackling the problems of improving the infrastructure at the present site and encouraging the development of local, community societies as organizing foci for development (as the report stated: “Given the enthusiasm of the residents for undertaking upgradation, if land tenure and finances are provided, the problems of shelter and related services can be solved.”); the PMGP did lead to some infrastructure  improvements (two roads were built through Dharavi; toilets were provided—although the change was from the unimaginable level of 1 toilet per 800 inhabitants to the significantly better, but still appalling 1 toilet/100 inhabitants), and an important form of community-based development was set up, in which slum co-operatives were formed, walk-up tenements with 18 m2 units were built (with the families moved to temporary “transit” accommodations during construction), and the residents were required to pay for the cost of the tenements through relationships established with lending institutions; there was some limited success, and subsequent schemes followed this model, but there were many delays, only a fraction of the targeted building were built, and there was considerable dissatisfaction and anger about the program on the part of those excluded from it.  The next phases of Bombay’s redevelopment followed two different paths:  the one following the PMGP model of improving conditions and building in situ, and the other a World Bank sponsored scheme of moving residents to vacant land elsewhere, where infrastructure was provided and the new inhabitants were required to arrange for the building of their dwellings.  In a landmark 1985 ruling, the Supreme Court acknowledged that “the eviction of a person from a pavement or a slum will inevitably lead to the deprivation of his livelihood…and consequently to the deprivation of life,” and declared that if a person could establish that he had lived in Bombay prior to 1976, the State could not evict him without adequate notice and without providing alternative accommodations the ruling, however, did nothing to protect either new immigrants to the city or those many pavement dwellers who had not been counted in the 1976 census.  In the 1980s, the Slum Upgrading Program, run by the newly formed Bombay Urban Development Project, and financed by the World Bank, attempted to grant long-term legal tenure along with basic services to 100,000 slum households, encouraging co-operative societies of slum dwellers in which members would qualify for home improvement loans advanced against the mortgage of individual leasehold right; but it became mired in inter-group hostilities, infrastructure inadequacies, and the difficulties of assessing incomes in such an informal economic culture.  In 1991, under the pressure of the Shiv Sena’s proposal to provide housing for slum dwellers, the ruling Congress Party introduced the Slum Redevelopment Scheme (SRD), a public-private partnership in which notified slums were to be redeveloped on site by private builders in exchanged for an increase in FSI (Floor Space Index), which would allow the builder to sell the excess space on the open market, and the slum dwellers were each expected to pay ~1/3 of the cost of the 15 m2 units through a combination of a down payment plus a 15 yr loan; less than ½ of the submitted plans were approved, and there were many fears about increased densities without provision for better infrastructure, and the maintenance costs were hard to maintain; additionally, there was considerable abusive manipulation by the builders.  When the Shiv Sena came to power in 1995, they instituted their Slum Redevelopment Scheme (SRS), the “free housing” scheme for 4 million, open to all slum dwellers registered on the 1995 electoral rolls—including pavement dwellers, with the private building being financed by offering builders a free sale component of 7.5 ft2 for every 10 ft2 of rehabilitated space constructed, up to a maximum FSI of 2.5, with any excess transferable to another location as a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR), maintenance was to be provided by a $400 deposit per slum tenement with the interest going to pay taxes and maintenance.  


The standard solutions of slum redevelopment which involve building high rise housing for slum dwellers to move into—and even the Shiv Sena plan for free housing for all slum dwellers (which, like many redevelopment plans in Mumbai, seems to have been an election ploy rather than a realistic solution, and has resulted in pitifully little housing actually having been built)—are problematic here for many reasons:  first, they tend to interfere with the rather vibrant communal life that exists in the informal city organization of Mumbai’s slums; but, perhaps more importantly, they fail to deal with the fact that the residences of many of the slum dwellers often also serve as places of work (e.g., in Dharavi there are entire communities of potters, leather workers, recycling industry operations, etc., all operating out of and between the residences of the inhabitants involved—and this sort of commercial activity does not at all translate into life in a high rise building).  The current government housing scheme offers to replace the one-room dwellings in the slums with one-room apartments standardized at a floor area of 225 ft2 –hardly adequate space even for the residential use of the 6-12 inhabitants that are likely to live in them.  There have been some communal attempts to build housing that is more suitable, still using the 225 ft.2  mandated by the government, but increasing the height of each unit from the government-mandated 9 ft to 14 ft, so as to allow for a loft to be built to provide a sub-divided space and therefore some privacy.  These buildings work far more successfully for their inhabitants, but only if they are people who had not been using their dwelling as business enterprises as well.  What is more, the government is now threatening to tear down these community-built buildings since they do not conform to the standard plan.  (As with other versions of this SRS scheme, the way the community finances them is that the developer gets a higher FSI (Floor Surface Index) which enables him to sell some excess space on site, and the developer can get TDRs (Transfer Development Rights) which enable him build a more profitable building with a higher FSI in some better neighborhood.)


One extremely positive byproduct of these redevelopment schemes has been an increasing level of community organization.  There is the powerful National Slum Dwellers’ Federation (NSDF), a grassroots organization established in 1974.  There is the Society for the Protection of Area Resource Centers (SPARC), an NGO formed by social work professionals in 1984 to work with the problems of urban poverty.  There is Manhila Milan, an organization of poor women which focuses community organization (particularly of local savings schemes among the very poor) and on women’s issues in relation to urban poverty.  All three organizations began centered in Mumbai, although they now are at work throughout India.  And the three have united as The Alliance to pursue their common goals of promoting secure tenure of land, adequate housing, and access to infrastructure.  For an extensive exploration of the importance of this activist movement, I suggest reading Arjun Appadurai’s “Deep Democracy:  Urban Governmentality and Horizon of Politics” (2002, Public Culture 14(1): 21-47).  [click here for a link to the article]  It was thrilling to watch in one of the Conference housing discussions, entitled “Urban Inequality,” the Director of NSDF, Jockin Arputhum, quite powerfully and successfully go head to head with S.S. Kshatriya, the imposing Principal Secretary of the Housing Department of the Government of Maharashtra.  (Jockin is a long-time resident of Dharavi, and one of the original community organizers there.  The day after the Conference ended, Enrique Peñalosa, the former Mayor of Bogotá, and I had the honor and pleasure of being shown around part of Dharavi by Jockin, who also brought us into a meeting of community leaders he was conducting while we were there.  Q.v., more about this visit, below.)


Another major focus of the Conference was transportation.  As Philipp Rode pointed out, Mumbai is a city where largest proportion of commuting—55% of all daily trips—are done by walking, with average time of 15 minutes (which contributes to the city’s unusually low 25 minute overall average commuting time; cf., London’s 42 minute average commuting time); 22% use trains; and 14 % use buses as their main form of transportation.  Only 2% of commuters make their trips in private cars;  but, in recent years there has been an ongoing increase in car ownership, and a disproportionally large amount of public spending is being directed towards automobile-related projects (according to Darryl D’Monte, Chairman of the Forum of Environmental Journalists, upwards of Rs 15,000 crore [~$3.75 billion] is going towards roads and other automobile-related spending).  Meanwhile, the 6.5 million who commute into the center of Mumbai on the region’s trains suffer a degree of overcrowding and discomfort unknown on any other rail system:  trains designed to hold a maximum of 1,700 passenger travel with in excess of 5,000 passengers.  Darryl noted that the existing infrastructure is already woefully inadequate to handle current levels of motorized transportation (the city’s streets cover on 11% of its area, compared to 22% in New York; and, while the number of vehicles has multiplied 37 fold over the past 50 years, the length of the city’s roads has only doubled), leading already to sever congestion; the most significant road expansion program, the off-shore Bandra-Worli Sea Link, while extremely expensive, will have only the hourly capacity equivalent to two trains at Churchgate Station.  There is currently a battle being waged to force the project to include dedicated bus lanes—at least a nod towards public transportation; but it is not clear what the outcome of this thrust will be.  (During the Conference, there was an article in a local paper that announced that one of the main roads feeding on and off the Worli end of the project had just been compromised in deference to the needs of a private real estate developer—meaning that traffic flow will be significantly interfered with for private interests, before the project has even been completed!)  Meanwhile, virtually nothing is being spent on increasing or improving public transportation.  If there is any lesson that has been clear from the Urban Age explorations of the world’s cities, it is, as Ricky Burdett pointed out, that cities with adequate and efficient public transportation tend to be more inclusive, energy efficient, and sustainable, whereas cities that spread out and rely on private automobiles go in quite the opposite direction.  As Enrique Peñalosa very emotionally put it, as always “it is the needs of cars versus the needs of the poor”; and he explained from personal experience how, when he was Mayor of Bogotá, he demonstrated that it was possible to make choices in the other direction.  Philipp Rode made the point that planning for transportation and planning for land use are essentially aspects of the same thing, as they both crucially affect the size, density, and distribution of activity within cities.  Charles Correa gave a rather detailed exposition on what had reasonably been proposed for the expansion of Mumbai’s public transportation, and the potential positive effects these expansions would have—although acknowledging that it seemed clear that this was not going to happen.  Meanwhile, in the northern suburbs there are gated communities and commercial developments springing up that seem to be implicitly based on the automobile and private transportation.  The Bandra Kurla Complex (just across the mangrove swamp from Dharavi, and adjacent to the fashionable, upscale suburb of Bandra) is essentially a suburban-style industrial park—high rise office buildings scattered around a meaningless expanse of open space, not penetrable by pedestrians, and with no access at all to public transportation—almost completely based on the assumption of private transportation for access. 


The Conference took up the question of climate change and cities—and its relationship to India, in particular.  The main presentation was done by Sir Nicholas Stern, who is currently IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government, and Director of the India Observatory, London School of Economics—but who is a former chief economist of the World Bank, Head of the Government Economic Service, and Adviser to the Her Majesty’s Government on the economics of climate change and development.  But most notably, Nick was the author of The Economics of Climate Change:  Stern Review, the 700 page study he did for the Cabinet Office of Her Majesty’s Treasury, which made an enormously powerful impact on the debate on climate change when it was released at the end of October 2006.  I most strongly recommend that you at least read one of his Executive Summaries of the Stern Review (which, by the way, is available free in its entirety online at www.sternreview.org.uk; and it is available in book form at Amazon.com):  preferably the longer version (which, at 27 pages, has all of the powerful and informative slides Nick showed in his Conference presentation, as well as a much fuller presentation of the facts and thinking), but at least the shorter version (which, at 4 pages, will at least lay out for you the bare bones of this most important document).  It received world wide attention, since it powerfully demonstrated that the costs of the world reducing greenhouse gas emissions to slow the pace of climate change, while enormous, were far outweighed by the costs of not doing so (citations are from the Executive Summaries of The Stern Review):


Using the results from formal economic models, The Review estimates that if we don’t act, the overall costs and risks of climate change will be equivalent to losing at least 5% of global GDP each year, now and forever. If a wider range of risks and impacts is taken into account, the estimates of damage could rise to 20% of GDP or more.  In contrast, the costs of action – reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change – can be limited to around 1% of global GDP each year.


 Essentially, it presented an economically sound argument for why the world simply cannot afford not to make the necessary changes.  The Stern Review also lays out in vivid detail what the long and short term effects are of climate change at varying levels of temperature increases (along with the economic costs of these effects), what different assumptions about levels of reduction in greenhouse gases will mean in terms of resulting temperature changes, and what can and must be done to avoid the worst of these outcomes (along with a painstaking analysis of the cost of these measures):


All countries will be affected. The most vulnerable – the poorest countries and populations – will suffer earliest and most, even though they have contributed least to the causes of climate change.


…estimates of the annual costs of achieving stabilization between 500 and 550ppm CO2e are around 1% of global GDP, if we start to take strong action now.


The risks of the worst impacts of climate change can be substantially reduced if greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere can be stabilized between 450 and 550ppm CO2 equivalent (CO2e). The current level is 430ppm CO2e today, and it is rising at more than 2ppm each year. Stabilization in this range would require emissions to be at least 25% below current levels by 2050, and perhaps much more. Ultimately, stabilization – at whatever level – requires that annual emissions be brought down to more than 80% below current levels.


The costs of taking action are not evenly distributed across sectors or around the world. Even if the rich world takes on responsibility for absolute cuts in emissions of 60-80% by 2050, developing countries must take significant action too. But developing countries should not be required to bear the full costs of this action alone, and they will not have to. Carbon markets in rich countries are already beginning to deliver flows of finance to support low-carbon development, including through the Clean Development Mechanism. A transformation of these flows is now required to support action on the scale required.


 Though brilliant, riveting, and convincingly comprehensible, Nick’s Conference presentation was simply too dense and rich even to attempt to summarize here.  But here are some of the most striking points he made:


  • The biggest effects of climate change manifest through water: storms, floods, droughts, crop failures, rise in sea level, etc.; the shorter term consequences are already upon us in the form of more severe storms, more extreme flooding, droughts; the more ultimately devastating consequences like the rise of sea level are more long-term eventualities
  • We will go to a 2-3°C increase; at a 5°C increase, there would be massive population shifts, and the regions close to the equator would become uninhabitable
  • For there to be any reasonable future, emissions need to peak within 15 years, then begin to decrease
  • A great deal of energy consumption directly relates to cities; and cities provide the possibility of increasing return to scale, due to public transportation, local grids, skill agglomeration
  • The world needs to act faster than it is accustomed to doing
  • If it becomes a horse race between development and dealing with climate change, climate change will lose; it has to be done in a way that permits and encourages both


As for India, Nick pointed out that it is very vulnerable, but bears little responsibility (the U.S. produces over 20 tons/per person/per year of carbon emissions; Europe somewhat over 10 tons; China 4 tons; India 1 ton).  Nevertheless, with its 1.2 billions people and rapid economic growth, India, like China, has the potential to become a major contributor to the problem.  There need to be strong carbon containment objectives for India and other developing countries, but they need to be compensated by wealthier countries in order to make them possible:


In future, a transformation in the scale of, and institutions for, international carbon finance flows will be required to support cost-effective emissions reductions. The incremental costs of low-carbon investments in developing countries are likely to be at least $20-30 billion per year. Providing assistance with these costs will require a major increase in the level of ambition of trading schemes such as the EU ETS. This will also require mechanisms that link private-sector carbon finance to policies and programs rather than to individual projects. And it should work within a context of national, regional or sectoral objectives for emissions reductions. These flows will be crucial in accelerating private investment and national government action in developing countries.


Key elements of future international frameworks should include:

·  Emissions trading

·  Technology cooperation

·  Action to reduce deforestation

·  Adaptation


There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we take strong action now.


Some of India’s cities have already made strides in the direction of controlling carbon emissions.  Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of Delhi, reported that Delhi has made great strides in this direction, including managing to convert its public transportation system entirely to CNG (compressed natural gas); and while that does not convincingly support her claim that the system is now emissions free (an untenable assumption to anyone who understands the physics of energy), it has been part of what has moved Delhi from its position as the most polluted city to a much greener place—with reduced pollution, increasingly good public transportation (including 72 km of metro system, with plans to expand to over 200 km by 2010), and the planting of 1 million trees.  In 2005, Delhi was the first city in India ever to win the prestigious United Nations Public Service Award, given for “innovative projects that prioritize accountability, service delivery, transparency.”


Increasingly throughout the progress of the Conference, it became apparent that issues of governance were key to understanding both the problems of Mumbai and their potential solutions.  Tony Travers, Director of the Greater London Group at the LSE, pointed out that Mumbai suffers from not having adequate control of its own destiny:  power over the most important municipal issues resides much higher up, primarily on the state level, and somewhat on the national level—which, for example, leaves the municipality with almost no meaningful  local level of planning at all.  The very same issue was central to the points raised earlier by Cyrus Guzder, Chairman and Managing Director of AFL Group.  This incredibly articulate and perceptive stalwart of the Mumbai business community very accurately attributed many of the city’s problems to the fact that the city is  not run by its elected representatives, but rather by the Municipal Commissioner who is appointed by the Chief Minister of the State government of Maharashtra. 


Mr. Guzder was the first during the Conference to raise the issue that the eastern docklands—an area of approximately 1,800 acres under the control of the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT)—should be developed to provide jobs, transportation, and public spaces. Ashok Bal, the Deputy Chairman of the Mumbai Port Trust, asserted that the eastern docklands is a thriving, active, and growing port facility.  On the other hand, Rahul Mehrotra, an architect who is the Principal of Rahul Mehrotra Associates, Mumbai, and a Professor at MIT, pointed out,


Currently only 50% of the land, 3.4 km2 (836 acres), is used for port activities.  Large, seemingly underused infrastructure, roads and warehouses (often beautifully robust buildings with great reuse potential) create a sense of desolation…


Whatever the potential this vast, under-exploited tract of land has for the space-starved city of Mumbai, it was clear from the imperious tone of the Deputy Chairman of the Port Trust that, as far as he and the MbPT were concerned, there was no path open to accessing it as a resource.  The Port Trust is, by its own description, “a statutory autonomous corporation,” run by a Board of its own Trustees, described as “representing various interests connected with Port activities such as Shippers, Labor, State Government etc.” (N.B.: no mention of City government), the day-to-day administration of which is carried out by the Heads of Departments under the supervision and control of the Chairman and Deputy Chairman.  (New Yorkers will feel the relationship to their own Port Authority.)  While there actually has been some talk of the Port Trust selling off some of this unused land, the MbPT has made it abundantly clear that it will not be responsive to any planning needs or considerations that the city may have. 


Te quasi-governmental fiefdom of the MbPT has a parallel private example in the city’s other largest landowner, the National Textile Corporation (NTC), the original owner of the 2.37 km2 area known as the mill lands in the crowded central district of Parel, now very desirably located between the southern business district and the burgeoning northern suburbs.  Once the heart of Mumbai’s economy (and the employer of a quarter of its formal labor market), these mills have been closed since the textile industry died off in the 1980s.  The ownership or these defunct mills and  their valuable real estate was approximately evenly divided between the state and private owners (who actually only have leaseholds, granted on very advantageous financial terms, originally to stimulate employment).  Since the State of Maharashtra therefore had control of what would happen to this real estate, the area was viewed as a tremendous opportunity for urban renewal.  Here is what happened:


In 1991, the Congress Party government issued Development Control Regulation 58 (DCR58) to legislate everything relating to the mill lands.  Under DCR58 section (1)(b), any cotton mill opting for redevelopment would have to share its land with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the Maharashtra Housing and Area Development Authority (MHADA) equally—i.e., 2/3 of any redeveloped mill land would become the property of the state and city government, split equally and to be used for social housing and green space.  In 2001, DCR58 was amended under pressure from business and developers vastly to reduce the meaningful public claim to these lands (through the technicality of redefining the public claim to apply only to lands that had been left undeveloped from the start, as opposed to all the land), and almost immediately several of the mills were sold and commercial building was begun—mostly as shopping centers, office buildings, and high priced housing.  In February 2005, the Bombay Environmental Action Group (BEAG) filed Public Interest Legislation protesting the changes; the Bombay High Court almost immediately granted an interim stay on sale of mill lands, blocking the NTC sale of five mills at a value of Rs 2,020 crore Rs 100 crore (over 20  billion Rupees, or over $500 million at today’s conversion rates); and later that year the Bombay High Court overturned the NTC sales and ordered all mill land sales as per old DCR58.  On 7 March 2006 the Supreme Court reversed the earlier High Court decision, upholding the 2005 NTC sale and putting an end to the entire Mumbai Mill Land saga—freeing the mill owners to develop the area with virtually no need to give any significant land to the government for public use.


Rahul Mehrotra concluded about this issue:  “...the economic gain of a select few has driven the conversion of this rare asset into private commercial development…despite [its] being a vitally important and heavily publicized planning decision…”


S. Parasuraman, Director of the Tata Institute, added the issue of “the salt pan lands that cannot be used because of obsolete land ceiling legislations” to the list of these resources that are not open to Mumbai to use for its own good.


As Cyrus Guzder said, the real question is who governs the city—and the answer is not its elected representatives.  He said what was needed was very straightforward:  attractive places to live; encouragement of job locations that were workable; municipal services that would be available to all segments of the society; encouragement of rental housing; making public transportation have priority over private transportation; expansion of green spaces; support of clear private ownership.  But that to realize these ends, there has to be a government directly responsible to the electorate.  As Mr. Guzder put it, many still would still raise the objection that the locally elected officials themselves would become unresponsive to the city’s needs—but at least then it would be possible every few years to  “throw the rascals out!”    (For reasons that will be obvious in the next paragraph, I felt the need immediately to introduce him to Gerry Frug, who spoke later that day on these very issues.  The ensuing private discussion was most illuminating and useful.)


Gerald Frug, Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, gave the final presentation of the Conference, entitled, “Governing Global Cities:  Who Decides?”  Gerry’s thesis was that there is a polarization in global cities about the answer to the question, “Whose city is this?”  On the one side are the forces of global capitalism that want its economic agenda realized as quickly as possible, which insist that the services a city provides have to pay for themselves, and which prefer governmental structures that are not directly responsive to the citizenry, i.e., ones in which government is positioned as far as possible from those governed, limiting as much as possible the power of the people governed—tending to place power on the state rather than city level; being attracted to quasi-governmental, free standing entities (e.g., the NY/NJ Port Authority, the Mumbai Port Trust); and insisting that it is the major stakeholders in the economy who should formulate and influence policy.  On the other side is the populist, resident-focused position, which believes that a city has the obligation to provide and fund services for the social welfare of its inhabitants, which wants as local a level of control as possible, eschewing governmental agencies and appointed officialdom, and insisting that choices need to be made by popular consent.  Both forms of governmental orientation have been present in each of the  global cities that the Urban Age has studied, and it appears that what is necessary is to find a workable balance between the two sides. Gerry raised the question, “In a public-private partnership, who represents the public?”  And he then quipped, “Can I see the partnership agreement?”  Also, people seem to view the status quo as always being unchangeable—whereas change is precisely what is required in a continuous, unending way (c.f., a business plan that must be regularly revised in response to changing conditions).


It is not clear how such a successful, dynamic balance can be brought about in Mumbai.  At present, the forces of global capitalism seem rather completely to have the upper hand—albeit in a way that lacks the efficiency that sometimes can be the result of that particular imbalance.  Infrastructure is not being built and public needs are not being met; money and growth are not being utilized for the public good; the distribution of wealth is becoming more uneven and the quality of life of the vast majority of the city’s inhabitants is decreasing alarmingly.  To increase local democracy in Mumbai, what is required is the decentralization of power, and an attempt to bring the locus of control farther down the governmental continuum and closer to the popular level.  There needs to be an elected mayor, and one vested with a high level of actual power—because, as Gerry pointed out, there is no reason to have an elected mayor if he doesn’t have the power to do anything.


As has already been mentioned, it would appear that the huge number of poor in Mumbai ought to have tremendous influence in the process, since India is a democracy, and the poor vote in astounding numbers.  But the fact the percentage of rich and middle class Mumbaikers who vote is actually quite low, while over 90% of Mumbai’s poor vote in elections, basically suggests that the electoral process has become relatively meaningless in the actual control of the city.


It is obvious that the poor of Mumbai have managed to be disenfranchised in multiple and often nefarious ways.  Some of the disenfranchisement is structural, as has been discussed above:  by removing the control of the city’s issues and resources from the level of local elected officials to appointed officials and those elected on a state and national level, the voting in city elections tends to become relatively meaningless.


Also, although almost not mentioned aloud at the Conference, rampant corruption is another extremely important modality of this disenfranchisement.  Even my guide book, Time Out: Mumbai & Goa (Time Out Group, Ltd., 2006) mentioned that Mumbai’s biggest problem was not a lack of money, but rather it is its “incompetent and corrupt governance”:


…urban planning in Mumbai is driven by builders and developers for profits, not by city planners.  A corrupt nexus between builders, bureaucrats, and politicians allows hard cash to ride roughshod over laws designed to protect the city’s fragile open spaces and coastal zones.


Government officials seem often to be more interested in personal enrichment than in public needs.  In several private conversations, it was clear that many of the local experts believed that a main reason that there would be such incredible resistance to shifting power away from appointed bureaucrats and into the direction of elected city officials was the damage it would to the their access to person enrichment.  There is an incredible ambiguity and unclarity—and often downright contradiction—in  the way rules, laws, and statutes are set up in Mumbai (and in India in general); and it would appear that this reality, if not intentionally constructed that way for this purpose, at very least is commonly utilized to create situations that disempower people and hinder their ability to pursue their needs—be they personal matters like getting gas cylinders for cooking in their apartments, or commercial matters like getting permission to do major development projects or clarification of the specifications and requirements thereof.  What is encouraged instead action by right is the need to act via getting favors in order to be permitted doing anything—and, obviously, this often involves bribes of other forms of influence peddling.


There seems to be an impenetrable lack of transparency involved in so much of what is transacted in Mumbai.  The bewilderingly complicated questions of land ownership—to the extent that often it is impossible to determine who actually holds title to a piece of land, or whether titles that are held have any validity or force—complicate any real estate development that it attempted; and the lack of an adequate levels of transparency about the project details—and financial details, in particular—often make it prohibitively difficult to achieve the comfortable necessary for the investment of Western capital.  And the tortuous course of transactions in Mumbai is continuously being shaped and distorted by this pervasive lack of straightforward clarity and transparency, making doing business of all sorts incredibly difficult and convoluted—and transforming even the simplest of transactions into an exercise of “whom do you know,” or “what can you do for me, first.”


Elected officials, too, are also subject to many of the same pressures and failings:  during my meeting with some of the local leaders in the slum of Dharavi after the Conference, a number shared with me their observation that as soon as the area elected a local representative to the government, that representative stopped even talking to them and became totally unresponsive to their needs and concerns—the conclusion being that he had been bought off.  Similarly, in a more communal way, entire neighborhoods seem subject to being “bought off” with the promise of short-term advantages they are being promised, usually about increased land tenure rights—the dangling of this acutely needed prize distracting the community from their more substantive needs, and ultimately resulting in the community giving up their long-term interests without ever even receiving the promised short-term bribe.  Many attribute this problem to the inadequacies of public education in Mumbai:   while there is surprisingly wide-spread availability of public education in the city, the quality of it is pitifully bad by most accounts; and there is virtually no attempt at educating people about their political rights.  Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of Delhi, who came as close as anyone at the Conference  to acknowledging the problems of corruption in India, put it this way: “The poor man thinks:  ‘This man across the table will not give me what I want unless I give him something under the table.’”  And that poor man may be right.  The poor are regularly preyed upon by those who would take advantage of their lack of knowledge and sophistication about their rights:  it is very common at the airports for poor Indians to be asked at airline counters to pay from the “privilege” of checking in—and a very similar thing may happen when they reach the immigration booths.  The grassroots CBOs (community Based Organizations) like the National Slum Dwellers’ Federation (NSDF) are beginning to provide an answer to this problem, as those who become involved with these CBOs get a rather thoroughgoing indoctrination in civics and the mechanisms of government power and individual rights; but the numbers reached by groups like the NSDF, while impressive, do not begin to deal with the enormous masses of citizens who are in need of this knowledge and education.


The final panel of the Conference was a City Leaders Forum, chaired by Darryl D’Monte and Ricky Burdett, at which Indian government leaders compared experience with some of the international government leaders that are part of the Urban Age project.  The participants were:


Kumari Selja, Minister for Housing and Urban Poverty Alleviation, Government of India

Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of Delhi

Johnny Joseph, Chief Secretary, Government of Mumbai

Bikash Bhattacharya, Mayor of Kalkata

Jayant Patil, Minister of Finance, State of Maharashtra

Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá 1998-2001

José Serra, Governor of the State of São Paulo

Anthony Williams, Mayor of Washington, D.C. 1999-2007


As part of the closing remarks, Tony Travers, Director of the Greater London Group at the LSE, laid out the basic questions about how to design a city for the future:


  • How to build and fund infrastructure
  • How to harness private finance and expertise for the public good
  • How to explain metropolitan needs to local residents
  • How to convince affluent people to pay taxes to deal with the problems that cities create
  • How to create institutional consistency while maintaining specific needs


Some Individual Interesting Comments Made during the Conference:


Rakesh Mohan, the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of India, noted that the absorption the 2 billion people who have located into cities over the past 50 years was actually comparatively well done.  He pointed out that, “People intuitively perceive the advantages of urban life.”


Ricky Burdett, who laid out some of the basic issues of the Urban Age agenda, expressed the idea that there were political choices that determine the future of the world’s cities.  Spread out cities (e.g., Los Angeles and Mexico City) lack cohesion and lead to increased energy consumption—largely because they promote the use of private cars for transportation; more compact cities, with adequate and efficient public transportation, tend to be more inclusive and energy efficient.  He noted that in Mayor Ken Livingston has put the London Greenbelt plan in place in a way that mandates that development take place within a set municipal boundary, and it has mandated that 50% of the housing that is built be affordable housing.


Amitahb Kundu, Professor of Economics at Jawaharlal Nehru University, pointed out that there was an increasing use of the “formally informal economy,” in which the formal economy is making use of the informal one to take advantage of cheap labor to increase its globally competitive advantage.  (e.g., businesses will hire temporary workers whom they can use at lower than the going wage, without any job security or benefits, then cyclically fire them and rehire them)  He also noted that many of the effects of the legislative changes in slum land ownership had destabilized the status of slum dwellers.


S. Parasuraman, Director of the Tata Institute, described the situation in Mumbai as one of “jobless growth,” which tended to make the poor increasingly invisible and lead to a growing lack of compassion.


Lindsay Bremner, Chair of the Architecture Department at Temple University, built a metaphor around a comparison of the mining town paradigm of her home in Johannesburg, South Africa, to the textile manufacturing origins of Mumbai’s economy:  the vertical, rigid, fragmented structures of the mining town, in which people were transformed into machines to extract value from the earth, as opposed to the more flexible, push and pull of the textile economy, with its far closer ties to an earlier, agrarian economy.  Lindsay was also one of the only participants to speak about the relationship between Mumbai and the Indian Diaspora—an issue of great import that was not really discussed at the Conference.


PK Das, Architect, PK Das & Associates, Mumbai, said 1991 was a turning point for the city:  the government said “W are not going to do it” and turned it over to private interests; it stopped producing any housing stock.  The policy undermined democratic process and institutions


Deiter Läpple, Professor of Regional and Urban Economics, HafCity University, Hamburg, said that Mumbai was moving toward a fragmentation, exclusion, and segregation—that slums like Dharavi were not forms of the global economy, but rather a form of exclusion from it.  He felt that it was essential to build bridges to the formal economy so as to avoid these directions.


Andy Altman, Planning Director, Washington, DC, talked about the role of vision and how it matters in shaping cities.  He quoted Washington mayor, Anthony Williams:  “Vision without action is a daydream.  Action without vision is a nightmare.”


Charles Correa, Architect in India, claimed that it had been the British who had created Bombay, and that they had done so through creating public transportation.  He showed how in recent decades the city had shown an inability to act on its own predictions:  in 1964, when the population of the city had been 4 million, there had been 400,000 squatters; by 1985, the population of the city had grown to 8 million, and there were 4 million squatter; currently, the population is 16 million, and there are 9 million squatters—a magnitude of people living in slums and on the street that should have been anticipated, but which has not provided for.


Cyrus Guzder, Chairman and Managing Director of AFL Group, made some extremely important observations about his home city:  Mumbai has its great points—scale, wealth, workforce, location by the sea, its cosmopolitan nature, and its minimization of caste consciousness;  but it also has its terrible aspects—decent housing is unavailable, there are no quality neighborhood schools (despite the fact that there is a very comprehensive system of public education), recreational and open space is diminishing, no healthy water, poor delivery of services, and a miserable quality of life.  He summed all this up by quoting Charles Correa:  “Mumbai is a great city but a terrible place.”  He noted that slum redevelopment was benefiting only the very few.


Nick Stern, IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government, and Director of the India Observatory, LSE, during the discussion of his brilliant presentation on climate change, told the following not-so-funny joke:  “Two planets meet in space.  The one says, ‘You don’t look very well.’  The other replies, ‘Yes, it’s the human race.’  The first answers, ‘Don’t worry.  It won’t last very long.”


Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá, noted that as countries get richer, everything becomes easier and more available, except land


Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of Delhi, who came as close as anyone to acknowledging the problems of corruption in India, gave the following aphorism about general financial attitudes among the population in India:  “Wherever there’s a heater, there’s no meter; and wherever there’s a meter, there’s no heater.”


REFLECTIONS—on the Conference and on my role:


The evening of 3 November Saturday, after the official close of the Conference, there was a party on Chowpatty Beach at the Salt Water Grill, which is a hot night spot right on the beach next to Marine Drive—hammocks, lounge chairs, and tables with chairs, all among the palm trees, on the sand, with the lights of the Queen’s Necklace twinkling over the Arabian Sea, and the occasional burst of fireworks over the city for the beginning of Diwali, the “Festival of Lights.”  (There were alternative theories about this:  some insisted that the fireworks were to mark the end of the Conference; others claimed that they were for Diwali, but that, in fact, Diwali was Mumbai’s Hanukah.)  It was the perfect spot to relax and unwind with Urban Age friends, old and new.


I had many long and wonderful conversations, including one particularly fascinating one with Enrique Peñalosa and Suketu Mehta, in which, among many topics, the subject of corruption and crime was discussed—which comprised a rather large and riveting part of Suketu’s book.  Suketu had written about a high-ranking police officer, whom in the book he called “Ajay Lal.”  This man, who played a key role in solving the case of the 1993 Bombay bomb blasts (according to Suketu, Ajay and his men were responsible for arresting 160 of the 168 arrested in the case, including the most famous arrest, that of the famous Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt [only years later, on 31 July 2007, was Dutt sentenced to a jail term of 6 years for illegal possession of firearms acquired from terrorist acquaintances, who were responsible for the blasts; but within a month, the Supreme Court had let him out on bail]), and Suketu portrays him as an incorruptible, honest, powerful, and effective defender of the city.  Nevertheless, it is also completely clear from Maximum City that Ajay is brutal, and totally comfortable using torture and even “encounters” (as Suketu wrote about it, an “encounter” is a form of “extrajudicial killing.  It occurs when the police arrest and interrogate a suspect and then take him to a public place and shoot him dead.  The explanation they give out in the press is that they ‘encountered’ a dreaded gangster, asked him to surrender, found themselves fired upon, and fired back in retaliation, killing him.”) in his dealing with criminals—professedly because the court system is so inefficient and ineffective in dealing with them judicially.  (The practice of torture and the use of encounters are not uncommon police practices in Mumbai.)  Suketu told us that the identity of the real “Ajay Lal,” is immediately recognizable to people in Mumbai—and, actually, Adam Hochschild in his February 2005 review of Maximum City in Harper’s, wrote that the “supposedly pseudonymous Ajay Lal is transparently recognizable to any reader of Indian newspapers as longtime Bombay police official Rakesh Maria.”  And, what is more, that he has risen even higher in the police hierarchy since the writing of the book—even though the encounters attributable to the people who work directly for him have more than tripled since the writing of the book.  Suketu said that what was appalling was the societal consensus that it was okay to beat and shoot people because the judiciary wasn't working.  We talked a lot about the issue of the interaction between the police and organized crime in Mumbai.  Segueing via a discussion of the way law and order had been politicized as an issue in the US since the 1970s, the discussion turned to immigration policies in the US and their current politicization.  Suketu is working on his next book which is about immigration in New York City; and there was a lot of interesting back and forth between him and Enrique about “Little Colombia,” the large Colombian immigrant community in Jackson Heights in Queens.


But my most thought-provoking conversation of an evening full of interesting conversations was with Ricky Burdett.  Relaxing over a drink together in that magical setting on the beach, Ricky was telling me about some of his thoughts for the future of the Urban Age project after the current three year series of conferences concludes.  At one point, he paused, looked me in the eye in his intense, Italianate way, and said, “You know, I think what we are doing is a kind of therapy for cities.”  This comment began to reverberate in my brain, and I began to riff with him about this concept.  Indeed, although it had never occurred to me to think about it in those terms, I do believe there is an intensely meaningful analogy between what goes on at one of these Urban Age conferences and the process of psychoanalytic therapy.  To begin with, it would be hubris to believe that we as a group of international experts, no matter how much time we have spent attempting to study the way a city like Mumbai works, and regardless of how much we may know about the general ways cities work, can tell Mumbai what to do.  And that is not what the Urban Age does.  Rather it engages in an ever-deepening dialogue about these issues with local experts, officials, and others interested in or importantly connected to a city’s success—and, as in the psychoanalytic process, the growth and change that results from these dialectical interactions are produced by the increasingly intimate interaction between people exploring issues together in depth.  Participants bring to the process their different histories of connection with the city and their particular perspectives on it; and, in the open and intense interaction of these histories and understandings in the exploration of the issues, the perspectives themselves begin to be explored and questioned, and eventually they begin to evolve and change.  And, as in psychoanalytic therapy, the potential outcome is that the participants end up growing in their abilities creatively and effectively to deal with these issues.  It is not so much the exchange of information and techniques, or even of analyses and philosophies, that is crucial—albeit that this is often the subject matter of the dialogues—but rather it is the growth induced by this exchange that matters and is conducive to a process of further self-reflection, self-examination, evolution, and change.  These were just some of the ideas that began bubbling up for me on the topic; but they were powerful enough that my mind is still percolating with them.  I may actually me moved to write a ‘real’ paper on the subject—and, those of you who know me well enough, know that it is only when I am grabbed so powerfully by an idea that I cannot help myself that I overcome my deeply ingrained reluctance to write formal papers.  This may surprise those of you who are so regularly subjected to my verbose online ramblings—like this seemingly uncontainable, ever-expanding, voluminous current example.   Writing professional papers, however, is something I rarely do, as evidenced by the paucity of them I have written over the years (q.v., my list of publications and links to them online; by the way, the only fun one to read of the bunch, should you be so moved, is the one entitled “Psychoanalysis And The Tragic Sense Of Life.”)  But, we shall see…


Meanwhile, the entire discussion with Ricky has managed to crystallize for me an answer to what has heretofore been an unanswered question:  just what is my role in this Urban Age project?  What part does a psychoanalyst—even one for whom architecture and city planning have been long-time passions—have to play in this process of thinking about the future of cities?  My earliest role with the Urban Age was adequately summarized simply as “friend of Ricky’s”; but it has become increasingly clear that my role has long-since evolved into something more than that.  (Officially of late, I have been one of the “Urban Age international experts”; and my specific status, has been “non-specific respondent”—meaning that I’m there to participate and respond in discussions, although not part of any of the formal panels.)  Upon reflection, I realize that my psychoanalytic skills are rather more specifically pertinent to the process than had been immediately clear to me:  I am particularly adept at participating in discussions where my role is to pick up on the twists and turns and vicissitudes of others’ logic, even when their expertise in the area under discussion is far superior to my own;  I can notice where a conclusion does not fit with its assumptions, where something important is being left out or talked around;  I am able to have insight into the relationships between specific histories and the perspectives these historical experiences have engendered and continue to shape; I can see possibilities for alternative ways of thinking and modes of action about situations under discussion; I have considerable insight into how emotional configurations affect logical thinking about issues;  and, perhaps most importantly, I am highly skilled at bringing dialogues to deeper and more meaningful levels of interaction and facilitating the problem-solving abilities of others.  (By the way, I have always had an interest in the application of these skills to organizations and other systems, even though my main professional activity has almost always focused on doing it on an individual basis.)  I’m just sketching these thoughts out here, but I guess what I’ve been realizing is that my skills as a psychoanalyst are actually specifically and meaningfully relevant to this urban dialogue in which I have been so honored and thrilled to be a participant.


My Visit to DHARAVI:


On 4 November Sunday, the day after the Conference, my friend Enrique Peñalosa and I went on a tour of Dharavi led by Kalpana Sharma, author of  the excellent book Rediscovering Dharavi (Penguin Books, 2000).  If in Mumbai, it is always inexpensively available in the bookstore at the Taj Mahal Hotel.  (Believe it or not!  I found my copy there and emailed Kalpana to alert her to that fact; and she informed me this is almost always a reliable place to find a copy.; it is available used on Amazon.com, but unfortunately at a high premium.)  Despite whatever difficulties you might encounter in obtaining a copy, I cannot recommend this book to you strongly enough:  it is not only extremely informative, it is a wonderful read.  Kalpana lays out the facts and history by interweaving them with fascinating, detailed stories about the lives of residents there whom she interviewed for the book.  We actually were introduced to some of these people during our visit.  The tour was set up for us by Urban Age’s Project Coordinator, Pamela Puchalski, with logistics arranged by Urban Age Program Assistant Ayako Iba, who accompanied us on the tour.  For the beginning of it, we were joined by Deyan Sudjic and London Architect Frank Duffy, who unfortunately had to leave us after an hour or so to catch their planes.


Kalpana led us north from the upper crust neighborhood of Malabar Hill.  It was the Sunday before the beginning of Diwali, so every shopping area in the city was teeming with people out buying new the clothing and other new things as is traditional to do in preparation for this joyous “Festival of Lights.” 


We past through Mahalaxmi, with its huge Race Course (which is open to the public most of the year) and Willingdon Sports Club (which is home to Mumbai’s oldest golf club, and is most certainly not open to the public at any time of the year)—but between the two they provide an abundance of open green space, so rare in this city.  We could see to our left the astounding Haji-Ali Mosque.  Constructed in the 15th century, the mosque is built on a tiny island between Worli Bay and the Arabian Sea, off the coast or Worli.  It is accessed from the mainland precinct of Mahalakshmi by foot via a narrow, 500 yard long causeway which is impassable at high tides.  (In the Tate Modern “Global Cities” exhibit last summer, there was an incredible piece of video art that consisted of footage of visitors to the mosque passing back and forth across this causeway as the waves Defunct textile mill in Mumbailapped at their feet.)


Continuing north, we passed through the heart of the mill lands (q.v., above), with its defunct cotton mills and chawls built to house the mill workers—vast areas of which have already been developed into shopping malls, office buildings, and luxury high rise housing.


Thence through the densely built up area of Dadar, an important commuter center because there is a connection there between the Central Line Railway and the Western Line before they head off in their separate directions.


And from there, north to Dharavi.  (I am deeply indebted to Kalpana for most everything I know about Dharavi—it all comes from what she told me and showed me, from what I read in her book,  and from the people to whom she introduced me to while we were there.  I am drawing most heavily and directly on her knowledge in most everything I am writing in the following sections—although some of the statistics come from the Urban Age Conference and from the briefing materials for it.)


Dharavi is the biggest slum in Asia. It is not a uniform place, but rather several different settlements which merge into one another.  It is impossible to get an accurate measure of the area of Dharavi, as its borders are like living, changing things.  It is also impossible to get an accurate census of its population, because that, too, is a shifting, changing thing.  (E.g., there are countless young men who come into Dharavi from the countryside to “make their fortune,” and who move on as soon as they have accumulated some little money.)  Suffice it to say that it has a population 1/3 larger than that of say Boston or San Francisco—the best estimates are that the population of Dharavi is approximately 1 million people—in an area of less the 1 mi2—about 2/3 the size of New York’s Central Park.  Nothing quite prepares one for the sheer density of Dharavi.  It is said to be the densest place on the planet—with an average density more than twice the peak density of Manhattan, and this all distributed horizontally!  Dharavi is an impenetrable maze, with only the narrowest of twisting and turning passageways until in the 1990s two intersecting roads were cut through it:  90 feet Road and 60 Feet Road, named for their ostensible width—although 60 Feet Road tends to be wider than 90 feet Road, and neither even approach their nominal widths, often narrowing to less than 10 feet.


The history of Dharavi began in the early 18th century as a fishing village of Kolis on the edge of the creek that runs into the Arabian Sea.  To give an abbreviated account of the history of its history, I shall quote from the introduction to Kalpana Sharma’s Rediscovering Dharavi (pp. xxi-xxiv):

Mumbai Slum Gallery Photo

[by] 1909, Dharavi is mentioned as one of the ‘six great Koliwadas of Bombay,’ that is, of the fishing communities.


From the beginning of the 18th century…some of the swamps and salt pan lands separating the islands that formed Bombay were reclaimed.  …In the process, the creek dried up, Dharavi’s fisherfolk were deprived of their traditional source of sustenance, and the newly emerged land from the marshes provided space for new communities to move in.


The history of Dharavi’s development is also closely entwined with the migratory pattern which has marked the city of Mumbai…[which can] be roughly divided into two broad categories.


The first were people from Maharashtra…as well as some groups from Gujarat.  These communities first settled in south Bombay…[but] as the city grew,…entire communities were pushed out of south Bombay to what was then the edge of the city—Dharavi.


The other settlers were direct migrants to the city…  Muslim tanners from Tamil Nadu migrated and set up the leather tanning industry [which, in the 1980s, after the tanneries were closed, has been replaced by a thriving leather finished goods industry]…  Other artisans, like the embroidery workers from Uttar Pradesh, started the ready-made garment trade...  From Tamil Nadu workers joined the flourishing business of making savories and sweets….


As a result, Dharavi today is an incredible mosaic of villages and townships from all over India.


As Bombay expanded in the 19th century and…the pressure on land increased…, Dharavi became much more central; it was not at the edge of the city as in the past.


Dharavi’s importance was finally recognized in the mid-1980s…and, for the first time, funds were offered to make the place more livable. [q.v., above, in my discussion of the Prime Minister’s Grant Project of 1985]


Thus began Dharavi’s transformation…  The appearance of high-rise buildings on Dharavi’s periphery accelerated greatly during the latter part of the 1990s.


[But] ‘redeveloping’ a place like Dharavi is no easy matter, as successive governments and planning authorities have discovered.


We entered via 90 feet Road, and, from the strategic intersection of 90 feet Road and 60 Feet Road, walked into Kumbharwada, the primarily Gujarat potters’ community.  The main street was lined with stalls selling to the local inhabitants the pots not quite good enough for sale to the merchants who buy most of the communities production—and, since Diwali was about to start, endless piles of the small oil lamps used for the holiday.  Existing at this strategic location since 1932, Kalpana, in Rediscovering Dharavi writes of Kumbharwada that it


…has a distinct personality of its own.  All the houses accommodate the potter’s wheel and…[each small group of houses open onto] an open space where there is a shared kiln for firing the pots.  Over time, the Kumbhars have developed their own social links and keep to themselves…  They have their own way of settling disputes and only turn to the police if this does not work.  And they have a cooperative system of buying commonly needed supplies like cotton waste for lighting their kilns [and clay for throwing the pots].  (p. 40)


The family we visited was busily making jugs for storing water.  The man we spoke with (through Kalpana’s translation, as he did not speak English—although one of his sons did, and he spoke to us directly.  He, by the way, told us he wants to leave the family business and become an architect) was a friendly, knowledgeable, and highly opinionated fellow.  He showed us the square, 5 ft high kiln they used to fire the pots.  The kiln was located between his house and the house of another branch of his family on the opposite side of it.  (In this particular area, there was a row of kilns down the center of two rows of dwellings which lined each side of this narrow thoroughfare—with a path of less than three feet width on either side of the kilns, and with a constant flow of foot traffic.)  It seemed like each of the kilns was shared by 2-8 houses.  You need to picture that on this November day, at the start of Mumbai’s winter, the weather was almost 100° F, and all of the kilns were going full blast—which they apparently do 24/7—filling the area with oppressive heat and choking smoke.  The potter took us inside his house, which, like almost all of the dwellings in this area, was a long open rectangular plan with ~180 ft2 of floor area and had a second story of the same dimensions. (In slums, adding a loft or a second floor is what the family group will do as soon as they have saved up enough money to afford to do so, as it doubles their space for working and living and provides some separation of these functions, as well as a little opportunity for privacy.)  On the first floor, there was a wheel on which pots were being thrown, there were people utilizing a mold (which the potter had himself made for this purpose) to impress a decorative design onto the surface of the pots, there were pots waiting to be fired, and there were finished pots.  These dwellings are dark, airless places, without windows and opening only in a single direction; they are efficiently utilized, but dirty and oppressive.  (I have included, on the left, a photo I took from the inside of this dwelling looking out its only door.  Despite its low quality, the picture captures something of the darkness of the interior in contrast to the brilliance of the day outside, and of the general omnipresence of multiple bodies within the dwellings.)  This potter lives with three generations of his family:  his parents, his wife, his brother and his wife, and all of their children—there seemed to be people everywhere.  It appeared that the second floor was used primarily for sleeping space.  It is most important in understanding the issues of slum redevelopment in Mumbai to understand clearly the reality embodied here:  for a large proportion of slum dwellers, their living space is also their business space—providing housing that does not provide them access to pursuing their livelihood is not a workable solution!  Most of the daytime activity seemed to occur on the first floor.  Someone said the word “slum,” and the potter vehemently protested:  this was a “registered” dwelling—and he immediately proceeded to show us his real estate tax receipts, as well as his business tax receipts (q.v., the photo on the right; he had a carefully kept file of these documents, as establishing ones status in this way is crucial to having any rights in Mumbai).  I don’t remember how it came up—I think Enrique may have mentioned something about Suketu Mehta having been part of the Conference—but the potter launched into a diatribe against him!  I was not clear how he was even aware of Suketu’s book about Mumbai, but it was quite clear that he did not like it:  apparently he was offended by the depiction of the slums, and, in particular, by the portrayal of the lawlessness and crime in Mumbai.  (The potter proceeded to describe, in chilling detail, what he would do to Suketu were he ever to get his hands on him—in a way that would certainly be considered both lawless and criminal, I’m afraid.)  In general, it was impressive how informed and involved this potter was.  He knew about the issues facing his community and Mumbai in general.  The conditions these people live in may be dehumanizing, but the people themselves are quite impressive and attractive.  They exude an industriousness and perseverance; they have an impressive level of energy and vitality; they are friendly and interested in communicating.  It was hard not to feel powerfully drawn to this potter and his family.


From the potters’ section of Dharavi, we drove to another section where we joined up with Jockin Arputhum,  Director of the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF), and long time resident of Dharavi.  (The photograph on the left shows [right to left] Ayako Iba, Kalpana Sharma, Enrique Peñalosa, Jockin Arputhum [on his mobile phone conducting community business, as he seems endlessly to be doing; I had met and spoken with Jockin during the Conference, but we all felt especially honored that he took the time to show us around his community], and me; with, in the foreground, two of the omnipresent friendly children of Dharavi who had stepped in to have their pictures taken with us.)  Jockin was conducting a meeting with local community leaders at the small office of the NSDF, and we were introduced to them.  I must say, it brought me right back to my own community organizing days on the South Bronx in the 60s.  (One of the women there was the leader of a pavement dwellers’ organization in the area.  She has for many years been attempting to get into registered housing; and it is clear that she has been systematically discriminated against as retribution for her community organizing activities.  Mumbai’s authorities are not exactly supportive of these lower levels of the city’s social structure organizing to gain any meaningful power in the system.)  The NSDF office was in the apartment building that Jockin and the community had constructed using one of the public housing schemes:  the “registered” residents were able to form a cooperative and contract with a developer to build their building in return for increased Floor Space Index (FSI) that would allow him to build additional units for  sale—and, more importantly for the developer, Transfers of Development Rights (TDRs) that are transferable to increased FSI at other areas in which he may elect to build; the residents were also required to pay a specific amount per apartment that was deposited in escrow in a bank, and the interest from these accounts covers much of the maintenance and upkeep of the building—although there is also a small monthly maintenance fee.  The units are built to the current government standard of 225 ft2 of floor area; but what is different about this particular building (and the others done and planned by this community group) is that the units have a 14 ft unit height instead of the government mandated 9 ft.  (The photograph to the right has in the background one of the government-format apartment buildings; in the foreground is the margin of an open space where the previous dwellings have been demolished to create room for Jockin’s group to construct a new building [construction of which has been stopped by government order—q.v., below]; and in the mid-ground are the sort of two-story dwellings that predominate in Dharavi.)   This height difference is crucial, as it permits the building of half-floor loft space in each unit, which allows for at least some privacy—remembering that these are still essentially one-room units, often with multiple generations of a family living in each—and even some minor potential to include some commercial activities therein.  I mentioned above that construction of their next apartment building has been halted by government order.  The government is objecting to the innovations (primarily the unit height, but also some increased public space area within the building that provides more air and light—and is more inviting to social interaction) of the community-planned buildings, and threatening not only to halt new construction, but actually to demolish the very successful buildings that have already been completed according to these community plans.


Jockin took us through one of his community planned and built apartment buildings, and we were able to visit several of the apartments.  (All of the buildings being built are essentially 5-7 floor walkups; elevators have been tried in some previous designs, but the residents almost always seem unable to provide for the expensive maintenance of an elevator, and they all end up inoperable.)  In each unit, a half loft had been built, and in each the design was different:  each family had chosen to do it in an way that met its particular needs—and each seemed quite successful.  The units had very small enclosed small toilets, a luxury in this community.  (The survey done on the 1980s found that there was an average of one toilet for 800 residents of Dharavi.  The improvements funded by the PMGP, brought it down to 1 per 100 residents.  So a private toilet is not always considered an efficient use of space.)  The units have water; and, although public water flows only 2-3 hours/day, the building has a sump system that stores it when it is available and then pumps it up to apartments when it is not.)  As with all of the dwellings in Dharavi, electricity is actually reliably available to these units and reasonably affordable.


What is most amazing about this building, however, is the diversity of its residents and the harmony in which they live.  In one floor, we were shown into the apartment of a Hindu family, then three doors down the hall one belonging to a Muslim family, and right next to that, one belonging to a Christian family.  There are 27 temples, 11 mosques, and 6 churches within Dharavi, and its populations is a mix of these religions.  Once upon a time, this level of intermixed community living happily in close contact with those of different religions and different regional origins was the norm in Dharavi.  All this changed during the riots of 1992-3.  Kalpana’s first visit Dharavi was at the time of the riots, and her description of it at that time contrasts informatively with her description of it years after (Rediscovering Dharavi, pp. xxiv f.)


As a journalist, I had to visit Dharavi frequently to report on the riots which stretched out over several weeks in December 1992 and January 1993 and which paralyzed Mumbai as never before…  The Dharavi I saw then was completely different from what I came to know later.  Then, the streets were deserted.  For days on end, the whole area was under curfew.  People were afraid to speak out… One question you were often asked was whether you were a Hindu or a Muslim.


The Dharavi I came to know while working on  this book was a bustling, chaotic settlement where nothing stood still.  And no one stood still.  No one asked me whether I was a Hindu or a Muslim.  Almost everyone was willing to talk, and to talk at length…  I discovered then that, above all. Dharavi is the intermingling of the stories of its residents.


And now, 7 years after the writing of her book, it is clear that the mood is even more improved.  Nevertheless, it is not clear that Dharavi will ever return to the happy level of co-existence that was in place before those riots (Rediscovering Dharavi):


Since the riots, a process of ghettoization has occurred…  (p. xxxi)


…earlier there were many mixed neighborhoods.  After the riots…if Muslims were a minority in a Hindu settlement, they would move out, and if Hindus were a minority in a Muslim neighborhood, they would move out.  (p. xxxii)


…[in Kumbharwada] for generations, Hindu and Muslim potters lived together without conflict.  The equations changed all of a sudden in 1992…dividing old neighbors and friends from each other, shattering camaraderie built on common trades and interests.  …[One Muslim potter whose family had lived and worked with the Hindu Kumbhars from Gujarat for three generations] is a disheartened man.  He says he hardly mixes with anyone and only does his work.  (p. 114)


It was clear that many of the neighborhoods we visited were highly skewed in their religious and ethnic make ups.  Nevertheless, what we saw during our visit to Dharavi was generally much more hopeful.  Muslim children and Hindu children seemed everywhere happily to be playing with one another.  There were men of various groups working together.  And there were men and women stopping to have conversations across all of the obvious religious and ethnic differences.


Jockin turned us over to one of the community leaders of the 13th Compound, Dharavi’s huge recycling area.  We drove with him to the intersection of 60 Feet Road and the Maim-Sion link road and there entered the 13th Compound.  The residents of this area recycle just about Welcome to DHARAVI INDUSTRIAL FREE ECONOMIC ZONE - Mumbaieverything imaginable—and some things it is hard to imagine by Western standards, either for reasons labor costs or of worker safety.


The main activity involves the recycling of plastic.  Men and women, squatting in lines along the narrow lanes, sort though the stacks of plastic trash, remove any labels, caps, etc. (although everything here is kept and recycled somehow), and then separate it into piles of different colors and types of plastic.  (Kalpana pointed out that whole items like toothbrushes and syringes are tossed into separate basins—and that none of these workers wear gloves, and that none seem to know that syringes are dangerous and inappropriate for recycling.)  The piles are then taken to small rooms off the lane where the plastics are fed into small machines that break and shred the pieces into tiny bits—the air is full of plastic dust, and there is not a mask in sight.  There are then the solvents—smelling so toxic, that we could not bring ourselves to explore how they were being used.  (It is frightening to remember that these workers are not only exposed to these toxic conditions while they work; they live here as well—and they spend their entire time in the 13th Compound inhaling the toxic fumes of their trade.)  Eventually the plastic is melted or dissolved and then hardened into large solid blocks, for sale back to users in the more formal economy.


The second biggest recycling activity involves metal drums.  Companies send them here, and the drums are refurbished for reuse by the companies.  (Of course, there is no mention of the remnants of the hazardous chemicals that might remain in these drums—and there is no attempt to provide any protection for the workers handling them.)  The process is unbelievably labor intensive:  I watched as one man was removing dents from a drum by dropping some stones into it and then rolling it back and forth on the ground for 30 minutes until the banging of the stones had beaten the dents out of the drum from the inside.  The outside of the drums were then sanded and repainted.  It simply would not be possible to spend this amount of time recycling a drum in the developed world.


But everything is recycled here.  We saw one small operation where bits of aluminum were being sorted, cleaned, and melted down in a crude furnace—and then the molten metal was ladled out by hand into ingot molds (by a man in his bare feet, by the way).  I am told there is also an area that recycles used motor oil—the filtered product being sold for legitimate use as, for example, in tarmac for roads; but reportedly it is also refined in a way that removes its smell to enable it be used for quite illegitimate purposes like adulterating edible oils.  There are lanes after lanes of processing areas and storage areas for just about everything imaginable—with drums and sacks of materials stacked right up to the tops of the second story of the buildings, inside and out.


In each of these neighborhoods mentioned above, we wandered the meandering lanes and passage ways, talking to people we met, playing with the children, taking in the sights and sounds and smells of this strange world.  On 60 Feet Road, just at the edge of the 13th Compound, we met Amina, the woman from Dharavi’s Muslim Nagar who figures prominently in Kalpana’s book.  Amina, who describes herself as a “social worker,” is much more a ward heeler—not actually holding political office, but very much part of the expression of local political power and activity.  Lovely, articulate, talkative, and very friendly, I am afraid she was dressed far too well, and wearing far too much gold jewelry for me to be comfortable with what her actual role in the community must be.  (Although, to be fare, Kalpana tells of Amina’s helpfulness during the riots in crossing religious lines and risking her own safety to help Hindus in her community.)


Looking out across the environmentally sensitive mangrove swamp that lines one edge of Dharavi, one can see the high-rise office development of Bandra Kurla looming on the far side.  The growing importance of Dharavi is made immediately understandable by the presence of this high-priced real estate so close by.  We drove there to see it.


The Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) is describe on the MMRDA’s website as,


Image:Bandra.pngthe first in the series of new growth centers that are being planned in Greater Mumbai to help arrest further concentration of offices and commercial activities in South Mumbai. It provides an alternative location where future growth of offices and commercial activity can be absorbed and where some of the existing activities from South Mumbai can be relocated .


It covers 370 ha. area of once low-lying land on either side of the Mithi river, Vakola nalla and Mahim Creek.

The commercial development in BKC includes private and government offices (state and central), banks, wholesale establishments, etc. and will provide ultimately about 200000 jobs in the area. The MMRDA has so far developed 19 ha. of marshy land in 'E' Block where a number of office buildings have been constructed. These buildings together provide an office space of 174,000 sq.m. with a potential to accommodate 17,400 jobs. In this block an Urban Plaza and Park has been developed on an area of about 22500 sq.m. this park is named as CITY PARK.

In fact, the BKC is recognizable to any Westerner as being a standard-issue, suburban industrial park.  It is a series of high-rise commercial towers scattered rather meaninglessly across some open space.  This space is clearly not designed with pedestrians in mind:  it seems impenetrable on foot.  It is also not designed with visual effect in mind, as it is flat and not landscaped in any meaningful fashion.  (The trees visible in the MMRDA’s website photo above are basically an anomaly there.)  There is no public transportation that serves the complex.  In short, it is being designed with private cars in mind—and this is a travesty in this city that so needs to move in a direction quite the opposite.  It was depressing to see.


From the BKC, we drove to the nearby fashionable suburb of Bandra.  I’ll use the description of it in my guidebook, Time Out: Mumbai & Goa:


The appeal…is that there is something here for everyone:  a tradition of communal tolerance that draws the Muslim community; the gravitational pull of movie-star glamour for hipsters, models, and wannabe actors; a diversity of restaurants, smart bars, and nightclubs for young, well-paid professionals…  The tree-lined roads and public spaces…provide a respite from the chaos. (p. 76)


Bandra is the hip place to be. Of course, the price of all this is that real estate prices in the area have been spiraling out of control.  It really is a rather beautiful and interesting community.  It also is apparently a good place to shop:  after dropping Kalpana off at a friend’s house, Enrique and Ayako left me for this purpose of doing just that.  I was driven back to the Taj Mahal Palace, took a swim, and sat by the pool for an hour.


My Last Day in Mumbai


The next day, 5 November Monday, I walked by myself for many hours in the southern part of the city.  On my first excursion, I first went out to examine the Gates of India (built by the British to commemorate the visit of George V in 1911, and through which the last of the British troops to leave India marched out in 1948) , which I had been looking at from my hotel during my entire stay, but to which I had not actually walked.  (I took the photograph on the left from the living room of my suite on the top floor of the Taj Mahal Palace—just so no one has to think I had to suffer too much on this trip.)   From there, I headed north through Mukerjee Chawk, a traffic circle that was called by the British Wellington Circle, but which has always been more commonly simply called “Regal”—a reference to the Regal Cinema that is on one side of this circle (always remember the importance of Bollywood and its films in this culture).  From there I continued north on Mahatma Gandhi Road past the beautiful grounds and impressive structure of the Chhatrapi Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sanghralaya (perhaps easier to call by its old name, the Prince of Wales Museum), making a jog east through the old district where rope and cable were made for the shipping industry. (The eastern docklands, much discussed at the Conference, are just to the east of here.  It is impossible to gain access to this closely held and carefully guarded domain—none of us actually were permitted inside it.)  I briefly looked into the sky blue and white Kenneseth Ellyahoo Synagogue—a Sassoon family funded institution built in 1884.  (Most of Mumbai’s once-thriving Jewish community left after Independence, and the synagogue has few members. It is interesting to note that the Jewish community of Mumbai was comprised of wealthy Sephardic Jews, most of whom came from Baghdad.  As with the Parsis, both of these well-to-do communities originally had their origins in Persia.)  Again heading north, I waked through the old streets of Mumbai’s financial district, and past the 28 story Bombay Stock Exchange.  From there, through Horniman Circle, past the huge neo-classical Asiatic Society of Mumbai (founded in 1803 for the purpose of “studying the Orient,” but, predictably, excluding all “Orientals” and remaining European-only for decades), and then, winding through many back streets, I came to the enormous General Post Office.  Walking briefly west, I came to Victoria Terminus, Mumbaithe beautiful Indo-Sasracenic architecture of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (or Victoria Terminus, or VT for short, as it is still commonly known).  This is an amazing piece of architecture, inside and out; but even more amazing is the incredible transportation function that happens within it:  each day it serves over 3.5 million people travelling into and out of Mumbai.  I made it a point to be there nowhere near rush hour, but I was still overwhelmed by the throngs of commuters moving through the station.  Watching a commuter train arrive here and disgorge the multitude it had been carrying, even at this off-hour, is a scene unlike anything I have ever witnessed anywhere else in the world.  Exiting VT, I looked at the BMC office building across the street (designed by the same architect, FW Stevens), and from there continued my walk north to Crawford Market, which was the city’s first municipal market, built in 1869 to sell produce and other foodstuffs.  It is a dark, cavernous space, with a labyrinth of narrow passageways between lines of stalls selling everything from fruits and vegetables to spices and meats—and even including some live animals for sale.  From Crawford Market, I headed northwest into the narrow streets and bustling commercial activity of a largely Muslim area.  From there, I took a taxi back to the Taj for a swim and an hour by the pool followed by a shower and a change of shirts (it was again 100°C that day) before heading out for a second walk.


For my afternoon walk, I headed south from the hotel along the water, until I turned west through a busy Muslim area, and eventually came to the main street through Colaba, the Colaba Causeway (so named because it was, at one time, indeed a causeway between the now filled-in islands).  After a while, I again wandered east so as to be able to enter the Sassoon Docks—a wholesale market with stonework wharves where local fishermen bring in their daily catch.  Back on the Colaba Causeway, I continued south until I reached the large naval compound—and this was just too forbidding and military, so I turned back north.  Heading off to the west, I walked around Cuffe Parade, once one of Mumbai’s most elite areas.  (Along with Malabar Hill, Colaba remains one of the city’s most exclusive residential areas.)  Formerly the site of mansions owned by Parsis, the sea has been filled in along the coast, and now there are modern high-rise apartment buildings, a shopping arcade, and, on the northern end, a large slum.  A bit further north is Gitar Nagar at Back Bay, where a fleet of Koli fishermen keep their boats.  Continuing north along Prakeash Pethe Marg past the slums that line the shore of Back Bay, I then walked northeast on Wodehouse Road, and from there back to my hotel.


That evening I had a wonderful dinner with Ayako Iba, Adam Kaasa, Kay Kitazawa Richard Simpson, four young Urban Age staff members (and LSE students) at the Lebanese restaurant on the roof of the Taj Mahal Towers (the rather pedestrian 1970s addition to the beautiful and elegant, 6 story 1903 Taj Mahal Palace; if you stay at the Taj, make sure you stay in the old part.), with a beautiful view of the water, the Gates of India, and the city to the north.  After a couple of hours of great conversation, I left them and the hotel and headed for the airport and home.


Even going to the airport was an experience, however.  The waiter at the Taj Club where I had breakfast every morning in the hotel, and with whom I had been discussing many things (he had noticed me reading Kalpana’s book one morning, and he became intrigued by my interest in Dharavi, and even more intrigued by the Urban Age Conference, once I had told him about it), was the one who had told  me about how poor Indians are routinely swindled at the airport into paying for free services like check-in and immigration (q.v., above).  But he contrasted it with a description of what he absolutely correctly predicted would be my experience there:  that I would arrive by limo (provided by the Taj) and be met by a uniformed porter who would take me and my luggage effortlessly past waiting lines of poor Indians and directly through security; then he would take me to the BusinessElite or First Class check-in, again past lines of Indians waiting to check-in; and that he would then take me directly to immigration officers, past waiting lines of Indians.  This same gentleman told me a story about his own experience to illustrate how he believed the police treat Indians (or, at least, those who do not have any particular political clout):  his sister had had some jewelry stolen in a robbery, and he went to the police station to report the theft; the police threatened him that if he actually insisted on filing the report, they would arrest him as a suspect—“How do we know you did not take her jewelry yourself?”—in order to intimidate him out of causing them to have to do the necessary paper work.


Anyway, I made it through the airport, and, after a mere 16 hour flight, I was back in New York City.  I slept for 13 of those 16 hours.


I close with one last image that I have sent around before—it captures so much:


Chowpatty beach during the Ganesh Festival.  Photo: Jehangir Sorabjee.  Courtesy Urban Design Research Institute

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