Mumbai Conference, 2-3 November 2007
I am recently back from the exciting and fabulously
successful Urban Age Conference in
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
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
Originally called Heptanesia (“city of seven islands”) by
the Greeks, these seven islands on the west coast of
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
Tour of Mumbai:
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:
· 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 has 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 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
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
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:
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
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
There is still time to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, if we take strong action now.
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
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
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
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
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…”
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.)
Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law at
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
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
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,
Sheila Dikshit, Chief Minister of
Johnny Joseph, Chief Secretary, Government of Mumbai
Bikash Bhattacharya, Mayor of Kalkata
Jayant Patil, Minister of Finance, State of
Enrique Peñalosa, the former mayor of Bogotá 1998-2001
José Serra, Governor of the State of
Anthony Williams, Mayor of
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:
Some Individual Interesting Comments Made during the Conference:
Rakesh Mohan, the Deputy Governor of the Reserve Bank of
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
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,
Andy Altman, Planning Director,
Charles Correa, Architect in
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
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
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
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
The history of
Dharavi began in the early 18th century as a fishing
[by] 1909, Dharavi is mentioned as one of the ‘six great Koliwadas of Bombay,’ that is, of the fishing communities.
the beginning of the 18th century…some of the swamps and salt pan
lands separating the islands that formed
history of Dharavi’s development is also closely entwined with the migratory
pattern which has marked the city of
first were people from Maharashtra…as well as some groups from
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….
result, Dharavi today is an incredible mosaic of villages and townships from
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
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)
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
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
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
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,
the 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
It covers 370 ha. area of once low-lying land on either side of the Mithi river, Vakola nalla and Mahim Creek.
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
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
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
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
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
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