Author: mpelan
Response: “Dharavi, Mumbai’s Shadow City” (May 4)
| April 29, 2010 | 2:13 pm | 5/4/2010 | Comments closed

Mark Jacobson’s article, “Dharavi, Mumbai’s Shadow City” exposes the various issues involved with planning in poor countries. Dharavi is a slum in the center of the city of Mumbai. Some, though incorrectly, refer to it as the “largest slum in Asia.” Half of the city’s 12 million residents live in “informal housing,” in which up to 18,000 people reside per acre. It lacks many public services, such as water and electricity. The lack of personal toilets is one striking example. As such, the residents are at the mercy of “land mafia,” who control the water and electricity. Additionally, there is a huge gap between the few very rich and the mostly poor. There is no middle class, which is evidenced through the housing situation. Despite the hardships, however, locals call it home, and it has diversity as well as a unique character, whether emotionally, spiritually, or historically. For instance, nothing is simply garbage in Dharavi; they recycle every object in order to make it useful.

Because of its lack of a middle class and public services, planners, specifically Mukesh Mehta, an architect and urban designer who studied in America, are trying to change the situation. His goal is to reclaim the slums and develop a middle class via housing. Since the slum is “choking the life out the city,” improving conditions will allow India to become a consumer society in competition with China, and more specifically, Mumbai can surpass Shanghai as a major metropolis. His plan involves dividing Dharavi, the target because of its center location, into 5 sections. Non-resident investors will develop each section so that approximately 60,000 families can move into high-rise housing. Each family will be allotted 225 square feet with indoor plumbing. At the same time, private firms, given incentives, will develop housing sold at market rates.

While the plan may seem relatively benign, there are several problems, leading to a mixed response by residents. First of all, many are wary and skeptical of the plan because of previous let-downs. For example, houses were taken down near Dharavi Cross Road 8 years ago, and its residents are still living in an incomplete building without permanent water and electricity. Further, others believe that Mehta is out of touch with the needs and wants of the community; this idea is furthered by the fact that he is relatively “Americanized.” For example, he talked of building a golf course, which residents regard as not only unnecessary, but undesirable. Third, Mehta has found that the government often undertakes what is referred to as “slum perpetuation” because they get the votes they need from that region. They then do nothing to change slum conditions. Finally, and perhaps most important, many are insulted by the fact that Dharavi is even deemed a slum in need of improvement. As one resident puts it, “this land is ours,” and according to words from another, “we deal with what is.” They do not want to move to Slum Rehabilitation Authority constructions or be displaced from the place they call home.

Obviously, then, planning in poor areas is very problematic. While improvements and changes are often necessary in order to improve the quality of life for its people, not everyone sees it quite so simplistically. Even the best-intentioned planners, as Mehta seems to be, do not always know what is best for the residents of a town they haven’t lived their whole lives in. The situation is worsened when the planners appear to be outsiders, as Mehta is with his American ways. For instance, as he drives away with a “chauffeured car,” how can those lacking even a toilet completely trust his opinions? They question how much he really knows or cares about their community. On the other hand, though planning should ideally come from the residents themselves, sometimes it is virtually impossible, especially when all seem to be so skeptical of and reluctant to change. When this is the case, planners from the outside appear to be the only viable option. Ultimately, “expert” planners should try to work with community residents to form and implement the best plan possible, taking into consideration the needs and wants of the people. With a keen awareness and attention to the community, compromises can be made to improve the lives of the public without disregarding their attitudes and beliefs.

Community Voices #3

Michelle Pelan

Community Voices #3 Response

The two speakers who presented in Community Voices #3: Transportation and Energy Use, Wiley Norvell and Chris Neidl, were both very informative, passionate, and concerned with the leadership of New York City as a sustainable and livable city. Although I was, admittedly, not very interested in or captivated by these two subjects before attending, both speakers perked my interest because they demonstrated the importance of them in our daily lives.

The first, Mr. Norvell, from Transportation Alternatives (TA), outlined the goals and progress of this organization. Their stated mission is to reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile and to advocate for bicycling and public transportation. He explained that currently 90% of the streets are given to cars; they seek to reverse this because streets comprise ¾ of public space in NYC. TA believes that cities are for people, not cars, and wants to design streets so that they are safe for people who embark on other modes of transportation, particularly children. A “complete street” is one with equal protection for walkers, cyclists, and transit riders. They accomplish this goal “inch by inch.” For instance, they have pushed for the installment of protected bike lanes on 8th Avenue and a pedestrian plaza in Times Square. Currently, plans for 1st and 2nd Avenues are underway, which will include bus lanes and physically separated bike lanes. Though this will slow down automobile traffic, it will open up new modes of transportation. Additionally, less deaths in transit will occur; since each death generally costs the city over $3 million, there are ultimately financial benefits to complete streets as well. I had never thought about how much of our streets are devoted to automobile traffic and how unfair that actually is since many residents of New York City do not drive. I look forward to witnessing the improvements over the years on 1st and 2nd Avenues.

The second speaker, Mr. Neidl, from SolarOne, emphasized the importance of New York City becoming a leader in the use of renewable, clean energy sources, such as solar and wind power. One way of doing this, he explained, is by implementing a policy called renewable energy payments (RAPs). They work as a renewable incentive policy because clean producers sell power to the utility with a 20-year contract. Globally, they have been effective because the energy source is clean and rapid, and the program spurs job growth and reduces dependence on foreign imports. In NYC particularly, SolarOne is seeking to implement The Empire State Renewable Energy Payment Project (ESREP). Although I am slightly unclear about the exact inner working of REPs, I was made aware of one organization promoting renewable energy, which is important for the future of NYC if we are to become a more sustainable city.

The presentations were both interesting and relevant to our lives in New York City. They portrayed how important the role of the active citizen is in determining the future of the city. These seemingly small steps made, such as the bike lanes on 8th Avenue, can actually have a long-lasting effect on our lives and on the city. The presentations made me appreciate more fully the people and organizations that seek to make NYC a more livable city for its residents.

Mini Planning Project: Washington Heights
| March 21, 2010 | 11:43 pm | Project Abstract, Workshops | Comments closed

This planning project is going to be a group project; its members are Noa Krawczyk, Gavin Lue, and Michelle Pelan. The focus will be on Washington Heights (specifically between 160th and 180th streets). There are several issues present in this neighborhood, including crime, unemployment, and education; we have chosen to focus on the poor educational system in the neighborhood. Our project will outline these issues and propose policies and solutions that seek to improve the educational structure. We believe that this will, in turn, alleviate the problems of crime and unemployment because an education opens more opportunities for employment, thereby reducing the need to resort to criminal behavior. Ultimately, a better education improves the quality of life.

The Judgment of Robert Moses
| February 25, 2010 | 4:37 pm | 2/23/2010 | Comments closed

In class on Tuesday, a heated debate ensued between “Mighty Moses” and “Group A” over whether Robert Moses should be revered or condemned. In my opinion, the argument boiled down to one of progress over humanity. Do the ends justify the means? Is the progress made worth trampling all over certain people’s rights and livelihood?

“Mighty Moses” articulated several points that must be taken into consideration. First of all, he made New York City what it is today. He built playgrounds, parks, beaches (that were once virtually inaccessible to city residents), the Central Park Zoo, and Lincoln Center, just to name a few, and he rebuilt areas of the city, such as Randall’s Island to include well-known Icahn Stadium. He even “looked out for the common man” by adding bathroom stations in Central Park. This team argued that Moses was efficient, and that someone with his power and demeanor was necessary in order to make this much progress in such a small amount of time with such limited funds (since much of this occurred during the Great Depression, which gives him the added star of providing jobs to thousands). They stressed the need to focus on the benefits he brought to NYC in the long run for the majority. He got things done.

On the other hand, “Team A” argued that the means with which this progress came run contrary to the very values that the city stands for: democracy and equality. He completely disregarded the opinions of other, acting tyrannically. He did exactly what he wanted without considering the consequences or alternatives, focusing on the physical layout of the city while ignoring the social implications. As a quintessential example, the citizens of East Tremont demonstrated one community that was severely harmed by the actions of Moses. They were forced to relocate from their beloved apartments, although Moses did not provide them with any opportunities of equal standard housing, so that he could build a section of a highway. They provided an alternate route that would not only require the razing of no housing, but would save money. He pressed on with his plan, without reason, and they were removed. Even other great accomplishments of his are slightly tarnished. For instance, the rebuilding of Randall’s Island required the removal of a mental institution, displacing those people as well. He tore down a casino just to exact revenge on the owner. Though this team agreed that he got things done, they were skeptical that it was the only way possible; perhaps given time, the same things could have been accomplished in other ways.

I am inclined to agree with Group A. The example of East Tremont is only one of an unknown number of times Moses disregarded the well-being and the rights of NYC residents. Humanity and the livelihood of people should be valued over the construction of a piece of a highway or a zoo. Social consequences are just as important, if not more important, than the physical setup of a city. The ends did not justify the means.

Michelle Pelan
| February 10, 2010 | 12:20 pm | Introductions | Comments closed

Hey everyone! My name is Michelle, and I am a pre-Social Work Sociology major at Hunter. I am also minoring in Spanish and have just returned from the winter study abroad trip in Argentina, which was amazing (and I highly recommend!) I am Italian and Irish and was born and raised in Queens. I attended St. Francis Preparatory High School, where I played softball for four years. I love sports, especially the Yankees, and I love going out dancing! Currently, I am a babysitter and volunteer at Project Happy. In the future, I would love to join the Peace Corps and work with children abroad!