Category: 5/4/2010
“Mumbai’s Shadow City”
| May 3, 2010 | 5:31 pm | 5/4/2010, Blog, Uncategorized | Comments closed

“Mumbai’s Shadow City,” by Mark Jacobson, tells the story of the largest slum in India, Dharavi, located in Mumbai. This slum serves as an example of urban planning in poor countries, and illustrates the problems that come along with it.

Dharavi is resident to one million people, who squeeze into an astonishingly dense area of 18,000 people per acre. It is also one of the most diverse places in India, due mostly to its history of being converted from a swamp for fishermen into a residential area. People from all around India  moved into the slum over time, making it full of regional and cultural differences. One of the biggest issues in this slum appears to be hygiene and access to resources, for many places are without plumbing and electricity. Additionally, the very low ratio of bathrooms to residents makes this slum both unhygienic and very public. Due to the lack of resources provided by the government, a “land mafia” has arisen in the slum, offering to provide the missing water and electricity to the residents who need them. This clearly illegal activity is the result of the government’s inability to provide the people with what they need; as a result, residents (both legal and illegal) are at the whims of these mafia bosses for their basic necessities.

Despite obvious density and resource problems, Dharavi has spirit and emotion, and retains a deep connection to its residents. This is due to its long history and the presence of several generations who have all grown up in the same town, many times in the same house. For example, the potters, known as the Kumbhar, have garnished respect from all of Dharavi’s residents over time, and have established themselves as a cultural phenomenon of the region. Other dwellers have given character to the slum through “recycling” efforts; i.e. melting down materials, such as plastics, found in garbage for a variety of other purposes. The region is generally well-known for its spirituality, in addition to its geography, and has come to be one of the most important areas for low-income residents in India.

Dharavi is important from an urban planning perspective because it presents a problem between the desires of the government and the will of the people. Recently, the Indian government has made plans to destroy all of the current “informal housing” in the slum and erect new high-rise apartments that would allow all residents to have 225 square feet, in addition to a private bathroom. In addition to this government housing, private companies will be allowed in to build more luxurious housing for those who can afford it. The theory behind these changes in Dharavi is that India cannot become the world economic power it is seemingly destined for if at the center of its financial capital, Mumbai, is a slum with a million residents. It is not only an eyesore, says the government, but an inhibitor to the rise of India as a superpower. Additionally, Dharavi seems like a good place for developments because of its geography – it is located in the center of Mumbai, adjacent to two rail lines, and is very clsoe to the  BKC, a “global corporate enclave.” Essentially, the government is trying to create a middle class in this currently low-class region. In the past, India has neglected to create middle-income housing, and restricted its residents to upper-class and lower-class housing. Therefore, as many of the successful residents are economically above living in a slum, middle-income housing can foster a middle class in Mumbai, where it is desperately needed.

While these plans are seemingly wise for an area overridden by hygiene and crowding problems, many of its residents are against it for economic and emotional reasons. For example, in the article, we are introduced to Amit Singh, a resident of Rajendra Prasad Chawl. Amit is against the plans for redeveloping Dharavi, mostly because his family has benefited from its conditions – they own a 400 square foot home (larger than the home he would get under the new plans), and run a business from it that earns them over 1,000 rupees a month. The family has no desire to change their “informal housing” situation, and no economic incentive either. Others, such as Tank Ranchhod Savdas, believe that Dharavi in its current state is actually more American (and, therefore, better in the eyes of many Indians) than it would be if reconstructed. Dharavi has been extremely good to his family, allowing them to own a 3,000 square foot home and a bustling pottery business/workshop. His experience stresses that hard work and success can, in fact, lead to a better lifestyle, even in the slums of Mumbai. Other people are against the project for the simple reason that Dharavi has been their home for so long. It is filled with history and culture, and makes up a big part of who the people are. Some, like the potters, even believe that it is their land, not the government’s to do with it what it wants. Although the government of India has denied these claims to ownership, the example emphasizes the degree to which the people are connected to their home and workplace.

Other concerns about the project to rebuild Dharavi stem from negligent management of previously rebuilt parts of India. Many places that have undergone such procedures leave with nothing but dilapidated buildings, many times sans electricity and water, and hundreds of thousands of displaced people. Even if the residents move back into their homes, the government’s incompetence forces them to go back to their “land mafia” for the necessities they need, but are once again without. The planner of the current project in Dharavi, Mr. Mehta, may also be seen as incapable or naive. For example, when asked where people would park when coming to a cricket game in what will be a 120,000-person stadium, Mehta was stumped. It seems this management is the kind that dreams big, but may not have its feet on the ground concerning the realities of the space. The disconnect between the Americanized Mehta and the rest of the Dharavi community has also led to a distrust of the man. How can someone unrelated to an urban space tell its residents what is good for them? The lack of connection Mehta has with Dharavi leaves him unable to empathize with its residents, perhaps. He may never know what it feels like to lose a home that encompasses so many people and businesses, and that has been around for so many generations. It is this sticking point that makes Dharavi special, and irreplaceable in the eyes of many people.

The example of urban planning in poor countries set by Dharavi highlights what is sure to be a problem in any part of the world – the fight between the government and its vision, and the will of the people. Countries often times seek to improve certain areas without ever thinking what it might be doing to the community at large. This can be witnessed here in New York, where the debate on Harlem gentrification is a hot one. People will always feel close to their homes, and be hesitant to make such drastic changes. However, it is important to also consider the manner in which these changes are made. For a place like Dharavi, where hundreds of thousands of people will be moved into likely inefficient and incomplete homes, change can be harder. The government’s reputation is bad concerning this policy, and certainly needs reorganization. However, for areas that have proper organization, thoughtfulness, and sensitivity, change may be welcome. Of course, this is much easier when the economic benefits of such change are easy to see. Even so,  an unwilling people make urban planning a much more difficult challenge. If home is where the heart is, the battle to redevelop home may prove to be longer and tougher than once thought.

Planning in Poor Countries
| May 1, 2010 | 3:52 pm | 5/4/2010, Blog, Uncategorized | Comments closed

Dharavi is one of many slums in India and around the world. It is characterized by noise, crowds, poor infrastructure, lack of modern plumbing, and pollution. One of many, Dharavi has been chosen as a focus because it is in the geographic center of Mumbai, a rising financial center in India that one day hopes to rival the US and Chinese economies. If Mumbai hopes to achieve this, then it must eliminate its slums. The slums house a large number of the poor, which when compared to the few wealthy residents who live in certain luxurious neighborhoods, emphasizes the lack of the middle class in Mumbai. A robust middle class is necessary to fill the workforce of any financial powerhouse city. This lack of middle class is reminiscent to the situation in the South Bronx, where poor residents have no power to represent themselves and thus are forced to accept their living conditions. However, New York City is already a financial center, and there is no political urgency to redevelop the South Bronx.

Mark Jacobson, author of “Mumbai’s Shadow City” deems the redevelopment of Dharavi from slum to modernized city important because it will be an example for other slums’ redevelopments. Any issues that impede progress for redevelopment will usually be present in other slums. Furthermore, any remaining problems after development has occurred will most likely be present in the transformation of other slums worldwide.

It is not the most heavily populated slum, for certain Mexican and Pakistani inner cities rival Dharavi in size. According to Jacobson, Dharavi is the spiritual and psychological center of Mumbai, although he does not provide evidence to confirm his claim. However, planners have targeted Dharavi because of the existence of two railway lines that would facilitate the commutes of future working and business classes. Additionally, the Banda-Kurla Complex , a group of offices for globally-known companies, already exists in Dharavi. Their presence rationalizes converting Dharavi into a financial hub. Finally, throngs of poor people are not supposed to be found in the centers of cities.  Although, Jacobson did mention the exception of inner cities such as Harlem. The existing transportation and financial Complex give Dharavi an advantage because it is less work for planners to consider—provided that the resulting inner city can be easily built around this existing infrastructure.

One thing that Dharavi is unique for is all the diverse industries that are present: tannery, textile, and pottery. The issue of accommodating certain industries after redevelopment seems troublesome. The potters, known as Kumbhars, are opposed to upgrading the slum to a city. They believe the land belongs to them. However, the repeal of the Vacant Land Tenancy Act in 1974 has taken away the Kumbhars’ right to live on the land. Yet, their industry is slowing down as younger generations are becoming merchant seamen and computer specialists. Additionally, their pottery kilns are producing black smoke that is affecting nearby Sion Hospital. Pulmonary patients are adversely affected by the factories’ noxious fumes. In this case, it seems that preference to stay on location would be given to a public health center rather than industry, unless plans are made to relocate the hospital. This predicament illustrates another planning dilemna: when two facilites are conflicting with each other and cannot both stay, which one must move? The diminishing power of the pottery industry is certainly not a selling, persuasive point for the potters.

However, Kumbhars believe they are safe from the reaches of redevelopment. After the Kumbhars had a meeting with Mukesh Mehta, architect and city planner, each party left with a different impression. The Kumbhars did not seem devoted to cooperation because when asked if they would participate in a census, a beginning step to redevelopement, a representative responded “We’ll think about it.” However, Mehta was feeling upbeat after the encounter, confiding in Jacobson that the Kumbhars seemed willing to fill out the census. This lack of mutual understanding between residents and planners is another important factor in the redevelopment of slums.

Mehta’s plan to redevelop Dharavi has also been presented to the proper authorities and pre-approved. His plan consists of relocating 57,0000 families into high rises that have indoor plumbing and elevators. The private firm that will construct this building for free will then have permission to build high market value property on remaining land, which will yield a healthy profit. Approval of such plans would normally require 60 % of the residents’ votes. However, the government is in charge of this plan, and as such deems that the only way progress will be halted is if there are sufficient resident complaints during a 30-day complaint period. However, the number of complaints necessary was not specified. Bypassing typical protocol in order to develop, and therefore overlooking resident input to a certain degree, does not constitute a healthy development process. This holds true especially when there is resident opposition.

Residents of Dharavi are against opposition. They point to earlier attempts of redevelopment that have failed. For instance, one attempt left the willing residents in half-finished houses without a steady supply of water or electricity. Besides, they currently guage their present housing as superior to the proposed housing. One resident, Meera Singh, relates that she receives 2,100 rupees monthly from rent. If she moved to the high rises, she would be losing money on a monthly basis, to pay for elevator and other fees. Moreover, she would have more square footage in her current slum residence than the new apartment high rise. The promise of indoor plumbing is not too appealing. It seems like a waste to use so much water for one person, according to Dharavi residents. Also, the quality of these proposed high rises comes to the forefront. Will they be similar to the apartment building pointed out by the Kumbhars, which was presentable at first but became dilapidated after lack of maintenance? Reluctance to pay money from their own pockets, when they currently do not have to, and awareness of a decreased living space in the high rises, inhibits residents from accepting the plan. There is suspicion considering that “everyone in Dharavi had their own opinion about how and why the plan was concocted to hurt them in particular.”

Perhaps this suspicion is not irrational. After all, politicians have been known to displace constituents after representing them for years. One such political decision resulted in 300,000 residents being displaced after their slum was demolished. However, politicians are typically against slum renovation. They want to keep slums intact, so their voters are kept intact. Otherwise, some voters will relocate if slums are redeveloped, decreasing the politicians’ power. This highlights another impediment to progress: political opposition.

Slum redevelopment seems ideal but it runs into various roadblocks: resident and political opposition, lack of understanding between planners and residents, and needing to relocate or accommodate existing industries in the new city. The cities that are chosen for this complex process are pinpointed for a reason. Considering Dharavi, it could be because of existing train lines, existing financial complexes, government willingness to bend the rules to implement redevelopment, and prime location. Hopefully, it will prove easier to take advantage of these existing benefits and build a modern inner city, rather than rebuilding a slum that does not have any useful initial factors to accommodate.

By Patricia Paredes

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.