Monday, March 31, 2014

Dharavi : A City Within A SuperCity

Mumbai, originally a group of seven marshy islands on the west coast of India and a fishing village until the 16th century, was ceded by the Mughals to the Portuguese in the 1630's. The city gained its momentum of development with the establishment of rail connectivity with the cotton producing areas in the latter half of the 19th century. By 1864, the city’s population was around 820,000. With the growing manufacturing units of the cotton textile industries, Mumbai became the second largest commercial center in India after Calcutta. After 1947, the growth of the port, the emergence of financial services, the development of national and international trade and setting up of various educational institutions has only empowered its growth and share in the Global economy.

While the commercial capital of India was writing history with its infrastructural and land developments, a small island known for its mangrove swamp areas – Koliwada (by the name of Koli fishermen residing the area earlier) – turned into one of the largest and densest slum of Asia - Dharavi. First the houses had stilts, and then the land was reclaimed little by little, and then built up brick by brick. In other words, it is a testament to the survival instincts of the poor – and the success of incremental development.

It has an area of around 550 acres – less than a sq. Mile, A 1986 survey by the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) counted 530,225 people (106,045 households) living in 80,518 structures. These numbers have almost certainly increased as Mumbai currently takes in an estimated 230 newcomers a day. Dharavi, as one of the biggest affordable residential and economic centers, is likely to have absorbed a sizable proportion of that incoming migration. In a city where house rents are among the highest in the world, Dharavi provides a cheap and affordable option to those who move to Mumbai to earn their living.

Dharavi has an active informal economy in which numerous household enterprises employ many of the slum residents. It exports goods around the world. Leather, textiles and pottery products are among the goods made inside Dharavi by the slum residents. The total annual turnover has been estimated at over US$500 million.
There have been a number of redevelopment policies initiated for the improvement in the living conditions of the people which all failed to get implemented due to the various differences among the inhabitants of Dharavi and the political will. In 2004, the Maharashtra state government accepted a $3-billion proposal submitted by Mr. Mukesh Mehta for the redevelopment of Dharavi.

The story of human settlements of this kind of organic development is generally very interesting as it’s the outcome of the fight against survival in this accelerated phase of urbanisation. There have been various reforms, policies and acts to address this urban issue but they all generally deals with the removal of them which isn’t just a process of giving branded clothes to the poor, but a process in the shift in culture, economy and social behaviour. Mumbai was the one of first city to get its municipal corporation in India in 1890’s. It has been more than a century now and the problem doesn’t seem better. It may be the negative attitude of the authority and the planners to wake up when the issue becomes far more difficult to curb. 

There are two aspects of the slum formation and its redevelopment. There is yet a long journey to be made in the process of urbanization especially by the developing nations (Central Republic of Africa has only around 5% of its population living in urban centres). Now, firstly, there will be a lot more cities to be developed in the coming decades and if they aren’t planned learning from the earlier mistakes – there will be a situation when the developing world will found itself engaged in curbing the urban issues and problems rather than focusing on the national/state development. Therefore, it’s pretty important to focus on unwelcoming any slum situation in the cities which are under the pipeline of development – and it could be managed at the planning level if its scope of study is widen among different disciplines. Secondly, the redevelopment kind of things also leaves a bad impression on the minds of future migrants and they also focus to grab a piece of land in less-serviced areas may be with an illegal possession because they have been guided by the previous cases of redevelopment processes after a period of time following the existence of these areas.

In a period where concerns for social equity is far more discussed, the authorities and the other departments would have to focus on city planning based on their structural and transitional behaviour, human behaviour and his basic living values and most importantly, the predictions are to be made looking in the wider aspects. The possibilities of rising slums should be foreseen at the time of initialising the master planning in a specific area – we may only redevelop those which are built with so much of human effort, but we have to curb the frequency of slum occurrence to build a sustainable future of the human settlements.

Image from The TimesTampabay and Wordpress

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Shrinking Cities : Twin Effect of Globalization and Urbanization

Shrinking Cities are an increasing international, ‘end of era’ phenomenon. Over recent decades, globalization has been concentrating resources, key infrastructure and intellectual assets in ‘global cities’, which act as magnets for population and skills. The gradual shift towards a new global economic order has resulted in a new system of global production, manufacturing, distribution and consumption that has led to new urban forms made possible by the logistic and new technology revolution. Simultaneously, other towns, cities and entire regions are experiencing the outflow of capital and human resources, and are suffering from a lack of entrepreneurship and low levels of innovation and intellectual engagement. Cities whose development were based on a single industry, or on the concentration of an activity in a single sector, have been particularly affected by these globalization processes and, as a result of increasing competition on an ever-wider scale, certain cities are losing out. The development and decline of cities and city centres have, since the Chicago School of Urban Sociology, been viewed as a natural process whereby urban change results from a lifecycle that ends in inevitable decline.(IJURR – Shrinking Cities : urban challenges of Globalization).

There are currently about 7.1 billion people living on the planet. In 2009, the number of people living in urban areas (3.42 billion) surpassed the number living in rural areas (3.41 billion) and since then the world has become more urban than rural. This is currently the first time ever that the majority of the world's population lives in a city. Cities are continuing to attract residents, though some continue to lose residents at varying rates, such as Detroit, Michigan and Cleveland, Ohio. Global cities theory forecasts the urban "winners" and "losers": the winners being those cities with agglomerated financial and specialized services and the losers being those with outdated industrial infrastructure and manufacturing economies.

With the increasing twin phenomenon of urbanization and globalization, cities will face this issue of shrinking population and economy at more frequent rate. The city authorities have to work in such a way that it provides zeal and liveliness to its inhabitants and not just for the purpose of earning and survival.

For instance, Delhi is being developed at a rapid pace and that too in all directions. There has been a lot of public and private investment in the last few decades in the city developments. But, if the city fails to provide in with the living values, a human being deserves, the population will slowly start vacating their place of inhabitation over a period of time, say the next generation and the population will start shrinking. It has many aspects related with it. Firstly, the level of opportunities and the quality of life of the other cities play an important role in the whole process. For instance, if Jaipur or say Lucknow starts providing fair amount of opportunities and facilities plus the quality of life is also better comparatively, then the population living in Delhi will have an option to go with.  Secondly, level of awareness amongst the population also plays a significant role in the entire phenomenon. If they really don’t know or care about the quality of life they live in, then they will continue doing so. There are many other factors related with it as well.

The disappearance of skills, knowledge and innovation as those more able leave for the more prosperous cities acts as a silent killer and the local knowledge base which was responsible for innovations in science and technology starts becoming unknown. This has been a phenomenon happening especially in the developing nation’s population and the respective governments and authorities have to start looking into the matter deeply.

The precautions which can be taken to curb out its effect – the vision has to be long and distributed well among the factors involved in the planning and development of the urban settlements. One has to look within the disciplines to create this vision a success. For instance, hyping a specific city and over burdening its entire system – as in case of Delhi should be carefully looked within. The self-sustenance of the cities should be discussed widely. Shrinking cities have their economic cost and it affects the nation’s economy at large.

Image from rediff

Friday, March 7, 2014

Gentrification : Upgadation or Degradation

Gentrification is a shift in an urban community toward wealthier residents and/or businesses and increasing property values. Gentrification is typically the result of investment in a community by local government, community activists, or business groups, and can often spur economic development, attract business, lower crime rates, and have other benefits to a community. The process of Gentrification could be of up most significance if studied wisely and in a regional inter-dependent context. There are a number of urban villages in the national capital of India which by community interests and participation could be made economically viable spaces on one hand and could also raise the quality of life standards of the inhabitants of urban villages.

Hauz Khas is a tiny suburb of New Delhi often compared to New York City’s Soho or Greenwich Village. The gentrification of this 12th-century village began in 1980 when a famous Indian clothing designer opened her showroom here. Later all followed, and today the area covers chic restaurants and sophisticated boutiques.

Today, Hauz Khas Village is almost a wishing room of urban fantasies, a place where the chic bohemian can live out a Soho-esque adventure with ease. Quaint, meandering gullies lead to tiny art galleries, restaurants where the owner might step out from the kitchen to have a beer with you, designers' studios, enchanting little shops; there is undeniably a particular energy here, a vortex of creativity you can't help but be drawn into. It is this interplay between history, culture, creativity and modernity that Hauz Khas seems to thrive on. Ayesha Sood, a filmmaker quoted this 'initially, the concept of Hauz Khas Village seemed like a fairy tale, because it was firmly against the gated-colony syndrome'. While the community has tried to retain its cultural character, the generational bullfight cannot be overlooked. The cultural disparities in these villages are much more manifest today. While the older generation is bound to its own ways, the youngsters are hopelessly pampered and the generation sandwiched between the two has emerged as a new business middle class.

Urban Villages has experienced a horrendous growth in terms of planned development of the city with being the location of prime interest of the migrants for their living due to low rentals and affordable market. Migration can’t be stopped but it can be directed and so as in this case by showing it a guiding lamp of certain initiatives and policies. Mixed use on certain village streets has been provisioned in MPD-21 in order to create local marketplaces and boost up the economic status of the communities. These kind of steps and policies reverse back when they aren’t looked at regular intervals.

The concept of Gentrification should be raised at diverse platforms and its awareness among the communities should be spread to not let these so called urban villages lag way behind from the overall human development of the city. However, in this process of Gentrification - the plan should be formulated according to the various factors in integration and predictions have to be made far more visionary. The process has some merits and demerits as well. There can’t be any prototype design for it – it has rather to be studied and carefully looked in depending on factors like its history, the culture it has nourished, the emerging needs, the social structure, economic viability, etc,.. Any misguided step in the process may lead to haphazard development of the area and hence the complexity of the gentrification process and the structural behavior of the urban ecosystem should be well understood before any such attempts of gentrifying an area/region/village/space are made. The process of Gentrification might upgrade or degrade the affected lives. Therefore it's very crucial to be visionary and studying the aspects of human settlement could play a big role in the entire process.

Image from

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Delhi: Cars, cars everywhere, just no place to park.

Water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink: Samuel Taylor Coleridge had famously written in his poem, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Were he to write on Delhi’s parking problems, he would have probably started: Cars, cars everywhere, just no place to park. True, the growing number of cars and finding a place to park them is one of Delhi’s biggest urban nightmares. It has also led to a host of other problems — traffic congestion, encroachments, no walking place, quarrels, road rages and even murders.
Sample this: Parking has consumed nearly 10% of the city’s urban land and green and open spaces. In stark contrast, the share of the capital’s forest cover is just 11%.
And it’s just not about a chaotic present. Worse is in store in the future. The constant addition of cars — 1.6 lakh are registered in a year — means Delhi needs an area as big as 310 football fields to accommodate them every year, studies at the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) have shown.
From 39.40 lakh vehicles in 2002-03, the number has risen to 74.38 lakh in 2011-12, an 88% increase. All this for cars that remain parked for 90% of the time, meeting only 14% of Delhi’s travel needs.
About 1% of Delhi’s population of 17 million lives in Lutyens’ Delhi. This has pushed growth to the periphery and increased dependency on cars.

Innovations such as multi-level parking have failed to provide any relief because of the long cruising time and lower charges in surface lots.
Lack of adequate parking space also leads to all kinds of crimes. Last year, parking caused 27 cases of violence. 15 murders over parking have been reported in the last five years.
In residential areas, service lanes of colonies are packed with vehicles and this leads to frequent fights. Residents suffer as emergency vehicles such as those of police and fire services often get stuck.
Parking in residential areas does not cost a rupee. The absence of a parking policy due to lack of political will only add to the woes.
The urban sprawl of Delhi has forced more and more people to use cars. This has led to the creation of a massive car-centric infrastructure. “Flyovers, signal-free corridors and overbridges obstruct and destroy movement patterns needed to promote walking, cycling and public transport. Even more people are forced to use cars...the vicious cycle continues,” said CSE’s expert Anumita Roychowdhury.

The version of this article was first published in Hindustan Times. Images from HT Media.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Ragpickers and Urban Economy

The Growing urbanisation, migration from rural areas and disintegration of the traditional family and community structure have ushered changes in the socio-economic scenario which have given rise to a new vulnerable group especially children in the cities. They live and are growing up on the margins of society, in a state of neglect and deprivation, often without education and care. They live and work for survival.

Although they form a significant part of the urban economy, they aren’t considered its part especially in the developing nations. The work done by them is quiet significant as a part of waste management system. With the rapid pace of urbanization being directly proportional to the amount of urban waste generation, the systematic planning which covers them as an integral part would be an immense tool towards the sustainable development of the future. According to a Non- Government Organization of India – Chintan , ragpickers “are unrecognized and have almost no rights to work, despite the fact that they save almost 14% of the municipal budget annually. In Delhi, the army of almost 80,000 estimated wastepickers save the city at least Rs. 6 lakh daily through their work.”

The rising urban economies can’t foresee these critically important issues both in terms of economic development and also in attaining social equity. The state administrators, planners and others involved in this phase of development should have to act accordingly and have to be a visionary in this fast pace of human development. In some cities, their work has been partly recognised and their situation thus improved. In Pune, Maharashtra for example, the municipal corporation now issues identity  cards to ragpickers and offers a limited health insurance plan, recognising their contribution to recycling waste in the city.
Rag pickers are among the most downtrodden and vulnerable workers in the informal economy.  Their work is seen as demeaning and of the lowest grade, and they are not generally accepted by the society. Thus in order to ensure that they have the right to a dignified and decent work, steps both at the planning level and at the community level are needed to be taken. While performing urban planning exercise, their significance of being the recyclers in the waste management system should be understood. Their significance in the urban economy should also be looked through a wider window. These issues look pretty small generally perceived by a human or urbanite, but holds in an important part of urban settlements as a system and its efficiency. The significance lies greater for the developing nations where a larger share of urbanization is yet to happen and hence a lot can be planned and directed towards sustainable development accordingly. 

Image from Guardian & msn