City planning: The Mumbaikars’ way
Mar 19, 2014
Source : The Times of India


MUMBAI: “When I see the city from my window, I don’t feel how small I am but I feel that if a war came to threaten this, I would throw myself into space, over the city, and protect these buildings with my body.” This Ayn Rand quote would possibly cross our mind, when we look at the skyline of Mumbai. If we dig deep into the history of this metropolis, we will be amazed to know how two distinctly different cities, co-exist here. One Mumbai exists which is rhetoric, expressive, tangible and can be touched, tasted and experienced, and then there is another substantial Mumbai, which exists only on paper.

Over the years, some plans have been implemented while some are still in the planning stage, and some have been implemented but have been viewed with a certain amount of skepticism. The recently launched Monorail, for example, has been questioned for its choice of routes.

Experts opine that planning and redevelopment is not just about the demolition of slums or buildings, to build modern towers in their place. “During the planning process, there is always the danger that the makers of the city too, are not in tandem with the collective spirit of the users. This can result in cold, remote cities,” explains Mushtashir Dalvi, professor, Sir JJ College of Architecture.

As architect PK Das of PK Das Associates explains, “Taking a look at Mumbai, as an example, it can be said that this city is developing and growing, without integrated and inclusive physical planning. It is only developing by the way of being guided or directed by policies and DC regulations, many of which are planned by politicians and bureaucrats instead of town planners.”

So, in the context of city development, what should be the ideal model of planning? Here are some points to be kept in mind.

Public participation enriches the planning process

Public participation during planning processes, doesn’t happen much currently in the country; it is only abroad that this is followed during all the stages of design in the planning process. There is no such thing as planning without participation. “Participation and physical planning are deeply intertwined and they are inseparable. They are not two separate independent processes,” Das points out.

Professor Dalvi agrees with Das and says, “On the scale of city development, contexts do not shift quickly. A city grows in slow, iterative processes. The participation of the citizen is worked into this. The problems with cities are the fast changes, which can overlook the consequences.” He quickly adds, “Although planning requires experts, no one can deny the importance of public participation. However, what is even more vital is that the end-product is inclusive.”

Mishkat Ahmed, urban designer-architect, Edifice Consultants Pvt Ltd, explains how “People are unsure of the motives driving most large-scale development projects and are cautious. I think as a country, we have not yet established a system that empowers public participation to be used actively. The planning process
itself must be enriched first.”

All-round social infrastructure development

There are two major deterrents in providing adequate social infrastructure development – lack of public funds for implementation and maintenance of public spaces. “Malls are built by developers, who are ready to undertake the maintenance of the buildings or hand it over to the tenants. There is one agency in-charge of the upkeep and is responsible for the same. The return on investment is also quick and large. In the case of public infrastructure, there is probably no profit, and very few private developers would like to take it up. In that case, the onus of developing art and cultural centres for the public, lies with the government,” Ahmed explains.

There is a strong feeling among the citizens that the government would have to get back to the planning boards and discuss physical planning, which is their primary responsibility. Building schools, parks, museums, galleries and aesthetic public installations, is the only way forward for a holistic, aesthetic development of the city.

Ahmed adds, “One dedicated department to handle social development of the city is needed. This can work in conjunction with other government, non-government agencies and the people themselves, to provide what is required, and involve them in taking responsibility for maintaining their space. I am sure many young planners would be interested in being a part of such a ‘Mumbai urban planning unit’.”

Preservation of community and local identity

Most of the urban planners and architects explains that both, the community
and local identity, can be preserved while embracing progress. A city relies on its physical presence and memory. So, one must recognize the neighbourhoods of Mumbai as distinct identities which, over the years, have evolved.

“We need to be able to take a city for granted, if we are to achieve comfort within it. Familiarity and the continuance of the visual environment, are key factors. Any great city has spirit, and can be recognized, especially by its citizens. Local identity and several migrated identities collectively, make the ethos of a city and these are shared by all,” shares professor Dalvi. He also adds how “Rapid change is the definitive destroyer of heritage. In our city, redevelopment and the monetization of land can potentially alter the city’s identity.”

According to architect Sanjay Puri, “Design principles like courtyard planning and design elements like balconies, terraces, jali screens, can be used in newer ways, adapting newer technologies to create an architectural language that is rooted in Indian heritage.”

Upgradation and beautification of slums

Slums are an integral part of all big cities in India. The socio-economic strata in the city of Mumbai, has been demarcated between three broad urban archetypes: the historical city, the slums and the high-rises. “I have studied several prevalent slum locations in Mumbai in detail and found that the ways in which the smallest of spaces are used in a multi-purpose way, can provide lessons for optimum usage of space in intelligent ways.

However, the lack of basic services, like water supply and drainage, make these developments unhygienic. If proper services were planned and organized, many slum areas can be revitalized,” says Puri and quickly adds, “Eco-friendly construction materials and intelligent planning that takes cognizance of the wind direction and the sun path, can be cohesively woven together, to rehabilitate entire slum areas at a minimal cost. This would be much better than granting additional FSI and allowing multi-storeyed buildings to be created with 10 ft gaps, to house slum dwellers, thereby, creating vertical slums, instead of improving the conditions of the slums. The vertical slum rehabilitation buildings being built have lesser ventilation and sunlight than the ground level slums thus, creating its own set of issues. The need is to generate economical solutions to rebuild slums and create better quality living spaces for the people who reside within them.”

Intelligent waste management

Anyone who has lived in the US will know how much they waste. Now, they are realizing the same and moving towards lowering their carbon footprint and minimizing the waste production and adopting recycling methods. Experts feel that Mumbai, on the whole, must realize this. According to Ahmed, “As buildings grow taller, the population increases and the city’s waste, reaches a worrying point. Waste segregation, at source, is definitely needed – separating recyclables and non-recyclables, at the least. There are also Automated Waste Collection Systems (AWCS) that work on a pneumatic underground duct system. These prevent the need for large waste collection bins on the streets that cause debris and foul smell. New developments can include AWCS and development controls must make it mandatory.”

Better mobility and transportation

The population, travelling by public transport, is increasing everyday, and the transportation system is unable to keep pace. The strategy adopted earlier, was decentralization of the work centres and creation of micromarkets. This created areas like Andheri, Malad, Bandra-Kurla Complex, Parel and Thane. However, the prices in the residential micro-markets in these areas, shot up due to the proximity to work places, since people always preferred living closer to their offices. Therefore, most of these neighbourhoods again became unaffordable for the lower and middle sections that had to move to places further away and travel to work.

“In BKC, for example, the real estate value is so high that residential development only in the high-end sector seems possible. Currently, it has become a commercial hub that lacks most other social amenities which would have been in place, if there was a lively residential component of varying typologies,” informs Ahmed. “This would have made it a 24×7 business district, and allowed people to live in BKC as well, thus, reducing the pressure on public transport. All these issues lead back to having a vision in place. When the government reserves a land as ‘residential’, they do not reserve the type of residential society is it LIG, MIG, or HIG. The section of people residing in a neighbourhood should determine the nature of retail, social amenities, open spaces, etc., rather than vice-versa,” she says and advises that “Developers should be working in accordance with a holistic city plan, not dictating the development trends. There should also be heavy taxes on owning more than one car, owning multiple car-parking, etc. These have been implemented in Singapore, London and hence, should be made a part of Indian cities too. Technologies seen abroad that could be incorporated in the city, range from electric cars, digitized traffic mapping in the city (connected to mobile apps), shared IPT (intermediate public transport), automated security and surveillance systems.”

Recreating Mumbai as a Bollywood city

Culver City, Los Angeles, the USA, is the best example of a cinema city. Its tag line reads, ‘The Heart of Screenland’. This small LA town was revitalized with the introduction of cinema. Today, it has various arts and culture programmes supporting cinema. While our very own cinema industry is celebrating its centenary, can Mumbai now possibly do what LA did? “Yes, Mumbai can showcase Bollywood but it also has another image as the commercial centre of India. The image then must be created by merging these two aspects. There have been several ambitious proposals made before in Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, but none were implemented,” says Ahmed. “There is a definite need in the city to create one large central complex for films that integrates various amenities and skills, like set-makers, dress designers, postproduction facilities, and hostels for workers. It would be a tourist attraction as well, highlighting the history of cinema and encouraging new filmmakers to showcase their work to an international audience,” she concludes.

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