The 2014-34 Mumbai Development Plan shows, for the first time, a recognition of the needs of slum dwellers in the city’s planning processes. This shift was inspired by the groundbreaking work of Mumbai-based architect PK Das.
For a long time, it was unknown how many urban poor were living in Mumbai, and how much of the city’s land was taken up by informal housing and slums. The Mumbai Development Plan, the statutory document that lays out land use and development control in the city, did not adequately represent the urban poor.
This provided the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, Mumbai’s primary agency responsible for urban governance in the city, with a unique opportunity to “play with the data” on the urban poor, and thus take away their power to represent themselves. By not being appropriately represented on the plan, the city’s urban poor lacked the opportunity to empower themselves. From an administrative point of view, the plan simply denied that urban poverty was a serious problem in Mumbai.
Of course, the reality of Mumbai is different. When flying into the city, one can already see its slums spilling over on to the airport grounds. When taking a rickshaw, taxi or a train from the airport to the city centre, you begin to get an idea of the amount of informal housing there is in the city. It appears to line every train track, border every highway, and take up almost all public space in the city.
For years, many activist groups have therefore sought to empower the urban poor by having them adequately represented on the Mumbai Development Plan. The current (draft) 2014-34 plan indicates that they have succeeded in doing so. Or at least partly. The 2014-34 plan clearly signifies slum clusters and gives, what may be considered, a rather accurate estimation of slum dwellers in Mumbai. This plan is developed as a part of Mumbai’s reforms within the scope of the Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission.
The 2014-34 plan has unmistakably been influenced by the “Open Mumbai” exhibition that was held at the National Gallery of Modern Art in Mumbai in 2012. Open Mumbai is a project that seeks to focus the attention of policymakers and citizens on the opportunities and constraints of Mumbai to urbanise further, keeping in mind the concerns of slum dwellers as well as environmental sustainability of the city.
In particular it has a focus on open spaces in the city that may be lost due to rapid urbanisation, particularly through ever growing slums and commercial development. Open Mumbai is a result of over 15 years of activism and civil society to government collaboration led by the Mumbai-based architect PK Das.
Through his work, Das seeks to organise slum dwellers and support them in achieving betterliving conditions. In particularly he is involved in developing affordable housing models and urban renewal. He states on his website: “With an extremely strong emphasis on participatory planning, [I hope] to integrate architecture and democracy to bring about desired social and physical regeneration in the country.”
One of the key aspects of Open Mumbai is that it has made the slums of Mumbai visible. It has produced a number of maps that with much detail identify slum areas in Mumbai. In doing so, Open Mumbai has been able to clearly point out the living conditions of the urban poor: it concludes that more than 50% of Mumbai’s population, close to 6.5 million people (as per the 2011 census) live in slums.
Open Mumbai estimates that slums take up close to 9% of land in Mumbai, whilst the total land area reserved for housing in Mumbai is about 21%. Less than half of Mumbai’s slums are built on land reserved for housing (taking up a mere 20% of this land), the other half of its slums is built on commercial and industrial land, on natural assets, on public open spaces, on railways, the airport, ports and so on.
These “Mumbai Slums Maps” envision that not only is there a need for a comprehensive masterplan for slum redevelopment and affordable housing in Mumbai, but that it is also possible to house the urban poor in affordable housing if all currently slum occupied land will be earmarked for this. One of the major achievements of Open Mumbai is that through the maps “[for] the first time [bureaucrats see] Mumbai the way we see it”.
The maps were a central aspect of an exhibition on the Open Mumbai project in 2012. This exhibition attracted much media attention and it brought together the participants in Open Mumbai with top bureaucrats. As one of these top bureaucrats highlighted: “The study [among others the maps of Open Mumbai] is useful for all the stakeholders in the development of Mumbai, especially the municipal corporation [MCGM] to alert them where urgent attention is required.” He sent 75 of his staff to the exhibition to learn from the various maps it presented.
The inclusion of slum clusters on the 2014-34 Mumbai Development Plan may very well be the biggest achievement of the various individuals involved in Open Mumbai. After 15 years of activism, the JNNURM finally provided a background for sustained discussion on the problem of slums and informal housing in the city. The Mumbai Slum Maps in their turn provided the MCMG with a wealth of information for developing and implementing policies.
After a king period of muddling through, the two one-way streets – bottom-up activism and top-down law and policy implementation – have finally met.