The idea of turning Mumbai into a Shanghai seems
to have captured the imagination of an astonishing number of people,
who seem to think that the shiny city represents the perfect marriage
of finance and ‘high culture’. The dream of Mumbai’s
‘renewalists’ is to turn the city into a charachterless
maze of odd-looking, sky-kissing buildings within which will move
the captains of industry and the mandarins of culture. Each to his
own; the trouble with this dream is not the rather questionable
attributes that it seeks to emulate, but the sense of megalomania
that appears to have seized the sensibilities of the ‘visionaries’,
who are deluded enough to believe that they can achieve a Shanghai
with their ham handed and witless attempts at transforming Mumbai
a closer look at the story of the city that Mumbai is so anxious
to emulate. Shanghai has the highest population density in all of
China, with a population pegged at 20 million. The turnaround of
Shanghai into China’s foremost city was the result of a single-minded
urban agenda with a focused and coherent set of urban policies and
strategies, consistently pursued over more than a decade.
from the Cultural Revolution, Shanghai began plans for redevelopment
and urban renewal. Faced with a large and ever-increasing population
of migrants, the administration prioritized housing to be the prime
undertaking in reordering the city. In 1985, nearly half of the
city’s 1.8 million households lived in overcrowded conditions,
including over 200,000 in dwelling units with less than two square
metres per person. Setting itself the goal of ‘adequate shelter
for all’ the Shanghai municipality began implementing the
Housing Settlement Project in 1987 and launched a series of housing
schemes. One such was the ‘365 project’, which set out
to dismantle all the city’s 3.65 million square meters of
slum houses and temporary shacks, with a simultaneous programme
for rehabilitation and relocation of their inhabitants.
the 1990s an average of 50,000 households were re-housed each year.
In 10 years 1.5 million people had been re-housed. By 1995, average
per capita living space had increased to 8 square metres and by
2003 the average floor space consumption was 13.1 square metres
per person. The relocated were set up in apartments, mostly in the
outer-city areas, but with access to the subway system and a relatively
well-functioning public infrastructure of hospitals, schools and
markets in the neighborhood.
stark contrast are the ‘far sighted’ planners of Mumbai,
who, from the shameful demolitions of 1987 to the demolitions of
2005, have done little else by way of urban ‘planning’.
Mumbai, today, offers just 2.9 square metres of floor space per
capita – among the lowest in the world. The complete failure
of successive administrations to provide affordable housing has
gone into the making of Mumbai’s slums. Add to this, warped
urban laws that blatantly discriminate against economically weaker
the first and so far it seems the only act to usher in the ‘Mumbai
renewal’ has been the demolition of slums and more slums,
with no provisions for the relocation of their inhabitants whatsoever.
It would seem the idea of a city is defined by its slums, the concept
of urban planning has no place in the scheme of things. But the
act of demolishing slums goes no way in bringing about order and
‘renewal’. What, for instance, has happened to the over
3 lakh people who have been displaced so far in Mumbai? The answer:
they have just moved to some other part of the city. What have the
demolitions achieved? If there is a genuinely honest effort to restore
the crumbling, rotting edifice of Mumbai, politicians and planners
have to cast their eyes on a much larger picture than the myopic
one they have been fixed on. Urban structures are not degraded by
the arrival of a stream of humanity, but by the failure of the administration
to absorb, cater to, and order that humanity.
creation of a Shanghai does not happen with the mere presence of
well heeled industrialists, politicians, bureaucrats and an elite
upper-middle class. Shanghai is only attainable as long as the city’s
machinery is well oiled and running. For Mumbai, that is only possible
with the cheap labour and services of the millions who live in slums.
68 percent of total employment in Mumbai is from the informal sector,
whose workers form the bulk of the urban poor. Slums, consequently,
constitute an indirect subsidy to industry, pushing down the price
of labour by denying workers decent housing.
character of the ‘informal economy’ enables corrupt
municipalities and governments to exploit land for commercial gain
rather than planned development. It is time we stopped looking at
the presence of slums as mere repositories of ‘vote bank’
politics. If Mumbai and cities across urban India want to clean
up, they have only two hard choices. Either pay the actual market
price for labor (including the cost of decent housing) or get down
and start building reasonable accommodation for them; not colonies
of ‘one room tenements’ which further blight the city.
Shanghai, though the prime focus was on housing for all, and not
just ‘slum management’, the renewal did not stop there.
The extended strategy for urban development, was called ‘one
dragons head and three centres’, and was aimed at the opening
and development of the entire Pudong area. Planned as a metropolitian
city with only one centre in the 1950’s, Shanghai, by the
mid 90’s, according to estimates, had an urban system which
consisted of 230 centres, including 7 satellite towns , 31 county
seats (designated towns), 2 industrial districts, 175 market towns,
and 15 farm market towns. Each of these centres is required to have
its distinct development plan.
programme, the Xin tian di Plan, is centered around preserving the
whole central city as a historical center. ‘A new approach
towards urban renewal, it aims to create a compact and workable
district center, located between Shanghai’s ancient walled
city and its dynamic downtown.’ The development will ultimately
accommodate 1.6 million square metres of retail, housing, office
and hotel space.
the idea of Shanghai, the real force behind that city, is the spirit
of enterprise that guides it. It is an open, welcoming city that
understands that, in order to grow, it cannot shut out the world.
Thus Shanghai embraces everyone, from multinationals and corporate
investors, to the hordes of migrants streaming in every year. Its
success lies in its management.
truth is, given the number of powerful players who hold Mumbai’s
fate to ransom, it has become easiest to target slums. The men who
do so are not acting out of any great concern for the city. “When
we launched the (demolition) drive, we never thought of their rehabilitation,”
said R.R. Patil, Maharashtra’s Home Minister. “Legally
speaking, that is not the responsibility of the Government.”
A whole story is encapsulated in that statement; when the very men
who are in charge reveal such a mean-spirited and totally incoherent
vision, what hope is there for the city?
in The Pioneer, May 12, 2005
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