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Making Mumbai a Liveable city

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The phenomenal urban development in Mumbai is unfortunately not being well directed.The promise of turning Mumbai into Shanghai has led to city decision makers ignore low cost optimal solutions for the urban growth. This is the whole premise of the book “Urban Growth Strategies – Mumbai Lessons” written by Prakash Madhusudan Apte.

P.M Apte’s book starts with an account of his own journey through diverse urban & city planning departments of various states and provides a glimpse of working of these government bodies riddled with political interference. From thereon, the book proceeds to study the innate problems of megacity like Mumbai including its ‘disastrous vision plan’ as the writer calls it.

Impact of liberalization, Mumbai Metropolitan Region city development plan, Public transport strategy, Remodelling of slums, New International Airport and Liveability in Mumbai are some of the major topics covered in detail. Apte repeatedly points out throughout the book that urban development of Mumbai is more often than not is dictated by avaricious politicians, conniving bureaucrats and the so-called city planners. Instead, the vision of the city, should have been shaped and implemented by the public sector in partnership with the private sector.

“In India, the simple truth is that successful city building is less about public welfare and safety and more about profiteering from the sale of urban land and taking up of high capital investment projects that do not necessarily benefit the people but bring in substantial commissions. The motives are so transparent and objectives so obvious, that it is not really funny.”

To support this statement, very methodically the writer explains the genesis of imbalances in city development, draconian SEZ laws, farcical new townships developments and developers eyeing of Mumbai saltpans. He gives examples of development plans of some of the leading cities in the world – Singapore, New York, London, Stockholm, Paris, Sydney, Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Vancouver. In comparison, he says, Mumbai development plan for quarter of a century hence (2031) and that too for a large region (4355sqkm) is like writing a prophecy, considering the galloping pace of techno-economic development and globalization.

Most of the contentious issues like, location of new international airport, usefulness of skywalks, extravagant elevated monorail, Dharavi redevelopment and development of textile mill land are dealt in depth. The lacunas exemplified and solutions offered by the writer reinforce the fact that practical, simple and low cost measures are a better option over the proposed mega projects that are disconnected with the reality, and only serve the ulterior motives of the bureaucrats and politicians.

For example, in-situ redevelopment of slums with mix of employment and housing is the most viable option rather than exporting the western model of large-scale buildings in the name of redevelopment and uprooting the original inhabitants that will invariably lead to gentrification. Similarly, the costly elevated monorail replaced with elevated BRTS will give double the carrying capacity in terms of passengers per day than that of monorail. Likewise, instead of metro train expected to carry passengers’ equivalent to single-decker busload, double decker coaches on the existing suburban rail routes at fraction of the cost will not only obviate the need for metro but also additional rail lines. Another example mentioned is that of about 150 hectare of textile mill land occupying prime location in the city. In place of state government selling the land to developers for high-end developments, the project can be developed by the state in conjunction with private players into a model self-sustaining town with least dependence on existing infrastructure services of the city.

“Slowly and surely it is being realized that neither aping the West nor following the mirage of Chinese pseudo-prosperity will help us find solutions to our own urban problems. Only rational thinking and optimizing our resources will.”

P.M Apte’s statements and suggestions may not find acceptance with everyone but at least the points raised do provide food-for-thought and open up a new line of thinking for the authorities, industry professionals as well as enlightened citizens.

The writer is an architect and urban designer. Apte who was part of the team that designed the new capital city of Gujarat, Gandhinagar has been for the last 12 years a consultant with the World Bank.


Book: Urban Growth Strategies- Mumbai Lessons
Author: Prakash Madhusudan Apte
No. of Pages: 233
Published in India 2013 by: Leadstart Publishing Pvt Ltd

Sapna Srivastava

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