Infill City: Mumbai

Project Description

Mumbai is a city without a comprehensive plan; rather it has two narratives of development. One narrative is a story of informal development, beginning with small fishing villages and transforming into today’s informal settlements. The second narrative is that of formal development, often led by Western forces, which has spread across the city.
Informal communities filled the interstitial spaces, growing between the railway tracks and factories and along the wetlands areas that are most difficult to build upon. As Indian cities have grown, informal housing communities or slums have proliferated to meet the needs of rural migrants. Self-built communities in India are effective because they grant low-income individuals admittance into a larger economy by offering affordable housing in close proximity to income sources.  Meanwhile, the formal development of Mumbai has transformed the ocean and wetlands to asphalt and concrete. This development has also led to the creation of massive infrastructures: ports and train stations, roads and parkways, hotels and monuments. However, contemporary Mumbai has expanded to such physical limits that these two narratives can no longer comfortably coexist.

Dharavi exemplifies this new tension in Mumbai. Beginning centuries ago as a fishing village between two of Mumbai’s seven islands, this informal settlement has developed into one of Mumbai’s largest slums. Until recently, this informal community was largely ignored by the rest of city. However, the new Bandra Kurla Complex directly north of Dharavi and the growth of the city into the northern suburbs has thrown the community’s existence into imminent danger. 

Out of the many redevelopment proposals, HOK’s plan is the only proposal with an attempted sensitivity to the existing community. Dharavi Evolution tries to address some of the concerns of redevelopment by proposing smaller parcels, maintaining the current street grid, and pushing the high-rise residential superblocks to the periphery of the redevelopment, allowing for high-density, low-rise housing in the ‘Village Heart’. Ideally, this housing provides a reasonable solution to the health and safety issues of Dharavi by providing infrastructure and relocating dangerous industries to the outskirts. However, the plan still essentially razes the entire settlement to be rebuilt incrementally. Though the high-rise residential areas maintain the best locations adjacent to nodes of transportation and desirable views, one could question whether this type of development at the edge of Dharavi would really be effective.  One could question whether the high rise residential and commercial centers on the periphery Dharavi Evolution could be financially successful enough to support a low rise center without completely removing Dharavi itself. HOK states that their proposal is contextual; however, what does it mean to be contextual in Mumbai? While the cast system has been outlawed in India, there are still strong cultural stigmas associated with Dharavi. Would anyone actually want to move to Dharavi unless it is completely removed and replaced? There are strong cultural enclaves existing in Dharavi. Even if the streets are preserved will all the inhabitants be able to return or will this disrupt the social structure of this place permanently? If one wants to preserve the existing ecology of Dharavi, how would one transition from informal to a formal economy? Many of the people living in Dharavi also work from their homes. An informal economy handles all real estate and other transactions. Though HOK’s diagrams hint at interacting with the existing community, they fail to specifically define the process of redevelopment. It is unclear who will actually be redeveloping this land in the future. Without revolutionary care in the transition between the existing and proposed development, it is most likely that the residents will be largely displaced as is often the case in this scale of redevelopment. How will this transformation take place without destroying the sense of place? Our project explores this disparity between the ideals of Dharavi Evolution and the realities facing Mumbai.