Monday 29 June 2009

Dharavi A Case of Contested Urbanism - BUDD Report

A decade into the third Millennium, Mumbai finds itself representing India’s emerging economic position within the world forum. Efforts in coming to terms with this role and evolving market pressures have given way to an amplified local conflict over urban development and the ongoing challenge of monitoring population flux and subsequent informal settlement. Glorified aspirations of achieving ‘world class city’ status manifest themselves alongside daily struggles of over half the city’s inhabitants who live among sub-standard conditions under clouds of an indeterminate future.

With Dharavi as our focus, the following report is the result of an intense study into this contested landscape where dominant divergent voices jockey for position and control above the cries of genuine necessity and resistance. Here in, case study and field analysis revealed a diversified community operating amongst limitations of social disregard. Two complementary, yet distinct scenario proposals build off these findings, highlighting the capacities of people while addressing policy implications that in turn regulate urban transformation. Using elements of critical response and alternative solutions we seek to supplant a vision which calls for inclusive development of Dharavi within the larger framework of Mumbai’s prospective future.

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Tuesday 9 June 2009

The first time in India

“Is it your first time in India?” somebody asked me at SPARC’s office. “It’s my first time in Asia”, I said. Being there not as a tourist but as a student, who tries to understand the perspective of the practitioner when being in the field, what I can say now is that the whole work becomes a game of negotiations between all the actors. During our stay in Mumbai we had to deal with two worlds. The first world was consisting of all the primary and secondary forces bringing Dharavi at the heart of development and the second one, the world of Dharavi itself. Day by day, through the presentations and meetings we had, we were able to understand better this entire external system and its context; and on the other hand there was Dharavi, where we walked, spoke with the people, visited their homes and businesses. Between these two realities, as practitioners, we had to find our position and make our response to the new redevelopment plan. We had to find what to do, how to do it and with whom. That was for me the biggest challenge that we faced and tried to express it with certain proposals in our report. All the rest are unique memories that I prefer to keep for me. If somebody would ask me “what did you see at your first visit in India?” I would say: I saw children playing in the streets of Dharavi like in any other place in the world. But it was not football, just cricket..”

Sunday 7 June 2009

dharaviesque feeling...

"If I were able to live my life anew, In the next I would try to commit more errors.I would not try to be so perfect, I would relax more.I would be more foolish than I've been, In fact, I would take few things seriously.I would be less hygienic.I would run more risks, take more vacations, contemplate more sunsets, climb more mountains, swim more rivers,take more cart rides, contemplate more dawns, and play with more children...I would go to more places where I've never been, I would eat more ice cream and fewer beans, I would have more real problems and less imaginary ones.I've been one of those people that have lived sensibly and prolifically each minute of her life; I have had moments of happiness but If I could go back I would try to have only good moments...of those life is made: only of moments..." (adapted from J.L Borges, Instants) After Mumbai I realised how minimal must be life...

I dont want to look like the middle class that go to India and romanticise the poverty, facing the poor with a shocked face pretending a pain that perhaps they haven't felt for themselves and that once leaving the country the pain turns into spirituality in between the pleasures of the western capitalism.
I feel different,I'm happy to have had the opportunity of going to mumbai not as a tourist but as a future development practicioner, thus I reckon the need to express many things that touched my feelings and shaped my mind sending me back to London with another perspective about the simple things of what life is made, and with a huge challenge, what's next!!!, can we make a difference as individuals, as practicioners or as something else that we haven't discover yet?
what in London seemed an exciting adventure for "wannabe" practicioners, in India and our specific work in Dharavi put us face to face with the contested reality, we felt sunk in a policies-sea that appeared as an obstacle for our sweet dreams of "social justice" and "environmental sustainability".
I remember to have talked to my mum few days after we got Mumbai,after her first obvious question of How is India?? my inmediate answer was: there is no poverty in Colombia, what there is, is violence and intolerance, we have the most important resource for developing as humans, Water and sanitation.
When closing my eyes and thinking about Mumbai just one week ago, I can still recreate in my memory those contrasting moments we had in those enormous informal settlements, I cannot forget the children smiling in front of my camera, so happy, going around their "mamas" all the time claiming their attention. Children were our constant company in everywhere we were, asking for food, money and photos. They wanted to be the little characters in our fieldtrip movie, while we fullfilled our need of new faces they satisfied their dream of seconds of fame for the new foreigners.

After our hard work in dharavi and the exhausting hours compiling our findings to take a position against the current climate of the Dharavi Redevelopment Plan, we seem to have understood that change is a slow process that needs to deal with the interests of few, that have the super-power of making difference in many ways. Meanwhile our work needs to focus on showing to those few, new alternatives that make possible the inclusion of the most affected, satisfying both parts without harming the most disadvantaged, that are the majority and have demostrated the willing to transform their lives and space provided that they can be recognised as normal citizens, authors of their own change.

Saturday 6 June 2009

Facing the truth...

Personally, the significant meaning of this mumbai field trip is making sure that the truth is always in the place, so that I can break up my illusion about the city ‘mumbai as an emerging market’ by facing the truth. Before the trip, I red not only many articles, several books, and pictures but also saw diverse movies including several bollywood movies, documentaries and TV programmes. By doing so, I made an effort to understand the reality of mumbai and I endeavored to recognise what shell we do in mumbai field trip through two presentation. However, when I arrived at the mumbai international airport, I realised that the information from those pictures and writings might be the biased reality through someone’s lens. My skin began to feel the hot humid mumbai weather and my nose began to be sensitive to peculiar smell. Realising the reality of mumbai was starting from then on.

During the Dharavi field trip, I saw that a dead guy and a napping guy lied together on the street. People’s face looking them weren’t visibly shaken. At the same place dirty little children played around, someone kept selling food and someone took a rest under the shadow. It was a shock for me. In spite of seeing lots of scenes through several medium in advance, it was difficult for me to adopt the fact that everything in those scenes were all the reality.

However, that was not the whole scenery of the mumbai city. The area of Culaba to where we sometimes went for dinner was totally different from those ones. Along the seaside, there were in a row of colonial style mansions and luxurious hotels, various nice shops, and expensive restaurants being crowded with many tourists. It was comparable to the commercial area which I could see in London.

It was Mumbai where the extreme poverty and wealth exist at the same space. Those big gaps could be seen in relationships between various religions as well as politics being related with a cast system. In that city, people kept going on their daily life. During the interview with Sheela, she mentioned about those gaps and emphasized the importance of that the city should be changed incrementally. In order to do that, she noted that the middle-scale built environment is necessary not only in Mumbai but also in India. (but ironically, she also wanted to show off the situation that several prominent universities over the world are interested in mumbai. She also seemed not free from the black or white logic.)

Another personal meaning of this field trip is making close friends to help each other. Our most works consisted with several kinds of team work and at the same time, we should live together in a foreign country. It was a sort of stress as well as another opportunity. Under the complex Dharavi's local context, I was struggling to find the way how to approach toward the proper redevelopment in mumbai and I argued with my colleagues to find those solutions. Through the discussion with them, I found friends who could recognise the difference and similarity between us and helped each other in various way.

Our mumbai field work is on going in London. Yesterday we did our last presentation and also learned a lot from critics. We have to ‘scale up’ a final report of mumbai field trip until this wednesday. After then, (may be) I can reflect more in depth about my field trip? Because I am yet navigating to find better solution.

JUNG, Su Eun

Dharavi [Intro/Retro]spect

I vividly recall the first time we walked around Dharavi. I almost immediately became enthralled and infatuated with its spatial character. It was the most organically evolved urban spaces I have ever experienced. The scale of every little street and passage seemed tailored and adapted to meet such exacting need. It was innovative, resourceful and purposeful and every space fitted its purpose like a glove. The labyrinth like spaces are animated with the most amazing sensory sensations, the sounds of sewing machines buzzing away or trolleys being pulled, the smells eminating from the food vendors. I remember feeling like I was walking through an informal city as would be conceived by Italo Calvino in ‘Invisible Cities’. It seemed almost a travesty that such a special space seemed destined to be transformed into a modernistic monolith. I thought it should be preserved in a glass dome, for all to see, experience and share my marvel with.
However as our experience in Dharavi evolved and our engagement with its inhabitants grew I came to realise that the spatial form of Dharavi, as fascinating and unique as it was, was merely a husk without the people who inhabit it. The innovation, resourcefulness and uniqueness that manifests spatially is merely a testament to the inspirationally purposeful population of this amazing place.
As much as the waves of global, national and regional strsses will influence the future of Dharavi, it is naive to underestimate the extraordinarily resilient nature of the communities that reside in Dharavi and their capacity to inform the process of transformation and adapt to the outcomes that eventuate. They will work it out. Its what they do.

‘Good News from India’

‘Good News from India’ read the headline on the cover of the inflight copy of ‘The Economist’ magazine. It broke the somewhat relieving news to the global economic world that the elections in India has granted the market friendly Congress Party a second term of power. It solidifies a perception of unilateral endorsement for continuous market freedom and growth in India which is now admirably referred to in these pages as an ‘Emergent Superpower’. The emphircal evaluations of GPD growth seems to portray a unprecedented success storey. But sitting on plane having spent the best part of a month in Mumbai I have to wonder at what price does this quantum of economic success come to the typical person we encountered on the sweltering streets of Dharavi.
Another article in the magazine poignantly illustrates the paradigms of our age. A new practice is been adopted in the world where wealthy food importing nations are buying huge tracts of agricultural land in poorer agrarian states. The scale of these transactions are unprecedented. A case quoted is of Saudi Arabia which has paid the Ethiopian government over $100m dollars for use of over 18000 hectares of land to grow Barley, Wheat and Rice. The trade agreement ensures exclusive rights to the land and an exemption of export duties on all crops. The injection of such a large amount of capital to Ethiopia is seen to be equitably beneficial to the state, however the paradoxical reality exists that while crops on home soil are being grown for the far away consumers the majority of the population of Ethopia is one of the most malnourished in the world and still heavily reliant on imported food aid provided by the UNs World Food Program.
It’s another testament of contemporary age where capital markets are prioritised above citizen rights to land.

Scenes behind an emerging world class city...

Rediscovering Dharavi- Images,illusions,assumptions .

“ Dharavi is like “Sone Ki Chiriya” (a golden bird), if you let it free it would spread prosperity all over, but everybody wants to cage it for their personal gain…let’s hope that it retains it’s freedom in the future .” –anonymous, worker at Dharavi.8 th May, 2009.

I have been discovering and rediscovering Dharavi a many a times.While in India it was just an ordinary slum to me known of its expanse, crime and life as featured in the movies or documentaries. My bias introduction to the place was through the professional lens of photographers .They never talked about the rich livelihood over there.The images of naked children, the poverty, the struggle of their daily live was a commodity for their magazine cover pages.Although I was not na├»ve to the slums of India,Dharavi did’nt pertain to any such criteria to allow me to make an comparison.
I refrained myself from taking photographs as not to miss the experience that was so overwhelming…I was constantly comparing it with other slums of India and how Dharavi has emerged as a champion in the struggle.As the mini city moves towards it future...I see hope shining in the sparkling eyes of the people...I wish that those dreams are fulfilled...their "sone ki chiriya" remains free for ever.


At home as a stranger....

The journey of a Lifetime.
“Madam you are from which country?”
I hated this question…everytime it was asked to me. Myself and Pooja being the only native in the team were often mistaken.(I see no reason of doing that although..we perfectly look Indian.)But this question reminded me everytime of my purpose of being here with a team of 40 other students from different countries.I was back in my country after 8 months but not for a family visit but with a purpose.
My concerns about the trip....
The destination Mumbai for the field trip has been a bit concerning for me from the very beginning.I was concerned for all my classmates after the 26/11 /09 attack on Mumbai.I was apprehensive about their safety during the elections and their ability to adjust in the new climate.Today I must say I ‘am happy that we went there with a group of varied cultural background to introduce them to a culture,climate and people which have touched their lives for sure.Looking into the city with multlicultural team made me think differently about a lot of things(including cows..). I must congratulate all of them for making it so wonderful and memorable.Although the trip gets over here…the learning and the happy memories goes beyond!


our strong group

our Professor

we are

in Dharavi

A Sad Day

May 6th, we went to a community which was built on the refuse dump.

The sewage water was opened to the air which was very smelly in the hot weather. But the local people have already adapted to the harsh situation, they welcome us with flowers, told us how they built a community toilet. During that time we saw kids playing among the garbage... We all feel very sad about that scene, I knew some girls cried......

Our presentation at SPARC

Not good at writing, hope these images carried our unforgetable memories of BUDD group in the future. I love our group!!

our friends

our team

Those memories 2

Then the second day, we first visited Dharavi.

Frankly, it's not that bad as slums, it's like some low income community in other parts all over the world. People lived there had their livelihoods, have there social networds, have their temples and mosques. Just the density in the area is super high and they have no rights for the houses they lived in thus they lack an access to all the infrastructure they need...During our interviews later, we found most of the people there are very kind and working hard, the space is crowded but when we ask their will about space, many people said if they could have one more room, they would be very happy and satisfied. They wills are small. However, even the house they are living now is under the rick of being taken by the government...

And what impressed me is that in Dharavi we even not came across children begging for money. The kids were attracted a lot by the camera in my hand and always begging for photos~


we came across a wedding in a street of Dharavi~

Those memories1

Today we finished our final presentation.Still feel there's something more we want to say.
Closed my eyes, I can still see the lively scene of life in Dharavi, still heard the Indian music, still smelt the genuine curry...

This is the first day we arrived in Mumbai~

I remembered the first day we arrived, the heat from the sun, the flow of people in the street, kids around us begging for money, etc. And the first time we saw pavement dwellers, I was shock by the population density in those small huts along the road in the centre of the city.

More than 10 people lived in a small single room. No infrastructure at all. There were so many kids left home, some just 8 or 9 years old were taking care of the younger brothers/sisters, some already helped with the housework or helped earn money... Life in those houses is never easy. I felt kind of guilty for the good living conditions I was borned with.

Friday 5 June 2009

To prepare for the field trip we went through the initial stages of research, understanding the situation of Dharavi as best we could, without being there. And so began the monotonous endeavor of reading and understanding the political climate, regulations and parameters, plans and policy, actors and negotiators for Dharavi. And then experiencing Dharavi, talking to people and doing the interviews made everything come alive. Meeting the people behind the institutions, seeing their attitude and approach, and having an opportunity to interact and clarify our questions with them was a great experience.

The field work was the most enjoyable and it was done with a lot of improvisation and inclination, we took liberties and deviated from schedules…. And it worked very well for us. On the first day we interviewed two Muslim households, talking to the men about their daily work and life. Mr Fakir Ahmed Azaad was particularly interesting and we chatted about Lucknow and the Immambada there which he visits every year. He was particularly emotional in his responses and reminded me of an era or generation of people that I usually find in books. He spoke about the time of the communal riots and how a lot of his neighbors, Muslims mainly, left and how his family stayed. “Kuch nahi hota hai. Hum yahi the aur kuch nahi hua” (Nothing happened. It was quite safe and we did not go anywhere). Talking to him made me realize that when you go into people’s homes, one has to treat the information gathering less like an interview and more like a social call… people are awkward otherwise.
The second day, we began by interviewing women, also in the Muslim area. They invited us in to their homes, showing the old Hindustani hospitality. The lady, Bilkisji offered us the mat to sit on and then served us cold water. Their warmth and openness left us in no position to refuse. They even sent us off with a bottle of water each which was greatly welcomed by all of us. The experience was humbling but also made me realize how deep the sense of hierarchy in Indian society. What struck me most about this house was how much work they put in to everyday. The older daughter gives tuitions classes to local kids, is learning to do mehindi, also does embroidery in the house and works as a compounder with a local doctor.

By the second week our exhaustion was quite apparent. The heat and humidity had taken a toll. Since the last few days in the field were taken up by the urban analysis, I opted to go to Bharat Janata. The age group we tried to target was between 16 and 19. But most of the youths were busy or away. May is when everyone is away, traveling and going back to their villages. The young girl we spoke to was very cordial and patient with us. We were wondering about the possibility of tensions between Hindu and Muslim families living so closely and sharing the communal spaces. She eagerly explained that all neighbors got along well clarifying that her own family shared close relations with their Muslim neighbors. It seems there was no tension between people of different religions and the usual festivities were partaken collectively in the society.

As we walked around we were on exhibition… to a certain extent because of the non Indians in the group we were far removed, impressive, “hailing from London” and here to study how people live in a place like Dharavi, trying to convince them we were here to learn from them. By the first two times in Dharavi I was so used to approaching people and asking about their lives that I ended up having random conversations with complete strangers around Bombay. Subconsciously trying to find a bigger picture in the puzzle that we were trying to piece together and questioning random taxi drivers, hotel doormen, the vendors on juhu beach etc. It seemed like everyone had a story to tell if I just probed them a little. The amount of knowledge that one can get from such people is amazing. They live everyday what we are trying to understand from reading articles and book from people like Kalpana Sharma.

I have spent a lot of my childhood in Bombay. But it now it seems like I saw everything from a distance passing by everything but never getting off the car, walking on the streets, talking to the people, knowing where the sabzi or bhel wala lives, how they live, wondering about their lives and why they aren’t able to bring their lari’s into the suburbs anymore. From the very beginning of the trip, I was struck by how charming the kids were, finding ways and times to play even in the most pathetic conditions. After that came the awful realization that many, physically underdeveloped for their ages, appear to be much younger than they are. We have seen children who seem to about 8 years old but are actually 12 or 13. Poverty is still clearly an issue here…. Poverty and education.
One of the things that concerns me most about the DRP is how they envision people for different classes living together in such close proximity. I cannot imagine this working in the Indian society that I know. Knowing how the government thinks and works, there will be no effort at harmonizing or creating a process of community building. Either gentrification will not take place or eventually, prices will rise so high that it will be difficult to maintain and run low income households and the original residents will find it more lucrative to sell and move to more affordable places. This is of course if the current proposal takes place given the tentative nature of Indian politics, economic climate and the possibility of a strong solidarity by the community of Dharavi.

Social differences, also mentioned in the presentation today are very seeped in to the living and social culture of Dharavi. It acknowledged but one can’t help but wonder how long it will be before these absurd ideas of caste and like will be removed and governments, institutions etc will spend more time and effort on funding socially useful works that are badly needed in India. the activists that promoted confrontation more than compromise. That was probably a more radical attitude but something that we need to consider knowing how democracy works in India. Everyone who is not in a slum turns a blind eye… the indifference of the upper and middle classes is apparent… There are problems everywhere and everyone is will willing to complain. But what you see in Dharavi is an attempt at providing solutions when needs are more overwhelming everyday and people learn to adapt and rely on themselves for solutions.

--- Pooja

Sitting in my room in London, revisiting the photos that been taken for the past month...

First impression, hot and dirty. The girls in our group were not feeling well with this extreme change of environment. However, I was in fact quite used to the weather, the busy street, the sleepless city. My oily face, my wet T shirt, the smell of air condition, everything remind me of the time in Thailand, Beijing and my hometown Hong Kong. Despite the same hot and humid weather, Mumbai has its unique character that you can never forget. Everyone is amazed by the transportation system here (if there’s any). The truck, bus, taxi, tuk tuk, motorcycle, bike, cow, trolley, human, children, dog, goat… Everything on the street is so close to each other and moving in whatever way they want.

I'm glad that we stayed for the extra 4 days after the field work. I feel like this is when we truely understand Mumbai and India. It is so different from watching the choas through the window of a hired van. It was just like watching a fish tank against diving into the big ocean.

What we learned in the process? Of course there're a lot about the context of Mumbai and Dharavi. But what's really striking is how it changed our perspectives. It is easy to generalise the term 'slum' without thinking the deeper meaning and the story behind. Seeing people sleeping on the street, the excited kids, the life of working class, your whole perception of the world and the values of things are totally twisted. You are forced to rethink what really matter and how curel the real world is.


Emerging from the immersion

Back from the heavy heat of Mumbai to summer in London, unbelievable that almost a month has past since our departure, a month so full of richness, learning, intensity. Andrew was spot on in his earlier post, staying on an extra few days really highlighted the multiplicity of the city as our posh eighth floor hotel rooms in Colaba with lovely breezes and views of the ocean were seemingly cities away from the grit and intensity of Dharavi, just one of many highlights of the huge disparities and conflicts in one of the most urban of urban environments. Arriving back I feel the foot lifted off the accelerator – or perhaps better said the hand removed from the incessantly honking horn, shifting out of the constant buzz, chaos and vibrancy that seems to mark every moment of life in India.

It was a fascinating time to be in Mumbai, to feel the highly complex and delicate political process Dharavi is embroiled in as it sits on prime land in the heart of the city, on the front lines of a battleground to make Mumbai a ‘world class city’. We were very fortunate to have a huge range of speakers, from high government officials to activists, share different perspectives of the transformation of the city, helping us begin to unravel the complexity and balance it with a glimpse of what happens in practice in in-situ redevelopment through our field work with residents of Dharavi. The latter was an amazing and powerful experience, as my group was invited into people’s homes and lives in Bharat Janata and Rajiv Indira, attempting to understand how their livelihoods have been impacted in the shift from horizontal to vertical living. The news of some foreigners' arrival spread like wildfire, by the time we left doors would be opened, children shaking our hands and practicing their English. My favourite part was always at the end of the interview, after asking dozens of questions, to then ask the interviewee if they had any questions for us. Many would have sheepish grins, enjoying the tables being turned, and ask what exactly are we studying and trying to understand in Dharavi, how does what we’ve seen in Dharavi compare to places where we are from, how does it feel being in their home and asking all our questions? It was an enormous privilege.

As we began to get under Dharavi’s skin, to decipher a few of the thousand rich strands of DNA, I was completely bowled over (and remain so) by the hyper-modernistic podium typology vision for the entire site, one that nullifies the recognition – and indeed destroys – any existing structure or character of merit in place. Dubai-ing Mumbai, a caricature of reality. I was really upset the day we heard the details of this bladerunner-esque vision, and in writing to explore why realised that this approach represents the absolute antithesis of my values, rooted in a bottom up driven development process, working with residents of a place, building off opportunities and assets….Violence is indeed required to build the new urban world on the wreckage of the old, as David Harvey says in his recent New Left Review article. As a development planning practitioner, how do you respond to this violence, interact in this situation? How do you play this game – and when do you stop playing, and organise and resist? While the answers are not clear, one must never stop asking and reflecting on these questions, as they are crucial to maintain a critical practice.

I found it very telling that the one woman we interviewed in Bharat Janata who never went to school gave likely the most appropriate response to the question regarding her thoughts on the Dharavi Redevelopment Plan: it is just for people who want to make money, that who do not earn a lot will not benefit. Fortunately the financial crisis, illustrating the precariousness and false illusions of our hypercapitalist era, is good news for Dharavi, slowing the pace of the face-lifting plans. After such a rich and deep experience, I think many of us will follow up on this prime spot in the coming years and decades to see how this model of contested urbanism unfolds, with intense memories of our time in Dharavi and the amazingly resilient and resourceful people we met inside.

What happened?

The fieldtrip is over and the only thing that is still going on is the preparation of the presentation and the final report.

What changed from before the fieldtrip? What difference the fieldtrip made?

Two main points could be highlighted: first our different perception of Dharavi and second the experience we gained.

Our perception of Dharavi has definitely changed from before the trip: before, we considered our area of analysis as many outsiders and government officers as “Asia’s largest slum”. But after our walks throughout Chambda Bazaar, we all recognised that there is much more: there are centennial residential buildings, old stone religious buildings, labyrinthic streets, small secret courtyards, a very broad variety of residential and commercial typologies and especially the built form of the concept of “adaptation”. That’s Dharavi.

About our experience it is possible to divide it on experience gained from the field work and from the team work. Through the field work and the interviews I have been able to get a deeper understanding of the residents’ real aspirations and concerns; also it was possible for me to define a set of priorities that the Dharavi’s residents expressed in their narratives. Key outcomes of the interviews were the need of services such as hospitals and schools, the difference between the presence of home-based activities in Chambda Bazaar and the lack of them in Bharat Janata, the residents’ desire for the DRP to happen and the multiple links between business owners and migrant workers.

Regarding the team work it has to be said that as a promoters of the “participative method” we could not carried out all the work unless we reached the total and unconditional agreement of all the 16 members (and it did not mean that after the agreement was reached we all worked consistently on the same way). This process of agreement was undoubtedly amazing, but in my opinion it was excessive and of course extremely slow; the result of that is that the presentation for SPARC was materially done in one day and now the report has to be done in 5 days. Sometimes it is necessary to be “strategic” and to split, even if it means that not all the 16 of us will participate on fundamental tasks such as the selection of the font for the presentation.

One of the lessons that I’ve learnt from the team group is that to coordinate the group is very difficult, but to maximize the individual skills is not: without any previous preparation the tasks were distributed and each of us gave the best of him/herself to contribute to the final result in the way that was more suitable to him/her. Our group of thinkers, writers, graphics and presenter has done a great job!


Grey ish

This was written few days ago…apologies for the delay in posting

The last night in Bombay has finally come. In these last few weeks, I’ll have visited 3 or 4 slum rehabilitation projects, many pavement dweller sites, ridden the train in Mumbai, attended a fashion magazine party, shot a bollywood movie (ok ok- it was a tv add…but who has to know!), met with high ranking government officials and NGO workers, with architects and planners, and most importantly, will have visited and interviewed many people of Dharavi, where we spent 7 afternoons.

India is decisively a place where the extremes stand far from each other. The distance between the clients of the Trident or Taj Hotel and those of SPARC or NSDF could not be any greater. Unlike most, we had the opportunity to interact and deal with people from both poles. How many people can walk from Dharavi to the top floor of MHADA’s office to share tea with the vice-president in the same day!?

Our direct exposure to highly ranked policy makers and their ‘subjects’ positioned us between the grassroots and decision makers. It located us between black and white; at a place built of compromises. At this point, I definitely felt far from home, from academia and from utopian ideas, and right in the professional world. It was harsh to be reminded of the needs for trade offs; of establishing a fine balance between ideals and realities- to depart from our beliefs to be realistic...


Thursday 4 June 2009

The silence within

I just finished crying.

The breeze swept through my hair as I stared out onto the sea watching the sun dip lower and lower in the horizon. The sound of the strange bird that I have yet to see echoed in the evening. My curiosity pique each time I hear it wondering what this mysterious bird may look like. A song was on repitition in my mind. Over and over it played capturing the moment that I was in wishing someone was here with me. It was a perfect setting for me to zone out and forget the external environment. My thoughts were lost in this deep contemplation.

I remembered the first time we went to visit the pavement dwellers a small girl looked at my shoes then up at me. At that moment I did not know what to do. I could buy her a pair but then I would have to purchase for the other children as well. I walked away with the decision of doing nothing but with that reminder in my mind.
PK Das somehow reignited the passion that I was striving for in his discussion His Architect-activist duality caught my attention as he spoke with ardor about democracy and the inclusion of the people in the design process. His project brought empowerment to people and retained their livelihood. An optimal outcome. I like and dislike the word democracy yet it is seductive for many to want and attempt to achieve. As an Anthropologist I know democracy cannot be praised all over the world (whether at the state or national level) due to cultural and social constraints that deeply ingrain them into the institution that they live in (sorry for detracting). Recently I read an article from Neera Adarkar about gender and the built environment which once again is bringing me back what I have been searching for and lost along the way. Overall what appeals me to both of them is that they are activist which I once used to be. I am all about social justice and fighting for the needs of the people.
Encountering the excited children once they see me walking past by their home is one of the most heartwarming memories I will always remember. A mundane instrument such as the digital camera is that of a golden treasure to them. I see the glimmer in their eyes as they see the photo that I've taken of them. It is amazing how something so simplistic that we utilize everyday is turned into something further and much deeper meaning to them than it is to me.

Truthfully I have been absent minded throughout the trip. I knew this trip was going to change me in many ways but I did not expect myself to be mum majority of the time. I kept many of my thoughts within and even if I did try to express it verbally catastrophe ensued (I have a bad speech impediment in public as we all know). I spoke about what I've learned about the morning speakers in conjunction with my life through a selected few. "What do you want to do after you finish this course." I would normally answer "I really do not know anymore."

Mumbai definitely shook me violently in a way that I did not expect. It was only a fleeting moment I fell in love with the chaotic city.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Alternative Perspectives / Emergent Cities

I think it should be a requirement to stay on in Mumbai for an extra 4 days after the work has ended. If I had left the day following our presentation to SPARC, I would have kept Mumbai as an isolated capsule in my mind. It would have represented the workshops of Dharavi, the heat and the noise only. Having stayed on, the multi-dimensionality of the city and the conflicting elements of this urban environment have been made more evident. Mumbai isn't Dharavi alone, it is also the mass of Indian tourists by the Gateway of India getting glimpses of the Taj and Westerners, the crowd of Bollywood extras brushing shoulders with Saif Ali Khan, and all of the different stations on the Western Railway. It is millions of different aspirations gathered in one place to use that creative tension to pull each other forward . . . to make progress. How the tensions over the DRP are resolved will set the ground rules for how future contests are fought. It's importance is magnified yet again by this experience of 4 days free to wander Mumbai.

- Andrew 03.06.09

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Back in London town...

As the team finds themselves re-adjusting to the surprisingly sunny, clear, and comfortable weather of London, images of Mumbai resonate freely from within. Hard to imagine that just some hours ago we found ourselves in the middle of a scene so conflicting, so fantastic, so further from this familiar reality. The experience of Mumbai was nothing short of affirming on so many levels. To witness the challenges and struggles of the majority of a society and understand the daily resiliency that allows people to cope within this system is something I myself would not have expected. But apart from what we saw in the form of struggle in the field, was the immense complexities in the governance of the city and the housing situation. The team was very fortunate to hear first hand from many key players associated with the development of the city and particularly Dharavi. These individuals offered such differing opinions and visions that the challenges of social and physical development become quite clear and in many cases, immeasurable in terms of apparent solution. In turn, these challenges represent themselves in our own debates as we continue our work back at the DPU.

Reflecting on our previous presentation at SPARC headquarters, stemming from the feedback of Sheela Patel and others in attendance, we have the task of making clearer links between our analysis and the scenarios we proposed. Also key for us in this academic context is to be more critical of the political and planning processes which are at the root of the situation in Mumbai. Our first presentation was a great first attempt. The amount of information gathered, documented, and presented was no small feat. In such a short time, I feel we are all content to a degree with our achievement and the experience. It is now important to take heed of our critics and bring to light the strength of our findings and arguments in a coherent and dynamic way that yields a smooth-flowing narrative- one that will hopefully provide a simultaneous foundation for our report...
- William

Saturday 23 May 2009

As we finished our field works, we are now based in KRVIA to work on the design proposal. Dharavi, the biggest slum in Asia, never give me a sense of slum. In fact, it is a place for business and livelihoods. So many shops and industries in this piece of land. People are friendly and willing to talk to us. Actually, they are more than happy to share us their views. It’s surprising that they are very satisfied with the environment and are very reluctant to changes. We should also bare in mind not to apply our own perception on their living or working condition. But it is difficult to avoid given that we have such a little understanding on their norms and local culture. It is however the interest part of the exercise, getting a whole picture of what their life is like. That may takes some time to adapt the Indian culture. Now I learn to say yes with head shaking. The people we interviewed always shake hand with only me because in their culture they could only shake hands with male. (I know Dabeshi is jealous :P )

Thursday 21 May 2009

Another Direction

This blog was scripted for Tuesday but due to some technical hitches it’s being posted today. Please excuse the delay.

Another Direction
Today for the first time our morning ritualistic commute to the SPARC office south of the hotel was flipped as we headed north towards our new headquarters for the rest of the week at KRVIA studio. On previous days our routine after SPARC was the drive to Dharavi after lunch then back to the hotel in the evening, with Dharavi being the furthest north we became accustomed to. What became apparent when travelling towards the northern suburbs this morning was that to the emergent mass of the city in the north of Mumbai - Dharavi is central. The linear geographical extents of Mumbai makes Dharvis presence unavoidable as you traverse between the North and South of the Mumbai peninsular.
PK Das’s direction.
Where do I start. It’s hard to explain what one essence captured our undivided attention for an entire session. Firstly his title ‘Architect-Activist’- I for one was glad that a precedent has been set to prove that those 2 titles are not mutually exclusive. What adds gravitas to Mr Das’s dual title is he comes across as uncompromising in being either.
He quoted amongst others Chomski and Sen as he gave us his views on the spatial repercussions of Neo Liberal policy on the state of housing in Mumbai. He put forward the interesting synopsis that the post 1991 state policies that promote the virtues of free market globalised economics that fuelled the boom in Mumbai’s economy has had an inversely destructive effect on the city’s public space.
He went through 2 of the slum rehabilitation projects that his organisation Nivara Hak Suraksha committee been involved in. The Sanjay Gandhi Nagar at Chandiwali was of particular interest for a variety of reason. Perhaps most pertinently was its approach to citizen participation in the design process. There was an emphasis placed on this that obviously resonates with Mr Das’s architect/housing activist stance. Compared to many of the projects we have viewed thus far what stood out for me was the incorporation of central public spaces that activated the ground plane of the buildings with commercial and social activity. The building management policy allowed residents the freedom to maintain livehoods like vegetable vending and other small local micro enterprise. This seemed a much more sustainable and inclusive approach compared to some of the other management corporation policies we have analysed that are much more restrictive in this sense.
After the Das session Andrew, Stella and I went to the newly opened HOK Mubai office in the new suburb of Hiranandani Gardens where associate Rahul Kulkarni discussed with us the HOK outline proposal for the Dharavi Masterplan. What was interesting was that the company had devoted 3 months of recourses to Dharavi as a pro bono effort. It allowed them I assume the freedom to be more sensitive to the existing local fabric without the constraints of a specific developer brief. The conceptual logic of the scheme is plausible in its effort to balance the needs of existing residents and their patterns of living with commercial feasibility within the parameters of SRA policy on redevelopment. Check it out on,_Projects,_Designs_%26_Plans_for_Dharavi/Projects/Dharavi_Evolution_(HOK)

Kelvin 21May09

Sharpies and Pugs

After our first visit in Dharavi, 10-15 days ago I think it was, I got back home and felt that I had to share with friends what I had just seen. I slipped a hundred and fifty rupees to the hotel clerk in exchange for a wi-fi access card. Before even checking my emails, I logged into my facebook account to created the ‘dharavi’ album…

After my internet access card expired, I kept on looking the pictures that I had captured. I already regretted to not have taking a snap of the dude walla chai vendor. Although the image were still clear in my mind, I was worried that if forgotten, I would not have anything to remind me of this fascinating man in a ‘slum’ of India.

Later that night, while talking to Kelvin about what we had seen and done that day, he suggested for Dharavi to be considered as a UNESCO site. I completely agreed. Never had I seen a place so beautifully messy and functional. Everyone worked- they did something, often something little, but never stood still. Without a touch of planning, or so it seems, residential chawls complemented perfectly the manufacturing and retailing units down this city’s swirly paths. The narrow roads were wide enough for delivery rickshaws and trucks to come by, and when they weren’t, someone was waiting by to finish off the route by foot. Inside the units, most of them smaller than any house I had seen before, the people would work and live. Five, or even seven of them sometimes. Somehow, it worked.

The next evening, I again splurged for the hour of wi-fi access. Two friends from India had placed a comment on the album I had posted the day before. They weren’t impressed. As I remember it, the comment when something like “why do foreigners only take pictures of the ugly parts of India?”.

On the follwing day, a smart looking man gave us a talk about the Vision of Mumbai as a World City. His office was in South Mumbai- in a Victorian building if I remember right. The strategy was to replace all informal settlements by ‘better’ buildings; modern ones- to make Bombay look like a city where no one lives in shanty, slums, favellas…or whatever you wish to call them.


Tuesday 19 May 2009

Anarchy of development in the city of Mumbai

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Today is the first of several days we will spend at KRVIA, the Kamla Raheja Vidyanidhi Institute of Architecture in the north of Mumbai, as we have final lectures from different architect-urbanists, compile all our fieldwork and begin preparing our findings and proposals. We had a fascinating talk from P.K. Das in the morning, an architect-activist working in the city for several decades, giving us his unfiltered reading of Mumbai as the market place in neoliberal globalisation. With the liberalisation of India’s markets and finance sector and a rolling back of the state in the early 1990s, the government, in line with such thinking, stopped planning for the city’s development and became a facilitator. There is thus no land reserved for the urban poor in the city, and with significant housing shortages and land pressure there are 2,500 slums that occupy 8% of the land area of Mumbai. Over half the population of the city resides in these areas illegally, while 82% of Mumbaikers live in one room homes. Unbelievable.

We had an interesting and very different perspective on the Slum Rehabilitation Authority (SRA) policy (1995) as a mechanism providing a framework to slum the city for the future: alongside the “free” houses given to slum dwellers who can prove their residence since a certain date, the policy contains no regulations on proximities of buildings, open spaces or services that need to be provided to rehabilitated slum dwellers. The organisation that P.K. Das works with, Nivara Hakk Samiti (Shelter Rights Protection), is actively fighting against this SRA approach, integrating social infrastructure into the projects they have been involved in, working with communities both before and after the rehabilitation process.

Their rights based approach to housing stands in stark contrast to that of SPARC, and has given us a very thought provoking approach to social change and housing rights, and the bigger picture of how the urban poor can most effectively claim their right to the city – one confronting and challenging the system versus one working within to try to change it. Versus is perhaps not a good word, I do not see these as black and white options, there are many shades in between and strategies to adapt in different contexts and stuations. I do wonder though, when trying to work in the system for social justice in such a contested context and process as in Dharavi, do you draw the line at some point, and if so, how and where?
the heat settles on the city like a blanket of fire. often seems there is no escape... our days in Dharavi are over as of yesterday. The layers of information immense as we embark on the last lap of our time in Mumbai. For the compiling and production phase we have moved our daily workbase to KRVIA, our academic partner. Two very important meetings today in a visit to HOK's Mumbai office and a visit from Sheela Patel to the hotel. The meeting with Sheela went very well. Sheela is very informed and strong in her convictions and experience. It was great to have her in a more intimate setting and really try to dig deeper into specifics, especially in light of testing our thoughts on observations and proposal scenarios. Having this last chance to get her position on different issues should help us this week as we process and culminate our research and visions. I feel we are in a good spot, though of course there is much to do with so little time. Hope we can maintain composure...
- William 19 May 2009


Today was a wake up bell. It marked a shift in our conception of our work here.

This was brought on by a meeting that Kelvin, Melissa, Camillo and I had with Gautam Chatterjee at MHADA's offices. As the Officer on Special Duty for the Dharavi Redevelopment Project, he is in essence guiding the bidding from the 14 developers and deciding what outside advice to accept and what to refuse.

As he explained the current adopted proposal for Dharavi's Redelopment, I was visualizing the image of Dharavi, 20 years from now, during monsoon season, being about as close to Blade Runner as you can get. The unfortunate thing is that people would be living there - not replicants! The idea of creating a stratification of uses and blanketing the ground with three levels of industry and parking was frightening, and I left the MHADA office feeling like I had been living in the two-dimensional world depicted in Edwin Abbott's Flatland, and was just shown the three-dimensional world for the first time.

This whole experience just became a bit too real.

- Andrew 16.05.09

Monday 18 May 2009

Shifts and milestones: Saturday 16 May

Today was a day of change. While everyday we receive and strive to absorb huge amounts of information and new learning on Dharavi and its connections and flows through space and time, today brought a totally unexpected shift in our work, driving us in a new direction. A handful of us went for a much anticipated meeting with a key person overseeing the Dharavi Redevelopment Plan, whose process of development is embedded in a highly contested and complex environment. We had a decent sense of the basics, but as the Plan is still under negotiation we did not have an idea of its spatial manifestation. Approaching the physical space and context of the meeting opened up a deeper understanding for me of the politics and intense power dynamics at play in its shaping, walking down a pristine, gleaming corridor towards the imposing board room, seeing many key figures in the game emerge from the phase II presentation of the Plan. Fascinating.

Expecting more of an interview, a question and answer session on the Plan, we were instead asked to give our thoughts and proposals regarding Dharavi. We pulled together some of the main issues we have found working in the field, key elements around the intersections between livelihoods and space, relatively well, although this experience definitely reinforced the learning we have had to be flexible, adaptable and to expect the unexpected. Yet as the discussion unfolded it became absolutely apparent that we (students) and our audience were approaching Dharavi from two completely different mindsets and paradigms. We had roughly outlined our vision as bridging global demand and local aspirations by first understanding and then making proposals to strengthen livelihood and spatial connections, a very bottom up approach based on building opportunities and assets of communities, working with their complexity and diversity. My mind and emotions started on a rollercoaster as we were explained the hypermodernist, futuristic spatial vision of this 239 Ha area in the heart of Mumbai, erasing anything we can imagine existing today. Picture Bladerunner. And not just in one part but throughout Dharavi. The informality formalised, raising huge questions about the hundreds of thousands of people dependent on such systems. The organic growth of its built form, the labyrinth-like mazes with productive activities tucked away into any and every space imaginable, gone.

Coming back to the hotel and discussing with the rest of the team was intense, I had to concentrate to find words to explain what happened, to keep my intense emotional reaction at bay. It was a serious reality check and has completely shifted our approach, our challenge now being to find a way to insert the rich learning and analysis from our fieldwork – profiling livelihoods in residential and commercial settings, analysing the urban fabric – into this framework, and how we can imagine an alternative scenario within the parameters of this Plan. The coming week will tell.

Friday 15 May 2009

Open questions

The city is running restlessly, but where is it going? Is it going to Shangai? Maybe it will eventually do that, but at the moment everyone is rushing just to survive. New buildings mushroom from the slums, but who is going to buy the pretty flats? The city is growing “tridimensionally”, but there is not space for the citizens; maybe the 50-60% of people living in Mumbai are not citizens, what are they? They are the poor. And where are they going to sleep? In the pavements, in the roofs, in and under the cars, wherever there is a square metre left.

In the middle of all the noise there is Dharavi. What is Dharavi? It is unplanned growth with codified rules; it is slums and pretty village; it is mix and homogeneity, but above all it is the representation of the resilience. People that have been so long forgotten, not only survived, but created a new city; and now that part of the city has been repainted and decorated it has been claimed back.

It is very hard to establish the balance that the future plans for Dharavi need in order to benefit both, its residents and the city. Before the visit to Dharavi I thought that the new vertical density was the answer, but now I consider this is a partial answer. Dharavi is diverse and its redevelopment has to follow the same pattern. To divide the area in sectors can be useful, but it should not be done with straight lines. Reflections on conservation of historical parts of Dharavi, on the strong links between economic activities and public spaces of transit, and finally reflections on the city claims make me think of a series of diverse strategies integrated in an upgraded service network.

Focusing on Chambda Bazaar, it has to be said it is a valuable area that should be maintain and improved; the way this area can pay back the city may be its own economy restated in a redefined formal context. The institutionalisation of Dharavi businesses has to be studied further more in order to maximise the benefits for all. While some person is making numbers, Dharavi residents are still rushing and some of them are waiting for the desired and dreaded redevelopment.


Monday 11 May 2009


"as long as i can have water coming out of the tap and a toilet in my private space then I has nothing to complain about"
Our work in Dharavi has started, everyday the stories we hear from its inhabitants give us more clues to decipher yet superficial relations between the complex web of actors.
We've been interviewing the households that inhabit Rajiv Indira building, the very first project perhaps in the world were slum dwellers turned into developers of their own space, adapting themselves from a horizontal way of living to a vertical one.
Our findings, full of contrasts from one household to the other, unveil a new lifestyle, a new adaptation to work from home but with the absence of the street right in front of their door, without noisy neighbours, children running and screaming, horns and chaos everywhere. The challenge is perhaps a trade-off between horizontal social interactions and vertical basic needs.
Gynna from Mumbai

Sunday 10 May 2009

In the Field + Salaam mumbai

Friday's speakers at SPARC were Gautam Chatterjee (CEO of MHADA and Officer on Special Duty for the DRP) and Jockin Arputham (President of NSDF). All of the people scheduled to talk with us at SPARC play interesting roles related to the DRP, but today was HUGE (that one isn't an acronym). Unfortunately it seems that the more information we acquire about the case and the more its complexities are understood, the more we realize our restricted room for maneuver. How does one suggest an appropriate solution both for the city of Mumbai and for the hundreds of thousands of Dharavi's residents? How can the diversity within Dharavi's nagars be appropriately nurtured, with their distinct identities intact, in any redevelopment plan?

As Mr. Jockin put it, we need to remove our professional biases, step aside from our position of authority, and see what we can learn from the urban poor. In the afternoon, we did just that in Chambra Bazaar. We spoke with a woman who lives with her husband and 5 children in a one-room flat. We listened to her stories of how the family earns money, where her kids go to school, and of her daughter's recent engagement. We were even treated to seeing a family photo album. Their incredible ability to adjust to their constraints was immediately apparent, as was the primacy of the intangibles of their lives: social networks, economic networks of production, history and identity.

I think it must be difficult for someone who has worked so hard to build these networks to imagine their transformation in a redevelopment proposal. Even in a very well-conceived and nuanced plan that intends to nurture livelihoods and sense of place and dignity, it requires a step into the unknown. It is an experiment. One that opens people up to vulnerabilities and uncertainties. After our first full afternoon in Dharavi, I can relate to the apprehension regarding the redevelopment plan. How does one compare the present with a hazy and undefined future?

- Andrew 08.05.09

Salaam Mumbai....

It was the end of our first week in Mumbai. The most hectic and happening one we could have ever imagined. We were adjusting our mind frame to the definition of ‘poverty’ while exploring the slum urbanism of Dharavi.
Being an Indian I never had the idea that I would be exploring this intricate issues of this city with a whole teams of budding development professionals from the different countries of south and north. Although the impoverish image of Mumbai constantly reminded me of Kolkata ,I felt Mumbai was lucky to be the happening city in development. I wished Kolkata had such an opportunity, a forum for having urban debate to solve its issue.
It was interesting to find how my near and dear friends adjusted with lots of patience, in their new environment. From the nonchalant cows in the street to hitting the disc floor in a retrofitted mill, they were confronting the city of contrast. At personal level I was a discovering, learning and redefining the city through the lens of people we were meeting every day. For me the city seemed to be very unpredictable. It reveals everyday with surprises which changes my impression on it. It’s adjusting, soft, and fluid.The liquid city..Salam Mumbai.

-Debeshi 10.05.09