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

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Tuesday's (May 5) early rise brought with it eager anticipation and excitement as we set out for our first initiation round at SPARC's headquarters. Greeted warmly by all, we were introduced to Sundar Burra and Sheela Patel (founder) who gave a glimpse into the context of our visit and the history of SPARC and its role in the re-shaping of lives in Mumbai. The sureness of Sundar and charisma of Sheela is as immediately apparent as the sweat dripping from my brow and I for one feel priviledged to be in the company of such strongly convicted individuals who have weathered the complexities of Mumbai for so long. After their introduction we were joined by Sitaram Kunte, Secretary of the Housing Department who guided us faitfully and choicely through the Maharashtra State Housing Policy. Our questions that followed revealed and acknowleged the different viewpoints and agendas of a particular key actor along with the obvious bureaucratic process that stem from such complex issues. Interesting to see Mr. Kunte seeking Sundar and Sheela's assistance with certain responses, which for me illustrated a strange, but rather clear understanding of the interplay and influences certain characters can have. After lunch, the entire DPU group, along with our Indian "liasons", including Lopez and Lopez, hit the city to visit the Byculla district where the UDP slum-dwellers group would be conducting their fieldwork.

For all but a few, this was our first experience with these realities and despite the numerous video, photographs, and writings, a mind check rushed forth. Just a quick taste of the lives of the poorest of the poor and one gets the pessimistic feeling of 'what can we really do here that they haven't figured out for themselves.' But I still can't help but feel fortunate for the opportunity and optimistic in the fact that being here can only enrich our own conscious reality on a personal and professional level. And based on some of the people we were able to meet this first day and the pride in their smiles and stories of resiliance and transformation, I feel we may also, for at least the time we are here, give an added value, in the purest dual nature, to their lives as we greatly benefit from the time they share with us. - William 05.05.09

HOT CHILD IN THE CITY!... arrival at the airport and already someone was yelling "where's the water!". First ride into the city and it doesn't take long to understand the insanity of Mumbai city traffic. But whomever said that insanity was not entertaining, would do themselves a favor to embark on a journey in one of the thousand miniature black and yellow Fiats dotting the roadways. Once settled at the Hotel Sahil, the three DPU groups are given the rest of Monday to unwind from the 9-hour flight and for some take a first stroll out into the city. And what a city it is! As we acquaint ourselves with our new temporary home, we feel as though we are prepared for everything. Field Strategies and Webs of Institutions dance in our heads, but we can only imagine what comes next...

- William 04.05.09