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.