A couple of days ago, I received an e-mail from the URBZ team, explaining the project “Homegrown cities” that they are developing in the city of Mumbai. Their thinking on the future of the cities is very much related with ideas treated in this blog, starting from the user to create a “user-generated city”.
I find their work really interesting and inspiring, so I asked them for an article to publish in the blog, changing the format of a usual entry at OSU and, hopefully, opening the blog to more extensive collaborations with outside the box urban thinkers:
“ Mumbai city is composed of some really strange facts. The greater Mumbai city has roughly 12 million residents. Out of them, at a conservative level, half – some say more than that – live in what we call homegrown settlements and the official city calls slums. These 6 million odd residents however, occupy less than 15 % of available residential land in the city. Due to the fact that they are highly visible and often found on transport hubs, they give the impression of having swamped the city.
In reality these dwellings are often highly economical spaces, expanding on the tradition of compact villages and hamlets, found within the historical layers of the city, or based on building traditions brought by the migrant communities from their rural regions of origin. The poverty of infrastructure, which often exists in some of these settlements, is more a reflection of lack of proactive measures on the part of the state. Quite unfairly it is attributed to their own failure as habitats.
A close look reveals a great diversity of habitats, lined almost always by shops and service stores. The dwellings encompass manufacturing, processing and back-office operations for the bigger industrial units that make up the city.
The fact that they occupy so little space is not something to celebrate in itself – because it often stems from coercion on the part of the state and the market. Real estate prices in Mumbai are so overwhelmingly skewed – that every inch of available land is audited and paid for. Those who have less money and resources opt for less land.
What we find really noteworthy are the innovative and creative ways that the residents, along with the local neighbourhood construction industry, creates livable, economically productive spaces that anyone interested in sustainable urbanism simply must pay attention too. If only the rest of the city had been a teeny bit more generous in terms of infrastructure, space and security of tenure, these homegrown dwellings would have been the city’s pride as far as sustainable urbanism goes.
They would have been even more livable neighbourhoods – building on the history of a huge variety of traditional habitats that the city was once known for. A few of them – in the form of urban villages and gaothans are still around – with feeble efforts to preserve their heritage value.
Many residents of these dwellings grow trees next to their homes and have found very innovative ways to integrate them into functional spaces that work very well in their dense environments. If these practices are integrated into newer design patterns, a complete shift in urban practices can take place there.
At the macro level – it is also worth keeping in mind that the Mumbai Metropolitan region includes a 104 odd square kilometer forest cover rich in bio-diversity, which miraculously survives periodical ongoing real estate attacks. There must be something to the fact that the 6 million so-called slum dwellers of Mumbai contribute in some positive way to the continued presence of the forest within the larger urban fabric of this city? By their sheer economical use of space?
Our project zooms into one of these neighbourhoods and plans to work with a local contractor-mason. Co-designing and creating a home that is a tribute to this amazing history of spontaneous sustainable practice. We hope to see many more homes follow suit to eventually create an urban fabric that provides dignity to the residents and contributes to a sustainable urban future for the city at large.
We propose a new model for “slum rehabilitation” in which the idea is to build on, and enhance existing construction practices in slum-notified areas. In contrast with wholesale redevelopment projects, which dominate the field, we believe that the “solution” is much closer to the “problem” than policy-makers and urban planners seem to imagine.
We want to demonstrate that it is possible to collaborate with local masons, craftsmen and residents, and add value to their work, by opening venues with collaboration with architects, engineers and material producers. Our starting point is a pilot project in a slum-notified area in Mumbai.
We plan to build a small house and sell it at the price of any other in the neighbourhood. And then we will get the ball rolling, repeating the scheme in the initial area and others. The long-term goal is to create housing cooperatives that bring together the people who have benefited from the scheme. These will become agents in the development and improvement of neighbourhood-wide infrastructure and amenities.
We have written about the project on urbz.net, created a support page on facebook and opened a crowd-funding page on indiegogo. We also have a twitter account.”
Thanks to Matias, Rahul, Aaron and Arnould.
Please follow them on facebook and twitter, and support the initiative through indiegogo.
Spread the word!