The state of urban planning in Mumbai: A discussion

The webinar touched on some of the challenges faced by urban planners in Mumbai as they must navigate the complex nature of communities and governance.

On January 27, Citizen Matters hosted a webinar on the state of urban planning in Mumbai to address the gaps in the city’s socio-economic, infrastructural and environmental planning.

Moderated by Meenakshi Ramesh, administrator of Citizen Matters, the panel was made up of people from the fields of architecture, urban planning, anthropology and education. Panelists were Rejeet Mathews, Program Director for Urban Development at WRI IndiaAslam Saiyad, photographer and documentarian deeply interested in issues related to Mumbai’s riverside communities, Akhtar Chauhan, former director of Rizvi College of Infrastructure, Berjis Driver, town planner and associate member of the Institute of Town Planners India, and Prachi Merchant, town planner for Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) projects.

Is it possible to plan for the type of cities we live in?

View of Malad, Mumbai, from a high vantage point.
A vibrant city like Mumbai needs responsive development plans that address all communities | Photo: Radha Puranik

“Urban planning in Mumbai has not caught up with the complexities facing our cities. The problem of planning legislation is largely based on land use, but it is the integration of projects that is the problem. There is a delay. We are currently dependent on 50-60 year old legislation and our cities have progressed well beyond that. The legislation is also based on the colonial era. For example, London is not only making a spatial plan, but a strategy for transport, the environment and the economy. There is no such integration here. There is also a lack of citizen involvement. said Rejeet Mathews.

Contemporary urban planning endangers the city’s indigenous communities, as well as other communities that live in informal settlements. “Indigenous people in Mumbai are not part of any planning process. Forest dwellers who depended on forest resources fell under forest law and are now part of the urban space. Their traditional practices have been banned,” Aslam Saiyad said.

Regarding Mumbai’s preparedness for the COVID-19 pandemic and other public health emergencies, Akhtar Chauhan replied, “The concern for health should start in health policy and social policy. Most of our planning problems start with the governance structure which has not changed with experience. There is neglect of the poor. We should have pursued the goal of health for all. This would mean that there would be more public hospitals and clinics and space to develop this infrastructure. Someone will have to be made responsible for proper conduct and integration. But we didn’t adopt that.

“What is the place of gender when we talk about town planning? Meenakshi asked.

Prachi Merchant, who is a member of the Gender Advisory Board for MCGM, has worked on mainstreaming gender inclusion in city planning. “The gender perspective must be integrated into a development plan. There were 5-6 gender-related amenities that were introduced for the first time. Women’s labor force participation in Mumbai was quite low at 16% and we had to plan to increase it. she says


Read more: How citizens helped make the streets of Dadar Parsi Colony handicap-friendly


Are we thinking about our environment?

“When we talk about the environment of Mumbai, there has been a disconnect between planning and the ecosystem. Providing per capita standards is a mistake. These standards date back to the 1960s and 1970s and are not relevant to India today. said Berjis Driver.

His expertise in environmental planning has been important in understanding the relationship between Mumbai’s infrastructure and its environment. “There are facts and evidence that have been revealed, such as the CSTEP study, which estimated more precipitation in the coming years, increased the maximum temperature and decreased the minimum temperature. This is an important opportunity for planners to consider how infrastructure interacts with the environment. he said.

He added that building standards for a city like Mumbai cannot leave room for relaxation. Basic benchmarks for green infrastructure should be implemented everywhere, with rigorous monitoring.

Planning Mumbai according to its vast population

“We cannot impose urban planning models from foreign countries on Indian cities. They are not aimed at our population. –Akhtar Chauhan

Affordable housing in Mumbai has been a topic of debate for a long time. Given that 55% of Mumbai’s population lives in slums, this conversation asked panelists about the conditions of informal settlements and what the city could do to help them change. “There is no salary progression or a very slow salary progression in informal work. Without this, informal workers cannot move into formal housing or improve their lives. So either they move to the periphery or they continue to live in informal housing. There is a huge oversupply of housing in Mumbai, not in the affordable housing segment, but in the high income housing segment. said Rejeet Mathews.

She added that informal settlements across the city are located in areas most prone to the effects of climate change. Slum upgrading programs house people in small, cramped spaces that are not necessarily safe.

On indigenous livelihoods, Aslam said, “There is no empathy among decision makers who do not understand the ecology of people who have lived in Mumbai for many years, in the forests and coastal areas. Their way of life is very different from ours. If we don’t understand their life, culture and traditions, it is not possible to plan a city that appeals to them.

What are the possible solutions ?

“The scale of the problem is vast and has been compounded by political choices and the governance structure. The lack of transparency is a problem. The reason is not the lack of work of the planners, but the reduction in the scope of the planning. We do not have a consensus on the type of society in which we want to evolve. We will need to develop social understanding and agreement on key issues. Akhtar Chauhan said. He added that a complete change in the social environment of the city – which includes both planners and citizens – is needed. What is needed is engagement with Mumbai’s macro-level issues, more city planners to facilitate projects, and greater financial support.

The discussion concluded with Prachi’s last words: “We need more decentralization in planning. Some of our neighborhoods are as dense as other cities. Planners keep talking about the need for comprehensiveness, but that is not possible until we are institutionally comprehensive.

You can watch the webinar here:

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