That's All, Folks!

After a pretty solid run of two years, five months, ten days, and 470 posts, the pull of new projects has forced my hand: it's time to say farewell to Where. I'm not much for long goodbyes, but I do want to thank all of this blog's longtime readers for their interest and their input. Perhaps, a few years down the line, it will be time to blog again, but for the foreseeable future, Where will be inactive.

For those of you still looking for a regular urbanism fix, several Wherebloggers will be continuing or launching their own blogging efforts elsewhere. To wit:

Peter and Katia will be launching a new blog today called Polis.

Mario will continue posting at his existing blog, Mañanarama.

And, while I'm not planning on doing any blogging, I'll be doing some behind-the-scenes work for the site MoveSmart.org, so I encourage you to check out that site as well.

Here we are at the end. Thanks again for a great run. Adios.


Dharavi III: The Rules of the Game

This is Part Three in a series looking at Dharavi, a mostly informal township in Mumbai often referred to as Asia’s largest slum, and the government’s controversial plans to redevelop it. With billions of dollars on the table, tens of thousands of homes and businesses at stake, and the global spotlight shining bright, this case of contested urban space is worth a deeper look.

“The early residents of Dharavi recall that when they entered the area from Mahim station, they had to build an access path themselves as there was no road. People placed rocks on the marshy ground, covered it with mud, and created a dirt road… Today, that same dirt road has become Dharavi Main Road.”
Rediscovering Dharavi by Kalpana Sharma, p. 25

"My vision would be that it would be transformed into one of the better suburbs of Mumbai – it will be forgotten as any kind of slum – there will be state of the art modern amenities and a lot of happy people living in Dharavi."
― Mukesh Mehta, “Slum in Way of Mumbai’s Progress,” BBC News, 21 March 2007

In my previous post, I brought up what becomes obvious to anyone who’s taken even a cursory stroll through Dharavi: that describing the area as one big “slum,” a term that is officially sanctioned and almost universally accepted, is deeply problematic given the ground reality.

Packaging Dharavi with this label is very convenient, however. Not only does it condemn the area as an unacceptable space, but one that needs emergency rescue ― an idea not-so-subtly reinforced in a slide Mukesh Mehta likes to feature in his presentations that shouts, “Support Our Slums,” emphasis on the “SOS.” Ostensibly, the Dharavi Redevelopment Plan is a “win-win” slum rehabilitation scheme that will provide slum dwellers with adequate housing and amenities subsidized through commercial development.

Up close, it’s clear that calling it a welfare scheme is a dangerous euphamism. In fact, the plan enables the government to repossess a luctrative piece of land occupied by a poorer population in order to efficiently clear and resell it, while affording those in the way the minimum possible space and benefits to make this politically feasible. This not only allows large corporate conglomerates to maximize the land’s commercial value (leaving a hefty profit for the state, of course), but also squeezes the poor out of a central piece of land to make room for middle- and upper-classes and “cleans up” Mumbai to make it attractive for upper classes and investors.

The decision to redevelop Dharavi as a township creates the regulatory and administrative conditions for this to take place efficiently. Although taking a holistic approach to Dharavi is necessary for planning things like infrastructure and transport networks, in this context it allows land appropriation to take place in one fell swoop, sets up an authority to organize the process, and makes economic exploitation maximally convenient by limiting contendors to big multinationals and dividing land into convenient pie slices – a “readymade project with a potential to net in excess of USD 1.5 BN” as Mukesh Mehta put it in his presentation.

Authorities have manipulated the rules and regulations governing the area’s development in order to maximize and facilitate commercial development. They have limited the population eligible for rehabilitation to those who can prove residence prior to 1/1/2000 (previously 1/1/1995) and live on the ground floor (70% of Dharavi homes have more than one floor, which means 35,000 families according to one informed estimate!). They abolished a clause that typically requires the consent of 70% of affected households for slum rehabilitation projects. They modified the Development Control Rules (DCR, 1991) to allow the project to demolish non-slum areas, like government-built housing and private property, in the service of a "public purpose." They declared Dharavi a "difficult area", on which basis they raised the Floor Space Index (Floor Area Ratio) to 4 from 1.33, meaning that developers can build for-sale space at a rate of 4 :1 relative to rehabilitation area. This represents a profit in the billions of dollars, while experts have proven that the project could be subsidized through development at an FSI as low as 0.25.

Dharavi was initially a marshy swamp. Over generations, those who inhabited it acted as land developers by gradually creating landfill, pathways, and residential and commercial space. This incremental development is the only reason that the area is habitable in the first place. Besides physical development, this homegrown growth has been a huge creator of affordable housing and jobs, not to mention cultural capital and social cohesion. Yet, rules and regulations are not amended to recognize this investment and functioning system or to support local economic growth. On the other hand, the rules of the game are happily and briskly changed when it benefits the other players.

Dharavi was ignored when it was on the periphery of the city (The city’s main water lines initially plowed right through Dharavi without serving residents. It was only to prevent nuisance and contamination when people understandably hacked into the line to access water that the government provided this basic service.) Now that the Bandra Kurla Complex has re-oriented Mumbai’s financial compass and land values are high, it’s a convenient time to want to help. It’s the kind of charity that comes with a price tag.

(Dharavi 2014 image from Mehta's presentation at the Urban Age conference, SOS image and sector map from his "Slum Free Dharavi" presentation.)