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COVID-19 Highlights Mumbai’s Need For Planned Redevelopment

This influx of people has led to a sharp increase in the city’s population density and resulted in further space crunch in an already-overburdened city.

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The world as we knew it has undergone a massive transformation in the last few months. The COVID-19 outbreak has forced us to change the way we live, work, and think. Mumbai is among the worst-hit cities in the country; the spread of the virus exacerbated by the city’s congested living spaces. Communities living in congested and unhygienic infrastructure like Dharavi and BDD chawls became easy targets for the coronavirus due to lack of proper hygiene & sanitation, fresh air, and limited open areas.

Every year, thousands flock to the financial capital in hopes of upgrading their lives, but unfortunately, the city has not been upgrading itself. It is plagued by several infrastructural inadequacies and sadly, with time, Mumbaikars have also accepted them. Sometimes, communities are reluctant to embrace the change as they have become accustomed to living in poor conditions. The residents of this vibrant city have resigned to a state of apathy. But the pandemic reminded us that when it comes to living spaces in the city, there is a dire need to find a sustainable solution to this long-standing problem. We cannot wait for another outbreak to make us realize the vulnerable condition of the city’s infrastructure. We need to act now, we need to act together.

Why planned redevelopment is the solution to Mumbai’s woes

Each year, thousands of people come to Mumbai in search of livelihood opportunities and with the hope of a better life. This influx of people has led to a sharp increase in the city’s population density and resulted in further space crunch in an already-overburdened city. More than 40% of Mumbai’s population lives in slums. With space being in acute shortage, families are forced to live in cramped spaces – it’s not uncommon for families with 5-7 members to share a home that measures around 150-200 square feet. These congested spaces lack necessities like fresh water, open-air, and proper sanitation, leading to the spread of contagious diseases.

The city also has about 16,000 dilapidated buildings that pose a grave danger to those living in them. These old structures are susceptible to extreme damage under natural calamities, especially in monsoon. Every year there is news of decrepit buildings collapsing due to heavy rains, with the loss of human life in some cases. For years, urban developers and planners have been pushing for decongesting Mumbai. The pandemic has further highlighted the urgency of creating sustainable urban infrastructure that is future-ready.

Cluster redevelopment, a sustainable solution

There are multiple factors to consider while planning Mumbai’s redevelopment. For one, socio- cultural, environmental, and economic sustainability need to be considered. Solutions should be designed keeping in mind the thriving cultural diversity of this city. The city’s infrastructure must also consider the environmental footprint and aim to create greener, healthier communities. A well-thought out plan will increase the city’s economic competitiveness, thereby attracting more businesses, and creating employment. Over the years, the city has witnessed mostly single-storey buildings redeveloped into skyscrapers, creating vertical slums. However, this is not sustainable as it increases the density of the city on the same area of land without creating any significant changes in the locality.

Cluster redevelopment is a more viable way of revitalizing a defined area while also creating more space for Mumbai’s growing population. It’s a solution that looks at increasing space and improving the standard of living of an entire neighborhood. This includes wide roads, open spaces, and incorporating sustainable practices like rain-water harvesting, and the use of solar energy, among others.

Bhendi Bazaar Redevelopment Acts as a Catalyst

Take the transformation of Bhendi Bazaar as an example of what cluster redevelopment can offer to a city like Mumbai. A part of the city’s rich heritage and vibrant history, Bhendi Bazaar’s infrastructure has been crumbling over the years. The area’s narrow lanes lead to snarling traffic, while the lack of footpaths force pedestrians to spill into the already congested lanes. Sanitation is a major concern, and inadequate fire and safety measures make this area more susceptible to natural disasters. As per research more than 70 % of people live in less than 200 sq-ft of house with over 95 % of the residential and commercial housed as tenants without any owners rights.

In 2009, the Dawoodi Bohra community leader, the late Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin established the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project to redevelop the 16.5 acres of Bhendi Bazaar, in South Mumbai, in a sustainable and inclusive manner. The redevelopment plan includes creating broad roads and open areas with plenty of greenery. A sewage treatment plant to recycle wastewater, rainwater harvesting, and solar-powered lights in streets and public areas are also part of the plan. The availability of fresh air, water, open spaces and better hygiene will thwart the spread of contagious diseases like COVID-19. The project has also created a commercial space with the aim of helping the residents grow and succeed. The ‘High Street’ shopping area will also attract new businesses and customers. The redevelopment is aimed at uplifting the lives of all the residents of Bhendi Bazaar both socially and economically.

The first phase of redevelopment – rehousing both residential and commercial owners – was completed at the start of this year, and it has been quite a journey. One of the most important learnings has been that holistic and inclusive planning is crucial for an urban redevelopment project to succeed. We are still striving to optimize the use of resources and reduce costs as we engage residents and businesses to make the model sustainable.

If Mumbai is to be redeveloped with resilient infrastructure at its core, cluster redevelopment projects need to be fast-tracked. For that to happen, governments and authorities-in-charge should institute a single-window clearance system. All stakeholders must work together to come up with solutions that are inclusive and sustainable so that Mumbai is better-prepared in the future to face natural disasters and pandemics, and can continue to proudly flaunt its title of the City Of Dreams.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.

Tags assigned to this article:
mumbai COVID-19 population economy

Abdeali Bhanpurawala

Secretary, Saifee Burhani Upliftment Trust (SBUT)

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