The Wasteful Project
Shovan Shah (MAUD ‘20)
Image: Sanjana Bhalerao for Hindustan Times
Asian cities today are facing radical urbanization. They have been under relentless construction for many years and will remain so in the future. The influence of high-density, high-rise, and maybe mixed-use developments will define the future of cities. So, what will be our urban strength?
For the purpose of this discussion, I am looking at my home-town of Mumbai. Mumbai is in the midst of transitioning from a mega-city to a global-city. The aesthetic of the obvious inequality and inequity in the city is in vogue these days, with photos of a $2 billion house next to a shanty, but the gap between the rich and the poor has been widening forever. With the current scale of acquisitions that we are seeing, the pattern of land ownership in cities will have significant implications for equity, democracy and rights.
In Mumbai, public investment primarily caters to the wealthy. The most recent evidence is the coastal road extension, which is the largest infrastructure project in India, and costs over $2.2 billion per mile. It will run 18 miles and serve less than 10% of the city’s population. Though the official claim is that this motorway will alleviate congestion issues, there is no scientific evidence to support this. In fact, experts have warned citizens of this fallacious thinking, claiming instead that the road would increase congestion. This increased congestion is attributed to an inherent design logic flaw: the new 8-lane coastal road is designed to converge onto a narrower 4-lane road through the colonial-planned south side of the city.
Another controversy related to the proposed coastal road is the programming of the 200 acres of land that will be reclaimed in the process. The BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation) “promises” gardens, promenades and open spaces on the 200 acres, but have only officially submitted 10% to be kept open to the Ministry of Environment & Forests so far. This suggests that 90% of the 200 acres would go to private developers, likely for luxury housing and not for public realm use. All these transactions are opaque: of the $127 billion construction cost, only $15 billion is said to be from reserve funds and the rest of the funding remains unknown. The lack of transparency is concerning.
Finally, there has been no Environmental Impact Assessment conducted even though the road is likely to damage sanitation infrastructure like natural drainage systems. This will increase the risk of flooding during the monsoons, “perpetuating three centuries of development agendas which have so extensively been filled in, diverted and built over” old waterways and natural sinks “to the point where they have lost most of their absorptive ability”.
The coastal road is going to lead to the destruction of many livelihoods, especially in traditional fishing communities, in the service of only the wealthiest 10% of the population. It will inevitably cost an exorbitant amount, though the lack of transparency makes it impossible to pinpoint the exact figure. Due to the lack of an EIA, the environmental cost is also unclear but undoubtedly will be massive. This all adds up to a truly wasteful project. It will become a precedent for urban design and the creation of urban form without any data driven analysis or community engagement, which will negatively affect our value as designers and city planners. If we let projects like these take place, we as designers and planners become no more than a commodity.
I hope we are able to achieve successful implementation of public funds through unitary public involvement that can govern public sphere policies. This is a tool for the future growth of major cities like Mumbai that can help encourage economic growth of the city while saving us from future wasteful projects.
1) “Who owns our cities – and why this urban takeover should concern us all”; The Guardian, November 24, 2015; Saskia Sassen
2) “Work on Mumbai coastal road project set to begin by October”; Hindustan Times, August 19, 2018
3) “The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable”; Amitav Ghosh
4) Save Our Coast- Call to Action – Mumbai (Facebook Page)- https://www.change.org/p/devendra-fadnavis-save-the-coast-develop-responsibly-mumbai-f91e860d-3221-40ab-b0da-0fa9a9227676?fbclid=IwAR3fshqIlpVtHdTida3iF7wzre6H_nf-NGYYYLJUIa-oI3WcxN8NnCai26M