Planning for a more inclusive city

Carlin Carr, Mumbai Community Manager
Mumbai, 10 July 2014

More than 60 percent of Mumbai's population lives in slums. The need for affordable housing is massive and yet despite the overwhelming deficit, state intervention has been limited. Aravind Unni, an architect with the NGO Youth for Unity and Volunteer Action (YUVA), says that informal settlements have sprung up in the absence of any alternative. More importantly, the settlements should be recognized for their ingenuity in fulfilling an essential need of the people rather than being deemed illegal and denied basic provisions. Unni has been part of a movement over the last year to expand the debate, discussion and intervention on affordable housing—among many other public services—by intervening in the 20-year vision for the city known as the Development Plan (DP).

Under the MR&TP Act, every two decades, the municipality undertakes an exercise to update its most basic and essential plan for the development or redevelopment of public land in the city. Since the DP plans out access to municipal services — from parks to schools to toilet blocks, and of course, public housing — the document has great potential to be a building block tool in mapping out a more inclusive and equitable city.

Last year, after another organization, the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI), uncovered that the Existing Land Use plan had misappropriated reservation of public land for other uses, the planning authorities agreed to open up the process to public scrutiny. After this process, numerous organizations in the city came together around concerns in the revision of the Development Plan. An informal coalition of more than 80 organizations formed Hamara Shehar Vikas Niyojan (HSVN) Abhiyaan ("Our City Development Plan Forum") and drafted the People's Vision for Mumbai. "For the first time in the history of Mumbai (and may be in India)" an alternative view on how the city should be planned was presented to authorities, says Unni.

Among the many concerns of the group has been housing security and how the DP plans to address the estimated 2.3 million housing deficit. The group stands opposed to the current public-private partnerships that have dominated the current municipality plans as well as new national housing schemes such as Rajiv Awas Yojana (RAY); rather, the People's Vision calls for current slum lands, which amounts to just 8 percent of the city (though that land houses 60 percent of the Mumbaikers), to be entirely designated for state-created affordable housing and "not to be used for constructing houses for profiteering."

"The state itself has to play a major role in making the tenements for the poor on demarcated government land and ensure that we gradually close up the housing deficit," says Unni of the group's demands.

For any intervention to work, however, the DP needs to have an accurate understanding of what exactly is happening on the ground. Despite recognition in the DP of informal settlements, proper statistics and numbers are still missing. The hope is that this DP process will provide better links between NGOs working with informal communities and the authorities so there can be more informed decision-making at the top levels.

"The major breakthrough in the DP process this time around has been the consultations and debates on planning concerns with the state, which until now was a very secretive process. All these consultations are not mandated in the MR&TP act, but are a result of constant advocacy efforts," says Unni of the triumphs over the last year. "These processes, we hope, will motivate other groups in different cities around the country and thereby permanently change the discourse on planning in cities, and how it can and should be made inclusive and participatory."

Photo credit: David Warlick

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