Mumbai’s coastal edges could define the city’s future

Carlin Carr, Mumbai Community Manager
Mumbai, 25 January 2016

The peninsula city of Mumbai may be one of the most crowded in the world, but it also boasts an enviable 149 kilometers of coastline. Undoubtedly, the city’s setting offers a lot of untapped potential, and this year will be telling for how the sweeping coastal asset will be incorporated into upcoming plans. Two projects in the making – the redevelopment of the city’s Eastern seafront and a coastal road on the opposite shore – could reshape Mumbai’s geography, public space, transportation infrastructure and affordable housing opportunities for years to come.

Mumbai’s Eastern Waterfront was once a bustling port, but, in more recent times, the 1,800-acre swath of land known as the Mumbai Port Trust (MbPT) has become one of the more underutilized areas in the city. Most of the space currently has old warehouses or make-shift housing for ship breakers and other informal workers in the area. Last year, a huge opportunity opened up: a portion of the MbPT land would be been given over to the city for a new future. How the city will move forward with the redevelopment could redefine a new trajectory in the development of the city. Activists have called for MbPT land to be used as open spaces – parks, bike lanes, and seaside promenades, as well as affordable housing. The space is ideal for mapping out a Mumbai that thinks about how to create a “city for all.” However, many residents fear the much-needed space could turned over to private developers who, in other parts of the city, have turned open lands into luxury malls.

On the other side of the peninsula, Mumbaikers have a different worry. In an attempt to tackle serious traffic congestion problems, city officials have proposed a coastal road to cut off commute times from the business district in the southern tip to the northern-western suburbs. The road has seen serious protest from everyone from sustainable transport activists to ecologists, who say the road has the potential to devastate the livelihood of fishing communities who still work off Mumbai’s shores. Not to mention that the massively expensive, infrastructure-heavy project would only serve a slice of the huge population, the majority of whom use a woefully outdated public transport system. And, of course, the coastal road would cut the city off from its most prized asset: the sea – and could forever change the coastline of the city.

What happens with these two projects could really set a trend in Mumbai’s development trajectory. The opening up of the city’s Eastern waterfront offers massive potential to create a more sustainable, inclusive city. Rarely do overcrowded megacities like this get such open and available swaths of land without uprooting dense slums or micro-businesses. On the blank-slate-like state of the area can be written a new future – one that likely doesn’t include roads that cut off the city from the sea and one that begins to see open areas as public spaces for everyone to enjoy, not just a small percentage of the population.

Photo credit: Vijay Sonar

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