To make housing affordable, keep it local

December 1st, 2014 by airoots

A house being built in Shivaji Nagar, Govandi, Mumbai.  Photos of Shivaji Nagar and Dharavi by Ishan Tankha for URBZ.

According to experts and analysts of the day, India is facing an unprecedented shortage of affordable homes. Depending on whom you ask, the need ranges from ten to several dozen million units. If you add families that currently live in inadequate homes, then the number increases exponentially.

While the government is struggling to find innovative ways to address the shortage, thousands of small homes are being built daily without much external support and outside any official scheme. Wherever access to land is possible, people build homes, and improve them over time. This energy must be recognized and harnessed if India is to provide decent housing to its growing urban population.

According to well-circulated statistics, 60% of Mumbaikars live in ’slums’, which occupy six percent of the city’s land. What is less known is that many of these so-called slums have little to do with the kind of apocalyptic imagery sold to the world in blockbuster movies, best-selling books and tabloids. A majority of homes in areas notified as ’slums’ by the government are built in bricks, steel and cement, by experienced teams of contractors, masons, plumbers, electricians and carpenters. What these individual initiatives lack is a framework proving better planning at a neighbourhood level.

Many of Mumbai’s poorest neighbourhoods could become functional and even desirable with a little support from the authorities. If most ’slums’ don’t enjoy adequate infrastructure, it is not because it is technically difficult or even expensive, but rather because there is a deliberate will to keep certain neighbourhoods in a state of precariousness and political dependency.

The biggest impediment to the improvement of many settlements is the misconception that they are illegitimate, because residents don’t own the land they occupy. However, some neighbourhoods such as Shivaji Nagar in Govandi, where our office is located, were never illegal encroachments to start with. Shivaji Nagar is a government-planned resettlement colony where poor Muslim and Dalit communities were relocated in the 1980s from slums in the city at large. After decades of neglect, the authorities now treat it and even call it a slum – all over again.

In Shivaji Nagar, original occupants were given a lease, which the bureaucracy has made nearly impossible (or too costly) to transfer. Water infrastructure was initially provided but never upgraded to respond to the needs of a fast-growing population. Deep-rooted biases against certain populations and the neighbourhoods where they live, rather than their legal status, explains the way they are being treated by the authorities.

Rather than ’slums’, which in Mumbai is a political label, we call Shivaji Nagar, Dharavi, and other such settlements ‘homegrown neighbourhoods’. These neighbourhoods include many of Mumbai’s urban villages (gaothans) whether they are gentrified are not. They were developed gradually, by the people who live there, with the help of local artisans of construction, usually with little or no support of the authorities. They belong to another history of urbanization, one that is as universal and ubiquitous as the skyscraper, only much older.

Homegrown neighbourhoods are more common than usually assumed. At a global level, they are the norm rather than the exception. Entire cities have been developed outside official plans. Tokyo or even Shenzhen (one of China’s newest and most flamboyant cities where at least 50% of the population live in hyper-dense urban villages) are cases in point. Most Middle-Eastern and European old towns, with their charming, irrationally narrow streets and small buildings are home-grown. Even the well-planned streets of New York and Los Angeles’ suburbs are full of houses that have been modified by their users in contradiction to zoning codes (think of Steve Job’s garage start-up – an illegal business activity in a residential neighbourhood).

Looking at Mumbai’s homegrown neighbourhoods less as urban anomalies and more as a combination of residents’ initiative and government contempt, helps think housing policy afresh. This is important because these neighbourhoods are the biggest producers of affordable homes, at an order of magnitude beyond what developers and the government can provide.

This realization pushes us, as urban practitioners, to rethink the roles of architects and planners in a context where the government is at best indifferent and at worst hostile to the local development of neighbourhoods. After studying and documenting closely the work of local artisans of construction in Dharavi, Bhandup, Ghatkopar, Sakinaka, Shivaji Nagar and other homegrown neighbourhoods in Mumbai, (but also in Sao Paulo, Rio, Shenzhen and Tokyo), we decided to join forces with artisans whom we thought were particularly diligent and innovative.

Rather than offering wholesale ’solutions’ for the  ‘rehabilitation’ of ’slum dwellers’, we partnered with local actors to marginally improve the way they build already. No big bang, but rather a tactical approach based on mutual respect and a shared desire to and learn and build together. After working on a Shiva temple, we started helping with the repair of several homes in Shivaji Nagar. Our latest initiative is a 14-feet high house standing on a 10 by 15 feet plot. This tiny house which costs Rs. 4 lakh is part of our “Homegrown Neighbourhood project”, which has the rather grand ambition of contributing to the recognition of the local economy as a prime provider of affordable housing.

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A House We Built: Construction of a pilot house for Homegrown Cities project in Shivaji Nagar.

The house was built with the inputs of professional architects, designers, and engineers who worked closely with the contractor, workers and masons. It used the existing material and techniques of local construction practices and improved on them through a collaborative process. We paid particular attention to the optimization of space, the penetration of daylight, ventilation, the economy of material, and the solidity of the structure. It was built by respecting highly-restrictive norms that regulate construction activity in slums and for less than the average cost of construction in the area. Of course, there are many things that we can still do better in our next house.

We hope that this small move gets us one step closer to re-looking at such homes, construction practices and the neighbourhood as a whole, in newer, less biased ways.

In the long run, if the government encourages official financial support for home and infrastructure improvement in homegrown settlements, along with a clear recognition of occupancy rights and the development of co-operative housing societies, we will have a robust system in place.

The official target of producing millions of quality homes for all can be re-imagined, as one in which the process of construction itself becomes a transformative moment. Before that however, we need to transform our perception of these neighbourhoods.

The question of legitimate use of urban land is an old one and full of inconsistencies. All through Mumbai’s history, subsidies around land have nourished generations of communities and institutions. This is a significant contributor to the city becoming such a major economic hub.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, migrant populations were encouraged to make land productive so the government could earn revenue. It made sense to the authorities to make land accessible to create housing infrastructure and for institutions to develop. Municipal schools were opened in Dharavi in the late 19th or early 20th century itself.

Paradoxically, since independence, poorer communities found that the only recourse to the same process was through local political patronage, connected to the economy of elections and votes, or informal dealings with municipal authorities.

Perhaps is it time to accept that some land must be indeed be subsidized so that every community can keep a foothold in the city. A clear policy of subsidizing land for the poorest would reduce the ability of municipal authorities to blackmail ’slum dwellers’ politically and financially.

This text by Matias Echanove and Rahul Srivastava was first publish in The Guardian and NDTV websites on November 28th, 2014.

An Igloo in Mumbai

November 18th, 2014 by urbzman

The new URBZ/Urbanology office is a temporary structure built with ultra light material on the terrace of an existing house in Shivaji Nagar, M-Ward, Mumbai. (On the terrace of the purple house on the right side in this photo).

When we moved our office from Dharavi to Shivaji Nagar, (both in Mumbai and approximately 10 kilometers apart) we were simply following the trail of new opportunities that opened up for urbanology – our practice that brings together concerns of architecture, design, planning and anthropology.

Our move was accelerated by the fact that we spent a lot more time with local contractors and inhabitants in Shivaji Nagar than we had anticipated. Considering it is officially classified as one of the most marginal neighbourhoods in the ‘M Ward’ of the municipal map of the city – with some of its poorest socio-economic indicators – it was striking to observe the processes of incremental growth in place along with a vibrant local construction economy. When local contractor Pankaj Gupta invited us to work with him and was even ready to host us, we knew we had to move.

The diagram shows the evolution of a house that has been built, destroyed and rebuilt in the space of 2 years. Our office is the latest addition to this structure.

The new URBZ office was to be set up on the terrace of one of the 50,000 odd structures in Shivaji Nagar that had come up, grown, been demolished and rebuilt several times. A process that routinely moves through a maze of bureaucratic landmines that residents here have to negotiate on a daily basis. The houses typically face the dilemma of locating themselves on the categorization somewhere between kuccha (impermanent; literal translation – raw) & pucca, (permanent; literal translation – cooked, prepared) structures. They have height restrictions of around 14 feet for a  a pucca structure. Beyond that material must technically be kuccha and ready to be dismantled anytime.

While initially planning our move, we had the opportunity to work with Anton Garcia and Debora Mesa of (POP Lab at MIT) on our collaboration for the exhibition at MoMA, New York. At that time we had toyed with the idea of working with a material they had been experimenting with – EPS. We were initially skeptical about the potential of using this material in Mumbai. It is light and can take pretty much any shape, but it is also relatively expensive compared to conventional construction materials used in homegrown neighbourhoods. It is also not environmentally friendly.However, we decided to test it for ourselves by using it for the new office.

During the Handstorm workshop: Ataide Caetite from Sao Paulo, Yehuda Safran from New York, Aditi Nair and Shardul Patil of URBZ.

Discussions with Sameep Padora (sP+A) (center) who helped conceive the structural systems for the walls of the new office.

Work in progress…

Whatever followed was really a spin-off of the several discussions with POP Lab, but had no connections with their own on-going experiments. The thing is – our local partner Pankaj Gupta, saw many possibilities for constructing our new office with it, which was encouraging. Technically it was a lightweight kuccha material so we could use it to build over an existing pucca structure. If designed appropriately, it could also be dismantled easily, thus broadly working within the legal guidelines.

This was how a portable, lightweight structure was conceived for the first time in the neighbourhood, which Pankaj Gupta, was eager to translate into physical reality.

Expectedly, there were several challenges. Light-weight EPS blocks had to hold together without being glued, but also be ready to face high wind pressures and monstrous monsoon rains for about 4-5 months a year. At the same it should be able to deal with intense, humid heat for the rest. While the insulating qualities of EPS worked for the summers, it was the monsoons that would be the real test.

Many weeks of discussions and experimentation between the URBZ team, lead by Shardul Patil and Jai Bhadgaonkar, and our collaborators from sP+a, a cutting edge architecture studio in Mumbai, resulted in the final form of  the structure. A half-igloo vaulted shape, held together by a steel frame with accurate measurements calculated for individually cut blocks that would interlock and hold.

We kicked off the construction during our Handstorm Workshop, when we constructed – from scratch – an EPS cutting machine using a heated wire that sliced through the material to customize the shape of each block.

URBZ volunteers Aditi Nair, Anne Piveteau and Andres Sanchez Arias hard at work.

The office in use. It withstood a strong monsoon!

We had to make sure that the steel members which would frame the EPS could be removed easily and transported when needed. Getting local artisans who worked with steel welding techniques was a crucial move.

Step by step the structure evolved – from fabricating the framework, nailing it to the floor, cutting the EPS material into the right shapes, weaving the blocks into a tight wall, covering the structure with protective cover, adding the windows and doors. Eventually the structure was ready and it was almost unbelievable when we finally moved into a fully functional office space made quite literally from a pure figment of our imagination!

It was good for us to explore the potential of a material which we didn’t initially believe in. We still think that EPS is too expensive to have a real future in affordable housing in India. Moreover, the environmental cost of producing the material and the fact that it is not biodegradable at all, are serious issues, which discourage its widespread use. The biggest barrier though, is its perception by potential users as belonging to the family of kaccha material when all aspiration is directed towards pucca structures!

GRIT Workshop in Dharavi

November 13th, 2014 by grit

An art workshop with the children of the Maharashtra Seva Housing Society, Shastri Nagar, Dharavi, Mumbai, India, 19-24th October 2014.

Real experience tends to surpass any preconceptions or expectations we may have.

Everything happened very fast the moment I arrived in Mumbai. I was assisted by Shyam Kanle, of URBZ, as well as by my friend Rohit Gandhi. From day one I had to think on my feet. After assessing the workshop venue – the community building of the Maharashtra Seva Housing Society on the fringe of Dharavi – I decided to divide the 5-day art workshop into two parts: one, to paint a series of murals on the bare exterior walls of the Housing Society and two, to paint on recycled material.

Initially I had a group of fifteen children between age eight and thirteen but that group grew organically to involve younger and older siblings of the participants, including some parents and teachers of the children. I was surprised, as I didn’t really need Shyam to translate much because most of the children spoke excellent English.

I organized the children into groups asked them to brainstorm and sketch out ideas they had concerning their immediate environment. Once we had the composition put together, the children went off in their teams to prime the exterior walls white and proceeded to transfer their designs onto the walls with chalk, and paint their designated sections.

Within three days we had the main front exterior wall of the building, the interior walls of the entrance corridor, as well as a wall in the courtyard covered in beautiful images designed by the children. What struck me was that the children needed so little guidance. The designs carried a message and were full of wit: “Save Water”, “Love Nature and its Animals”, “Be a Star Fish, be a gold fish, but don’t be selfish”. They were extremely independent thinkers, very competitive amongst each other and all had strong opinions.

On Day 4, I launched the second part of the project: painting on found and recycled material. The kids were quick to find used cardboard from boxes as well as chipboard and discarded wood to work on. The children voted to use the theme of “Diwali” – the festival of Lights – as motif for the cardboard paintings since the workshop was taking place exactly in Diwali week!

This was a great opportunity for me to get to know some local culture. Thee were proud to teach me about Rangolis, those beautiful geometric compositions made especially during Diwali week. I encouraged the kids to pay careful attention to the material qualities of the cardboard and to experiment with textures. The results were, again, pretty amazing, and the colored paint stood out wonderfully from the brown card. The children had great autonomy throughout the entire project, so when it came to painting on the wood, they themselves decided to try out painting landscapes.

On the last official day of the workshop, the children finished off their paintings on recycled material. I tried out different ways of displaying the works, and ended up attaching the cardboards to the courtyard walls. This method, albeit temporary, gave the entire housing community a chance to view the children’s output.

I wish I had had some more time to properly organize the final art works by the children into an exhibition at a formal gallery and/or at a more public site in Dharavi so that a larger audience would be able to view the works. I did speak to the parents of the participants and brainstormed ideas such as displaying the works on the community grounds, inviting the public in and trying to sell the pieces so that the children would take pride in their creations.

The children and their families had really grown on me over the course of the five, six days we spent together. I was overall overwhelmed by the generosity I was greeted with. The children had been amazing students and had shared their enthusiasm, energy, and imagination with me. The families had shown their appreciation towards me by welcoming me into their houses and daily lives. Each day of the workshop I was invited by a different family for lunch and was able to taste real home cooked delicacies and listen to their stories. Their care went so far as to prepare a little dinner box for me to take home with me each night! On the eve of Diwali, one family dressed me in a wonderful Saree and gave it to me as a gift to take home.

The painter painted.

I didn’t have much time to produce any of my own work, apart from a quick sample sketch for the children on found wood, and a sketch on a door. But leaving my own physical mark had not been the priority in this project. My real concern was to leave behind a trace that goes beyond the merely physical: What I hope is that I left a mark that remains in the young hearts and minds of the children, as well their families; a memory that will continue and encourage them to express themselves through visual form in their immediate environments.

My experience in Dharavi shocked me in the sense that, more than any other place I have visited, it made obvious to me the essential gap between pre-conceived / pre-fabricated ideas of a place, and the actual lived reality of it. I was surprised by the feeling of heterogeneity I gathered of Dharavi as a “slum”. I had been to slums before in Manila, the Philippines, and to be honest, those realities were much starker and depressing than what I experienced in Dharavi. Despite obvious sewage and garbage problems, the parts I had seen of Dharavi seemed to me very functional and organized, compared to I imagined before my arrival.

The apartments of the Maharashtra Seva Housing Society especially were spacious; each had a kitchen, bedroom and clean toilets. What the Housing Society building did lack in my sense was an identity. This I feel has changed now with the wonderful murals by the children: suddenly those bare and gloomy walls have an expression. I also felt that the Housing society functioned as a community in itself, and its inhabitants were clear to differentiate “insiders” and “outsiders” to me. I found this conscious “border-marking” interesting. The peoples living in the society were of different faiths – Christian, Hindu– and came from different regions. I wondered how they all ended up in one building.

The complexity of what I have experienced in Dharavi has made me curious and I am keen to do some serious research into the topic of urbanology, the formation of slums as a narrative, its links to “development” schemes as well the impact climate change has on these dynamics. Moreover, I want to research on how I can formally situate and frame my art practice within these processes and develop and inform future community projects with my findings.

GRIT in MUMBAI….to be continued.

More photos of the workshop here.

Melanie Gritzka del Villar is a Bangkok based artist.

Bogotá to Bombay!

September 29th, 2014 by lauraamaya

Gilson Fumaça’s house, Favela Santa Marta – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,

Perched behind the fog that conceals Bogotá’s mountains is William Oquendo’s house. It is a labyrinth of doors and windows wherein a bedroom opens into the kitchen and a bathroom vents out into the living room.

5,000 kilometers away in Rio de Janeiro, Gilson Fumaça lives on the terrace level of a three-story house built by his grandfather, his father, and now himself. It’s sturdy; made out of brick and mortar on the ground floor, concrete on the second, and a haphazard combination of zinc roof tiles and loose bricks on the third. The last is Gilson’s contribution, which he will improve as his income level rises.

View from William Oquendo’s house
Barrio El Dorado – Bogotá, Colomb

View from William Oquendo’s house, Barrio El Dorado – Bogotá, Colombia

On the other side of the world in Bombay (Mumbai since 1995), houses encroach on the railway tracks, built and rebuilt after innumerable demolition efforts. According to Suketu Mehta in Maximum City – “The physical landscape of the city is in perpetual motion.” Shacks maybe built out of bamboo sticks and plastic bags; families live on sidewalks and under flyovers in precarious homes constructed with their hands. And while Dharavi has better quality housing, running water, electricity and secure land tenure, this is not the case for most of the new migrants into the city.

Bombay has experienced a recent wave of mass urbanization as India’s population shifts from rural to urban. New settlements in Mumbai are set to follow the same course as Latin American slums, which have grown throughout generations. However, the city’s density—20,000 people per square kilometer as compared to Bogotá’s 4,600 or Rio de Janeiro’s 5,200—will require an innovative form of progressive development. As Mehta notes, “there isn’t enough space for everyone to be [in a house] at once, except when they’re all sleeping[, and] body movements are kept to a minimum.”

In a country that is less than 30 percent urban, Bombay provides a home to villagers who move into the city and recreate the village. Inevitably then, community is the greatest asset of informal settlements. It provides a safety net for vulnerable populations, which does not depend on the willingness of government but on a self-regulated mechanism of mutual support. And, given that the incoming urban dwellers have not yet caught up with the speed of the city’s transformation, it is the closest link to the village—the slum is the village within the city.

Bogotá on the other hand—like most South American cities—experienced urban growth with the highest wave of rural migrants settling in what were then emerging squatter settlements. Soaring numbers of new urban dwellers in such a short period posed the challenge of providing adequate services. Informal settlements flourished and temporarily alleviated the housing crisis, yet still today one out of every five urban residents in Latin America live in favelasinvasiones or barrios, as they are locally known. Initially illegal and quite precarious, many of them have gradually become consolidated communities successfully incorporated into the urban fabric.

Stemming from the informal nature of the development of cities, urban transformation in South America and South Asia is a process entirely dependent on time and money. From squatters to township developers cities grow progressively, responding and always adjusting to the immediate needs of a community.

When I first landed in Mumbai I moved into the top floor of Mangal Kunj, a building in the upmarket suburb of Bandra. We rented the penthouse apartment of a fairly new building that was no more than ten years old. The elevator had buttons to a twelfth floor and we assumed that it must have been purchased at a bargain price, given there were only eight floors. One morning, as I rushed out to start the lengthy commute, the elevator screen read “9”. Soon enough, contractors pounded on the roof bringing up bags of cement and shipments of brick.


Residential building, Bandra, West, Mumbai.

Three months later, the former penthouse of Mangal Kunj is sandwiched between the original building downstairs and the construction work that leads up to the ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth stories.

A similar instance of progressive development happens in New Delhi at Ashoka University, an Ivy League-style liberal arts college. Phased construction requires buildings to be planned in stages and for different purposes. Not only must they seamlessly adapt from academic to administrative use, but they will also grow taller throughout time. A building today will have six stories; five years later it will have twelve. The culture of ‘village-cities’, the rapid urbanization, and the sharing economy make it so that there is constant adaptation.

“Village-cities”, Usme – Bogotá, Colombia

William’s house will soon have a fourth story, and Gilson Fumaça will consolidate the third floor of his favela home, making way for a new terrace level above. Mumbai slum dwellers will substitute plastic roofs for firm tiles and replace bamboo sticks with brick walls. Other buildings like Mangal Kunj will construct their fourteenth and fifteenth stories, while Bogotá will continue to see steel rebars protruding out of the tops of houses, ready to rise another level with the birth of a child or after the promotion of a family member.

While New York and London house the people that move from city to city, all acquainted with the etiquette of an urban lifestyle, Bogotá and Bombay are cities of villagers on the road to urbanization. They serve as an initial step in the transition between the countryside and the metropolis; undeniably the most drastic leap. Families move from the fields to the shacks, and from there to middle-class neighborhoods; from Jogeshwari to Mira Road (Mumbai), and from Cazucá to Nuevo Usme (Bogotá), people on opposite sides of the planet gradually embrace a new way of living.

As village-cities evolve into global cities, architecture must cater to the need for continuous reinvention. Design is a broader understanding of a context, beyond aesthetic considerations and immediate spatial relationships. It is the intimate relation between people and place; an unpretentious response to complex urban problems. A lesson can be learnt from the nature of progressive development in cities like Bogotá and Bombay; it is essential to acknowledge intrinsic change and not counter but complement it.

Post Submitted by Laura Amaya, a Spanish-born, Colombian-raised, and US-educated architect and urban thinker. She has spent time in Italy, and done extensive research on Latin American urbanism as a Cornell University research scholar. She now lives and works in India, and is fascinated by the enhanced relationships between people and place through the transformation of the physical environment.


September 9th, 2014 by pierrekirkjensen

Image 1: A street view of Ulwe showing the emptiness of the surrounding buildings

Navi Mumbai is a twin city across the harbor of Mumbai. The city consists of 13 fragmented clusters or ‘nodes’ of dense, self-sufficient neighborhoods. An entirely planned city, it is an interesting amalgamation with nodes planned around stations invoking the principles of Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and the residual green spaces between the nodes reflecting elements of Garden cities.

Ulwe, one of the ‘nodes’ in Navi Mumbai is particularly significant as many major infrastructure projects such as Navi Mumbai International Airport, Sea link, Special Economic Zones, Metro links are planned in its vicinity. This resulted in a tremendous surge in investments in Ulwe and therefore completely transforming its landscape in a very short span. Prior to the proposals, the villages in the region practiced agriculture and fish/prawn farming. This has resulted in a distinctive urban form in Ulwe, which has at least 7 villages merging with the new city.

We visited 3 villages – Shivaji nagar (not this Shivaji nagar!), Boman dongri and Kharkopar all of which are now a part of the city. Our aim was to see how the inhabitants and the built environment interact with the new city.

Image 2: Transformation of Ulwe as seen from satellite images

Ulwe is not yet connected to any suburban railway. The closest station is CBD Belapur on the Harbor Line. From there two options are available to reach Ulwe – buses which have a significantly long headway, or we could -and we did- take a rickshaw. Price is fixed at Rs. 150 to get there in less than half an hour. Eventually our driver warned us that we would meet difficulties to find transportation on our way back.

Image 3: Figure-ground map showing existing villages and the new developments. (Sector 8, 9, 17, 18)


Arriving in Ulwe, one is overwhelmed by the scale of an entire city under construction. The streets wear a deserted look and the most dominant commercial activity is the presence of real estate offices. And ironically, the only few shops owned mostly by villagers, would not be located in the new structures, but in informal temporary shacks.

Though it is still under construction one can clearly sense the lack of thought in planning the streets for pedestrian movement or even for vehicular parking. Land value seems to have taken precedence over all else even in this pre-planned neighborhood. This is particularly evident from the plot layout of the node (Image 4), which is clearly aimed at creating maximum developable land with little consideration for public spaces, walkability, accessibility, topography, and the villages.

Image 4: Map showing plot layout of sector 8, 9, 17, 18

Entering the villages one is struck by the contrast resulting from the traditional Marathi architecture. Their access is not well defined and do not seem to have been considered at all when planning the new city. In fact, despite villages being built on top of hills, surrounding buildings hide them. They work like a maze with very limited visual or physical access from the outside but highly permeable from within (Image 3). The narrow streets in contrast to the four lane roads of the city act as a catalyst to a series of quality enhancing experiences within these urban villages. It results in intimate and visually perceptible spaces. The streets are well shaded and allow fresh air to blow through. Although “because of the new built towers, there is no wind anymore” complains one inhabitant of Khar Kopar.

Image 5: View of Boman Dongri situated on a higher altitude with new buildings in the background

Image 6: Public spaces with ‘eyes on the street’

Image 7: One entry to Baman Dongri, contrasting with its surrounding environment

One can see some architectural mashups influenced by the new city which reflect some new quality of life expectations. Mr. Vishwanath born and brought up in the area, grand-son of a farmer and now a prosperous construction material supplier lives in 3-floor house, built by an architect relative after destroying the old family house (Image 9).

Image 8: Example of architectural mashup seen in Khar Kopar

Image 9: Example of architectural mashup seen in Khar Kopar, House of Mr. Vishwanath*


It is important to note that most villagers practiced agriculture prior to the development of the city and have been impacted by the quick changes. As a compensation for their farming lands, CIDCO developed a scheme giving 12.5% of their land in the new city and allowing them to benefit from the increased land values.

“I miss the old days and my former life, we were happier”, “back in the days we had no power cuts, and had fresh water” says another resident of the old Ulwe. He lives in a 25 years old house built in a traditional Marathi style but doesn’t own the land, CIDCO does. “Many people built illegal houses on CIDCO lands as the village was expanding, I was aware when I bought my house that I could be evacuated anytime.”

“When CIDCO started buying agricultural lands in 1982, people were happy to sell as it felt more profitable than their agricultural earnings. But the land values were not uniform as people sold the same land for Rs. 15,000 to Rs. 2,00,000. “People spent their money on drinking, building home, bikes, or put money in banks”, he invested in a goods carrier business and bought two cars. Although he is “still running from office to office” to receive the remaining half of his 12.5% compensation.


Like most newly planned cities in India and much of the developing world, Ulwe bears the familiar disregard for its geographical, social and the cultural context. There is little that differentiates Ulwe, a ‘futuristic city’, from its unplanned and haphazard counterparts in India. One would have hoped for an intervention of the scale of Ulwe to adapt certain aspects of its existing village settlements, which would have resulted in a seamless urban fabric that responds to its context.

There are four possible scenarios in the case of Ulwe:

– It is likely the infrastructure projects would get cleared and implemented in the next decade.  However it is unlikely that this will bring about equitable development.
– The delay in development may result in the settlers migrating in search of livelihood.
– The new city develops rapidly and the urban villages get neglected resulting in slum like conditions.
– The development pushes the land values in the strategically located urban villages and hence gentrification.

It is important to recognize the uncertainty with respect to the urban villages and their future, which hold a significant population. The policymakers need to make conscious policy proposals that not only protect these communities but also improve the quality of infrastructure in these villages.

This post was co-authored by Pierre Kirk-Jensen and Tausif Iqbal who have volunteered with URBZ in July and August 2014. Tausif is an architect currently studying urban planning. He is terrified by the way world cities are developing and is trying to learn alternative practices in architecture and urbanism. Pierre is a student of Urbanism from Paris. He is finishing his masters after completing a history degree and is passionate about the urbanization process in India.