1. Mumbai – the Hybrid Kinetic City (now)

There is not much of a boundary between the formal and the informal

1. Kinetic City Now

2.Special growth and evolution under colonization – dramatic urbanization

3. Urban Spectacles? Urban Horror. Whose fault to blame?

4. Cleaning up the mess and attempts that failed

5. More plans and conclusion



Mumbai – the Hybrid Kinetic City (now)

Located on Salsette Island, at the outlet of the Ulhas River, Mumbai is home to the busiest port in India, accounting for almost half of the country’s maritime trade. It was this deep water port that first attracted Portuguese and later English traders, and from this point that British Colonization of the Western Coast of India proceeded. Although settlement in the area dates back to 250 BC when it was known to the Greeks, a small fortified town was built at the site by the British East India Company in 1661 as the company’s Indian headquarters and principal trading port. As a result the city grew in importance over the next three hundred years, British tutelage altered the city’s environment in many ways. For instance Mumbai was originally composed of seven islands but in 1782 British Governor William Hornby initiated the Hornby Hellard, which was a project to connect all islands by a causeway and created the single island one encounters today.

In this research on Mumbai and its history of urban planning, I hope to build a case to show that the state of Mumbai today, in particular its informal and formal city under the British rule has transformed and gone a long way to become what it is today, and try to show that the solution to its slums is perhaps not as direct as what planners tried to do so far.


The current state: Informal and Formal


The worlds of the formal and informal ‘cities’ Mumbai are totally interdependent in their evolving relationship, both tied in space and physical manifestation. The strange phenomenon in Mumbai can be seen when often people employed in the formal sector reside in the informal city and vice versa. The informal city, in other descriptions, slums, although just as dense as the formal city and just as energetic and without the hybrid of both the formal and the informal city Mumbai would not be such a kinetic city, the slums are the proof of the failure of the city to cope with the infrastructure, housing and governance. The garbage on the streets, squeezed space, bizarre adjacencies has actually attracted media and artists’ attention; as a result in recent years the plan to upgrade the present conditions in the existing built environment has become more focused than schemes of speculating about the opening up of land or other urban centers to disperse growth.


Over the last three decades in Mumbai, planning has largely been about rear-guard actions versus the avant-garde approaches that have traditionally led planning. Thus today most infrastructure follows city growth rather than leading development by facilitating and opening up new growth centers within and outside the city. Planning in contemporary Mumbai is systematically “posterior” as a recuperative and securing action. And like the narratives that developed around the preservation debate that froze architects and planners into inaction, these new descriptions and re-descriptions of the informal city are creating a similar paralysis! Of course the critical question becomes – how do we spatially and physically covert this supposedly wonderful energy and innovation that the informal city produces into a just, equitable and humane environment?


At the beginning of this century the population of Bombay was about 800,000. During the First World War the British, desperate for supplies, encouraged Indian traders and financiers to set up factories in Bombay. Textiles became the core industry, drawing landless peasants from rural areas. Tens of thousands of workers were employed in textile mills modelled on those of Lancashire – stone structures in extensive compounds, with ornamental arches, stone chimneys and row upon row of weaving-sheds. The mill workers were the leaders of the Indian Labour Movement. They lived in chawls – low-rise single-room tenements. The British also had a policy of buying up land. The colonial authorities would force owners to sell property for a derisory sum. They would then destroy all buildings, farms and forests, fill up low-lying areas and mark a few roads before selling this ‘developed land’ back to local people at high prices. To round off the scam they would then charge higher taxes for use of this ‘non-agricultural’ area. The people who had originally worked on this land were never adequately compensated for their lost livelihood – they were the nineteenth-century equivalent of today’s tribal peoples displaced for dams and power projects.

Chawls Mumbai_2006
Chawls Mumbai_2006
Map of Mumbai
Map of Mumbai


What should become of Mumbai?



Reference  http://newint.org/features/1997/05/05/bombay/#sthash.no9ea9ax.dpuf

Reference:  http://newint.org/features/1997/05/05/bombay/#sthash.no9ea9ax.dpuf

1 Comment on “1. Mumbai – the Hybrid Kinetic City (now)

  1. The spatial quality of chawls in Mumbai seems to come very close to illegal subdivided housing in Hong Kong. The cause for their existence also seems to have common factors like government tolerance, overpopulation and regulated land use. It is interesting to note, however, that the chawls were constructed as social housing schemes and were not an illegal phenomenon. Could it be said that in such cases wherein common urbanistic factors that consequent in similar spatial qualities in different cities seem to transcend legality and illegality laid down by the government and are inevitable?

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