March 07, 2005

Different vision

This is a note a friend and I put together as a response to Vision Mumbai, a 2003 blueprint for how this city might develop.

All of us would like to see a Mumbai that gives its citizens a better quality of life. We see other cities and wish that Mumbai could emulate things about them, one way or another. What might a model Mumbai of the future look like?

Bombay First and McKinsey have issued Vision Mumbai, presenting a detailed vision for this city in 2013. While we applaud the thought that has gone into it, and recognize that few other studies have offered as bold a statement of a future Mumbai, we believe it talks of a Mumbai designed for the upper-middle class car owner: the kind of citizen who will always be a minority here. Missing are the plans for the majority who don't and won't have cars, who must use public transport, whose access to open green space shrinks daily.

We'd like to articulate instead a new vision for Mumbai that all its citizens will be happy with, proud to be part of.

These principles will drive this articulation:

  • Dump the doomsday predictions. For decades, people have said Mumbai is about to collapse. Yet Mumbai has grown and flourished. Of course services are strained and we have to find solutions. But any future Mumbai will be built not on hand-wringing doom and gloom, but on the great strength this city has: the industry of its people. All its people.

  • Focus on people. Any plans for the city must have at their heart the greatest good to the greatest number of people: all of Mumbai's people. Jamie Lerner, mayor in the 1960s of Brazil's Curitiba, a celebrated model of urban planning, would explain that his guiding principle was that the poorer you were, the better the services you should have. This principle must drive plans in Mumbai as well.

  • High quality public transport. Plans for improving transport in the city must begin with public transport, which the majority of the city uses. Public transport must also be of a quality enough to pull car owners out of their cars.

  • Restrict car use. Experience the world over has shown that unrestricted car use devours and dehumanizes a city. Together with a focus on public transport, there must be a steadily declining emphasis and reliance on cars. Even though car owners are a minority of the population, the city invariably develops to satisfy the demands of cars, and efforts to satisfy the demand only inflate it relentlessly. This must change. As a corollary, better traffic management is vital as well.

  • Access to open space/the seafront. The lesson of urban planning everywhere is that open, green space is critical to quality of life. In Mumbai's case, we also have the sea. Easy access to the sea must be a part of any new vision. The quality of public spaces is important: they must be clean, functional and able to draw people from their homes. Streets must be free of loose stones and dirt, must tempt people to pause and pass time. Pavements must be clean and level, attractive and encouraging to the pedestrian.

  • Good governance is key. But apart from committed bureaucratic and political support, we need more vigorous peoples' participation, involvement and responsibility in day-to-day governance. We need a determined strengthening of our institutions. Clogged drains, uncleared garbage, the struggle to get clearances, judicial delays, poor policing -- these are the evidence of the failure of our institutions. Plans to reform the city must tackle up front the issue of how to deliver good governance, and offer credible answers. This is basic.

Vision Mumbai, to us, is defined not by such principles, but by the desire to make Mumbai internationally competitive, an illusory second Shanghai. An alternative vision must tackle issues that are not adequately addressed there:

  • Quality of life in Mumbai
  • Park/open space/sea fronts: quality, quantity, access
  • Public transport: rail, bus, cycle, taxi, rickshaw, foot
  • Education: primary/municipal education in particular
  • Legislation: review old laws (Rent control/land ceiling), spell out new ones
  • Financing for projects
  • Alternative models for governance/municipal administration/policing
  • Revamp land use: take a fresh look at the use of land in Mumbai

The goal for Mumbai cannot be to repeat Shanghai or Singapore, nor to chase some mythical but meaningless "world-class" status. Instead, the goal must be simple: the happiness of Mumbai's people. If Mumbai is a city whose residents live happy, fulfilled lives, it will automatically be a model for other cities around the world.

What, therefore, are the factors that make life for a city-dweller happy? Any vision of Mumbai must set itself the task of answering that question.


Unknown said...

sometimes the best way, and most often the easiest solution to a problem is look at someone/something/some place(in ur case) and aim at being exactly the way they are.

in ur case - singapore. just look at that city. just one word. WOW!

mumbai is now crowded, dirty, and uncared for. nobody gives a damn about the city. and the ones who do, they lose enthu cuz it's just too overwhelming. the city is desperate for a a call to action.

look at singapore city. see what they've done. try to do at least a part of that here, and definitely mumbai will be a lot better than it is today.

Voice on Wings said...

If i'm not wrong, i've heard that car usage is heavily restricted in Singapore to reduce congestion, by imposing hefty road taxes, that people rather use the subways. Can someone pls confirm?

I actually am with Sriram here. Instead of heavily relying on 'public services' the attempt should be to privatize and have regulatory bodies (something like what's happening in the telecom sector).

Of course, the plight of the poor has to be addressed as well, in a humane way.

Dilip D'Souza said...

Apu-Swami, I haven't found the Vision Mumbai document online. IT is public and I have a paper copy of it. If you send a postal address to ddd AT rediff DOT co DO in, I'll send you a copy. Unless you live in Tahiti, in which case I'll let you send me an air ticket to come deliver it...

You may want to look at this article, in which I discuss some of what's in the plan, and end with essentially this blog post.

Sriram, not all "planning" is necessarily "socialistic". Cities like Curitiba, Singapore, Bogota, Paris and others are good examples of successful public transport systems where people have been weaned away from their cars. Precisely because of planning; and in some cases because of restrictions on (or the expense of) car use. In situations where you have limited resources (roads/space), I see nothing wrong in optimizing its use in various ways so that the greatest number of people benefit.

Chikuado, Wings is right: Singapore has made private transport very expensive, and provided superb public transport. That's one secret of their success.

And Ullekh, I AM young, and have been so ever since my childhood in the 1920s...

Anonymous said...

Hey Dilip,

2 points:

1) I would also really like to have a copy. If its ok, let me know and i'll email you my parent's address in B'lore.

2) It seems to me that for reasons unknown, people/planners/policy makers seem to be adopting a US model in India. That seems not so smart. More successful public transport systems are present in cities like Singapore, Sydney, London and especially Tokyo (which is bigger than Mumbai). Ofcourse, Mumbai will have to find its own model, but it is more likely to work if it is similar to these, as opposed to building more freeways and parking lots.