July 15, 2008

New city

In the early 1970s, my father JB D'Souza headed the Maharashtra Government agency CIDCO. At the time, CIDCO's mandate was to visualize and build, on the farmland of Vashi and surrounds, a city called New Bombay. What's below is an extract from JBD's foreword to the original New Bombay plan. He wrote these words, but they really reflect the thinking of the small team that put together the plan. And they give a flavour of the promise this new city on the mainland held out. Note the "call for vigorous debate."

How that 1970s promise translated to reality circa the 21st, I don't know enough to say. (Here's a confession: my first visit to Vashi since those 1970s days, apart from speeding past on the highway, was in May this year). Whether that promise should have translated to reality at all is another question worth thinking about.

New Bombay is, of course, now Navi Mumbai.

***

Our planners have addressed themselves to their task with the object of setting up a community of citizens. Their emphasis is on convenience in living and travelling to work, on economy in the use of resources -- land, building materials, money or whatever else -- and on reducing the glaring disparities that often make urban living in our situation of shortages intolerable, particularly for the vast majority that is under-privileged. With this emphasis our planners have kept constantly in view the limitation on the resources likely to be available for city-building. If there was a temptation to plan a city of architectural grandeur, our planners have steadfastly resisted it. The effort has been to avoid the spectacular, to provide minimally for the affluent few and to promote the convenience of the greatest number. New Bombay, then, will not be another Grand City; it will be a city where the common man would like to live.

This is the orientation the planners have chosen; it is a choice that few responsible persons will question. Yet -- and this is the awesome side of the planning function for a task of this size -- there is so much opportunity for error in the translation of this choice into a land use plan, into a transportation system, into the innumerable options that the planners have to take in the course of their work. Errors in these options can have disastrous results reaching far into the future, as so many of us who live in cities know to our cost. It is for this reason that this plan proposes to keep as many options open as possible, instead of laying down detailed prescriptions for the entire plan area.

...

There are several concepts and policies implicit in this document that call for vigorous debate.

  • There is the concept of a basically self-contained city, as opposed to one that is either a dormitory for Greater Bombay or simply a work-place for residents of Greater Bombay.

  • There is the heavy emphasis on public transport systems, with private car traffic given less importance. There is the possibility of using buses on reserved tracks ... and the possibility of providing special tracks for the exclusive use of cyclists, so that this very cheap mode of transport can be encouraged.

  • The entire urban development is proposed as a series of nodal concentrations strung out along mass transport axes. Each node is to be restricted in size and separated from the next by open spaces. Each node will contain accommodation for the entire range of income groups that can be expected in the city, so that there will not be any specially rich or any specially poor nodes.

  • There will be a 'sites-and-services' type of development, where almost one-third of the city's residents, who cannot afford the smallest pucca construction ... will be provided with developed plots on which they can build temporary buildings. Since they will have security of tenure on their plots, we look forward to their gradually improving these dwellings ... to a more permanent type of construction.

  • Particular stress is laid on the schooling system, which we want to improve considerably in quality, spending more than twice as much per pupil as is spent in municipal schools in Bombay. We also want this schooling system to be accessible to all residents, regardless of income.

  • Our comprehensive rehabilitation and village improvement program is designed to meet the special needs of the locally resident population whose lands are being acquired for the project.

    These are a few of the many aspects of the plan that merit consideration and discussion by the wider public body. Some of these features are being tried out in the projects chosen for early development, such as the residential estate at Vashi, already under construction, and the Belapur node of New Bombay's CBD, where work is just beginning. We may therefore be able to assess their utility in practice.
  • 7 comments:

    John said...

    Hi Dilip,

    Interesting post! I have been a resident of New Bombay for the past 20 odd years. I guess JB's dream has only be partially fulfilled due to following reasons:

    1. Though meant for middle classes, the high class set has created niches in Kharghar and Vashi, jacking up property prices.

    2. There are slums in Turbhe and CBD Belapur.

    3. The quarrying of hills has continued.

    4. There is reverse commuting, meaning people living in New Bombay commute to Bombay and vice versa, creating a lot of traffic problems.

    5. Though self-sufficient the new city doesn't have enough cultural an artistic centres.

    6. Some projects like the bicycle lane hasn't taken off.

    7. Some nodes are still in a primitive state (Dronagiri, Kalamboli).

    Etc. etc. Do let me know when you come for a visit.

    Best, as always,

    John
    8.

    Anil said...

    I think CIDCO has been fairly successful in what they set out to do.

    I was brought up in Vashi and in the income group which we belonged to, it was the best option, in and around Bombay. The other comparable places being Mira Road, Dombivili.

    Majority of the residents had moved in from Chembur and BARC and brought with them the middle class ethos.

    Part of the original plan was to move the Mantralaya to Belapur, but that didnt work out hence Navi Mumbai always fell short of employment opportunities. But with TTC, IT park and Reliance moving in a big way, I think its getting better now.

    Gaurav said...

    Dilip, as you might expect, this was my favourite part -

    There will be a 'sites-and-services' type of development, where almost one-third of the city's residents, who cannot afford the smallest pucca construction ... will be provided with developed plots on which they can build temporary buildings. Since they will have security of tenure on their plots, we look forward to their gradually improving these dwellings ... to a more permanent type of construction.

    If only this idea is implemented, not just in New Bombay, but all over Bombay and other cities.

    Unknown Indian said...

    Sorry buddy (I know your dad was a rare honest bureaucrat, and is not around to defend his vision), but comparing New Bombay with Gurgaon shows exactly why a socialist minded public sector development is bound to flop compared to a project developed by the private sector. Your dad's vision combined with typical incompetent PSU execution resulted in relatively narrow roads, buildings with no parking whatsoever, a down market feel and lousy construction (esp in the CIDCO buildings, which are so decrepit that they have to be demolished just 25 years from construction). The absence of "architectural grandeur" and the conscious down market feel means that New Bombay did not attract anyone except those who lacked a choice (or those who worked in the polluting chemical factories of Thane Belapur). And people like me who grew up there chose to move out as soon as we could afford it.

    Contrast that with Gurgaon which was positioned initial as being more upmarket than it really was (DLF Qutub Enclave), and now houses the HQs of an increasing number of MNCs (including cos like Philips that have moved there from Bombay), and accounts for an ever increasing share of GDP (despite having been built with no thought to public transport whatsoever). And in terms of linkage with the main city and quality of public transport, in another 2-3 years, with the delhi metro reaching Gurgaon, it will soon outclass New Bombay.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    Thanks John. New Bombay was not supposed to become just another Bom suburb. It's a pity that there is as much commuting as you say.

    UI: I trust you can see that Anil has a different view of New Bombay than you do.

    That apart: as I indicated, I have hardly seen anything of New Bombay. I have seen quite a bit more of Gurgaon. HQs of MNCs notwithstanding, a more soulless, barren urban area would be hard to dream up. I am grateful every time I catch sight of the place that I don't work for a MNC that's HQ'd there.

    Upmarket/downmarket positioning, and apparently "socialist minded development" -- these things are what they are, and hardly interest me. What interests me instead is what brings a place alive. Gurgaon? Seems dead to me.

    Dilip D'Souza said...

    Gaurav, the ideas of sites and services, title, security of tenure -- these have been part of various considered approaches to development (and slum development) for years.

    Yet particularly in relation to slums, the preferred approach has been to demolish homes.

    Alan said...

    The more important question is how can future development in New Bombay focus on being sustainable?

    Dilip - you will be interested in this article on New Bombay on NPR
    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=91965350