Mumbai is one of the largest metropolitan cities of the world and has for many years enjoyed the status of being India’s financial capital. Mumbai is a palimpsest of many cities and precincts as it has managed to retain the spatialities, historically generated out of multiple economic, political and everyday forces shaping the city. Mumbai’s largest advantage has been a vibrant city life that is generated out of a mixing of housing, small manufacturing and services. However in recent years its status as financial capital has been slipping as jobs are moving to other newer cities in India. To add to this planning initiatives have been basing themselves on frameworks that refuse to acknowledge the cultural specificities of the place.
The Census of India has become the basis for articulating the housing question as well as formulating strategies around it. The housing problem has been largely articulated as that of ‘shortage’ and the conventional strategy has been about ‘provisioning’ standard houses. In Mumbai, the census had estimated a shortage of about 1.5 million houses and in the past 15 years, only about 150,000 were built despite the most liberal and generous policies and programmes (BSUP, RAY, PMAY at the national level and SRA and R&R at the local level). By this logic it would take more than 100 years to bridge the gap between demand and supply of housing in Mumbai. Moreover, the articulation of the problem as ‘shortage’ has only benefited developers and contractors. One of the premises that this research works with is that the housing problem is defined as the problem of shortage largely because of the quantitative nature of the census. The census also states that the shortage is due to ‘inadequacy’ of the houses. If this dimension of the census is considered, then one could conclude that people have houses to live – but they are of inadequate quality. The housing question can be then reframed as the problems of inadequacy and the subsequent strategy would be that of repair, retrofitting, upgradation and improvement. Our studies reveal that households are usually in a constant process of undertaking repair and upgradation of their houses to improve quality. This study focuses on documenting 8 cases of such repair and upgradation by households across various housing contexts and types in Mumbai towards identifying the processes, mobilisations, negotiations, and design engagements that households undertake to upgrade their inhabitations along with resultant improvements. The choice of cases is based on three criteria: first, they include types that house large amounts of population (for example – slums / incremental houses that house about 47% of city’s population and chawls that house about 20% of the city’s population); second, they include types that are older and have changed over time incrementally and are often clubbed together with slums as ‘informal settlements’ (for example tribal houses and houses in the fishing villages); and third, houses from neighbourhoods that were settled by the government by providing small ‘standard’ units, which have been appropriated by the households with intense modifications to improve inhabitation (for example, houses from site and services schemes and slum rehabilitation schemes). These three criteria are identified to make the study focused on the contexts that include large masses of people and which are relevant (for example, apartment buildings of various types in the city are not included in this study).
The study shows that each household (even within the same housing project or neighbourhood) follows its own path and trajectory to undertake an improvement process. In doing so, households engage in innovative spatial solutions for everyday life and living for individual as well as collective engagements.
In engaging with the cases as well as the conceptual frameworks through the Archive and Keywords sections, the research on Mumbai will be useful for reorienting policy-making and architectural and design practice and pedagogy towards making it relevant for the multiple cultural contexts of the city as well as other places in the Global South and perhaps the North as well.