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January 13, 2011

A walk in the Mumbai sky

I just returned yesterday from a week-long trip to Mumbai, India. I’d never been there before, and whatever I’d imagined this city would be like wasn’t even close to the reality. I never thought I’d describe New York City as quiet, but hell, NYC is like a mountain retreat compared to Mumbai. The noise, the traffic, the street life, the constant crush of people in most parts of the city; it all adds up to stimulus overload.

There’s so much to discuss from an urban design standpoint here. With about half the city’s population living in what would be deemed “slums” in most Western countries, informal housing pretty much dominates the conversation. There are massive slums, like the much-documented Dharavi, which was a fishing village on the edge of the city 100 years ago but has since been swallowed by Mumbai’s growth and now sits in the middle of prime commercial real estate. Then there’s the development of the Eastern Waterfront area, thousands of acres currently controlled by the Port Trust that many feel represents the future of the city’s growth.

One of Mumbai’s new Skywalks towers over the Bandra East slum.

But once I arrived in the city, I became fascinated by its new system of Skywalks, 36 elevated walkways that are basically extended exits from the urban railroad stations. The city planners’ position was that commuters wanted to be able bypass the swarm of taxis and hawkers that surround the station exits, and have the Skywalks deposit them several kilometers away which would more equally distribute the amount of exiting pedestrians. The first Skywalk was built at the Bandra railroad station, and it stretches several kilometers over the Bandra East slum to the entrance of the Bandra Kurla Complex, a hub of new office buildings and commercial development. So basically, business people taking the train can avoid walking through the slum by walking over it on the Skywalk.

Informal housing and urban farmers under the Bandra Skywalk.

In the conversations I’ve had in this film so far, what often comes up is that cities are shaped by a series of small incremental choices: should a city spend $300 million USD to try to address the issues at street level (sanitation, traffic planning, sidewalk maintenance, informal vending) or spend that money building a way for part of the population to avoid having to deal with those issues? In the film you’ll be able to see more of our exploration into this project, the people involved, and the people it affects.

Special thanks to our production coordinator Prabhat Gupta, Jahangir, Suresh Rajamani, Pamela Puchalski, Rahul Mehrotra, everyone at SPARC, the Slum/Shack Dwellers Association, and the MMRDA.



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Kunal says

Jan 14, 2011

Hi Gary,

Thanks for covering Mumbai (my hometown) in Urbanized. I'm excited to see the final result.

I think you've hit the nail on the head about Mumbai with this: "Should a city spend $300 million USD to try to address the issues at street level or spend that money building a way for part of the population to avoid having to deal with those issues?"

Just having seen Mumbai's 'progress' over the past 30+ years, Mumbai seems to have focused a lot on the latter, even with relatively recent programs like the automotive flyovers and the skywalks. For a city where over 50% of the population lives in slums, this issue will get more and more important (and polarized).

While in Mumbai, I hope you got a tour of Dharavi and met the people at Urbz too.

And lastly, if you need any help with anything Mumbai-related from someone that grew up there, do feel free to email me.

gary says

Jan 14, 2011

Thanks Kunai. Yes we toured Dharavi and filmed there several days. Unfortunately the Urbz guys were out of town in Bangalore for a conference so we weren't able to meet them.

Fabian Pinto says

Mar 23, 2011

Hello Gary, Thank you for making a honest report on Mumbai. Also thank you for covering my Native place Bandra, once made of prominent Catholic villages (Bandra Also know as the Queen of the suburbs)

Next time please make a film on our diminished villages by Slum mafia, Land Mafia, Politicians, These days our Ancestral Crosses are destroyed by the municipality. These Crosses were built even before Bombay or Mumbai were coined as a City. Many Crosses were buit during the 1879 plagues of Bombay.

Let me know if any assistance needed.


Louis says

Apr 05, 2011

Hi, i really loved both helvetica and objectified, and i cant wait to watch urbanized. I like that on these you going to "third world cities" BTW i saw similar skywalks in Salvador,Bahia though i dont think they were as extensive as the mumbai ones.

I watched helvetica, and then went out to walk the streets of Nairobi, where i live and thought to myself what you would make off the usage of typefaces here. - do you know helvetica is almost non existent here?

Andrew Harris says

Nov 03, 2011

I have recently completed a research project on flyovers and skywalks in Mumbai. Some of my visual materials are collected on this website: www.verticalurbanism.com