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.