Mumbai, India’s second largest city and financial hub, ranks as one of the world’s largest megacities. It is home to more than 20 million people (metropolitan area) with a population density of 27,136.8 people per sq km. With its population expected to increase to nearly 26 million by 2025, Mumbai’s aspirations of earning the ‘sustainable city’ designation will be sorely tested.1 It faces the same challenges as any other city striving for sustainability, but on a much larger and more complex scale.
Mumbai is often portrayed as a chaotic, dirty and dangerous city, lacking adequate infrastructure, and yet still remaining a source of fascination. It is evident by this description that Mumbai faces enormous challenges, including for example urban sprawl and mobility (e.g. traffic congestion); poverty & inequality (e.g. slums, homelessness) and environmental issues (e.g. air pollution, water supply). In many cases, Mumbai is already lagging behind other Asian cities in addressing its core challenges.
For example, in terms of environmental performance and commitment to reducing future impact, Mumbai is positioned in the bottom quarter of 22 major Asian cities after receiving a “below average” rating in the Asian Green City Index. The categories where the city performed best were energy and CO2, land use and buildings, and water. Below average ratings were received for transport, waste, sanitation and environmental governance. The Green City Indices are based on research conducted by the Economic Intelligence Unit, sponsored by Siemens.2
Despite the uphill battle Mumbai faces, there are encouraging signs with a number of initiatives demonstrating to the city’s decision makers that progress on the sustainability agenda is possible.
Upliftment redevelopment project
This pioneering redevelopment project will reshape the southern edge of the city, which is home to the Dawoodi Bohras Ismaili Muslim community. Dilapidated buildings will be demolished and replaced with mixed-use towers, large public spaces and parking lots. Existing religious structures will be preserved and made more accessible. Twenty-five thousand people and 1,200 commercial organisations will be re-housed at no cost to the individuals and companies affected.
Extensive consultation has been undertaken to develop this ‘upliftment’ plan, with residents themselves having significant input into the final vision for the project. In fact, the project has the approval of over 70% of private and commercial inhabitants.3 It is also a good example of ‘leaders who can think long term’, one of the five features of a sustainable city identified by the authors of Hallmarks of a sustainable city.
Improving energy efficiency in buildings
Partnership is vital to cities aiming to advance their sustainability, and the Mumbai Energy Alliance provides a strong example of the value it can bring. The MEA, established in 2008, is a partnership between local government and non-governmental organisations. To date, they have developed 25 projects – e.g. installing energy-efficient water pumps in buildings – that are saving energy and reducing CO2 emissions in residential, commercial and municipal buildings in the Greater Mumbai region. It is estimated that over the course of ten years these projects will reduce carbon emissions by 13 million tonnes.4
Another noteworthy initiative identified in the Asian Green City Index focuses on eco-housing. This programme “makes it mandatory for construction companies to obtain Eco-Housing certification from the city. The programme, launched in partnership between the city government, the United States Agency for International Development, and the International Institute for Energy Conservation, provides incentives to property developers to make their buildings more energy efficient. The incentives include rebates on development charges and some tax allowances.”5
Incremental improvements to transport & wellbeing
Mumbai is routinely criticised for its poor transport infrastructure, especially its inadequate, inefficient and often dangerous public transport network. The Mumbai Urban Transport Project (MUTP) was established by the Mumbai Metropolitan Region Development Authority (MMRDA) with assistance from the World Bank to begin to tackle this massive challenge. The first phase has resulted in significant enhancements to the suburban rail network and, consequently, improvements to commuting times for around six million people every day. The work has necessitated the displacement and resettling of 18,500 families in safer, more permanent housing, thus helping to improve the livelihoods of thousands of urban poor families in Mumbai. It has been a time-consuming and complex process involving ongoing consultation and dialogue that will help to inform future phases of MUTP and other large-scale urban development projects.6
Unfortunately, not all transport initiatives seem to have been as carefully considered and managed. After a decade of building and huge financial investment, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link – a cable bridge linking the island city of Mumbai to the Western Suburbs – is receiving a good deal of criticism and is being underused. Given that only 4.7% of commuters drive to work every day (and nearly 80% use public transport), Chairperson of the Forum for Environmental Journalists of India Darryl D’Monte questions the merit of “the public at large...subsidising the tiny minority of motorists”7 whilst Rishi Aggarwal views this example as part of the broader context where motor-friendly policies are being prioritised over public transport and pedestrian infrastructure which would support sustainable transport.8
Supporting grassroots initiatives
Recognising that the Urban Age programme was not reaching grassroots projects, Deutsche Bank launched the Urban Age Award. Its aim is to support initiatives that bring a range of communities together to improve a local urban environment. Two projects have been supported in Mumbai, each to the tune of US$50,000: (1) Mumbai Waterfronts Centre – redevelopment of the waterfront in Mumbai, which was once a rubbish dump and (2) Triratna Prerana Mandal – development of a simple communal bathroom in the middle of the slums where women can go (without men) to use the toilets but also to talk about issues of violence or attend classes.9
- Wikipedia definition of megacity [accessed January 2012] / Rise of the Asian Megacity, BBC News Asia-Pacific, 20 June 2011
- Green City Indices, Siemens website
- Community-Driven Visions of Modernity in Mumbai, posted by the polis blog on the Sustainable Cities Collective website, 11 November 2011
- Overall report: Asian Green City Index, Siemens website
- Overall report: Asian Green City Index, Siemens website
- Mumbai Urban Transport Project, World Bank Group - South Asia
- D'Monte, D, Public subsidising the motorists, Daily News & Analysis, 17 February 2011
- Public Subsidizes Costly Car-Centric Link to Mumbai, posted by TheCityFix by EMBARQ on the Sustainable Cities Collective website, 23 February 2011
- Urban Age website / Deutsche Bank Urban Age Award Mumbai, Alfred Herrhausen society website
© Article 13 - January 2012
Also in this feature: