The recently completed al-Saadah building in SBUT's Bhendi Bazaar cluster redevelopment project

Business World

The Covid-19 outbreak has forced us to change the way we live, work, and think. Mumbai is among the worst hit cities in the country and the spread of the virus is exacerbated by the city’s congested living spaces. Communities living in congested and unhygienic infrastructures like Dharavi and BDD chawls became easy targets for the Coronavirus due to lack of proper hygiene & sanitation, fresh air and open areas.

Every year, thousands flock to the financial capital in hopes of upgrading their lives, but unfortunately, the city has not been upgrading itself. It is plagued by several infrastructural inadequacies and sadly, with time, Mumbaikars have also accepted them.

Sometimes, communities are reluctant to embrace the change as they have become accustomed to living in poor conditions. The residents of this vibrant city have resigned to a state of apathy. But the pandemic reminded us that when it comes to living spaces in the city, there is a dire need to find a sustainable solution to this long-standing problem.

Why planned redevelopment is the solution to Mumbai’s woes

Each year thousands of people come to Mumbai in search of livelihood opportunities and with the hope of a better life. This influx of people has led to a sharp increase in the city’s population density and resulted in further space crunches in an already overburdened city. More than 40% of Mumbai’s population lives in slums. With space being in acute shortage, families are forced to live in cramped spaces – it’s not uncommon for families with 5-7 members to share a home that measures around 150-200 square feet. These congested spaces lack necessities like fresh water, fresh air, and proper sanitation leading to the spread of contagious diseases.

The city also has about 16,000 dilapidated buildings that pose a grave danger to those living in them. These old structures are susceptible to extreme damage under natural calamities, especially during the monsoon season. Every year there is news of decrepit buildings collapsing due to heavy rains, with the loss of human life in some cases. For years, urban developers and planners have been pushing for the decongestion of Mumbai. The pandemic has further highlighted the urgency of creating sustainable urban infrastructure that is future-ready.

Cluster redevelopment, a sustainable solution

Cluster redevelopment is a viable way of revitalising a defined area while also creating more space for Mumbai’s growing population. It is a solution that looks at increasing space and improving the standard of living of an entire neighborhood. This includes wide roads, open spaces, and incorporating sustainable practices like rain water harvesting, and the use of solar energy, among others.

Bhendi Bazaar Redevelopment Acts as a Catalyst

Take the transformation of Bhendi Bazaar as an example of what cluster redevelopment can offer to a city like Mumbai. A part of the city’s rich heritage and vibrant history, Bhendi Bazaar’s infrastructure has been crumbling over the years. The area’s narrow lanes lead to snarling traffic, while the lack of footpaths force pedestrians to spill onto the already congested lanes. Sanitation is a major concern, and inadequate fire and safety measures make this area more susceptible to natural disasters. As per research more than 70% of people live in less than 200 sq-ft of house with over 95 % of the residential and commercial housed as tenants without any owners rights.

In 2009, the Dawoodi Bohra community leader, the late Dr Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin established the Saifee Burhani Upliftment Project to redevelop the 16.5 acres of Bhendi Bazaar, in South Mumbai, in a sustainable and inclusive manner. The redevelopment plan includes creating broad roads and open areas with plenty of greenery. A sewage treatment plant to recycle wastewater, rainwater harvesting, and solar-powered lights in streets and public areas are also part of the plan. The availability of fresh air, water, open spaces and better hygiene will thwart the spread of contagious diseases like Covid-19.

The project has also created a commercial space with the aim of helping the residents grow and succeed. The ‘High Street’ shopping area will also attract new businesses and customers. The redevelopment is aimed at uplifting the lives of all the residents of Bhendi Bazaar both socially and economically.

The first phase of redevelopment – rehousing both residential and commercial owners – was completed at the start of this year, and it has been quite a journey. One of the most important learnings has been that holistic and inclusive planning is crucial for an urban redevelopment project to succeed. We are still striving to optimise the use of resources and reduce costs as we engage residents and businesses to make the model sustainable.

If Mumbai is to be redeveloped with resilient infrastructure at its core, cluster redevelopment projects are the way to do it. All stakeholders must work together to come up with solutions that are inclusive and sustainable so that Mumbai is better prepared in the future to face natural disasters and pandemics, and can continue to be known as the City of Dreams.

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