Urbz is a Mumbaibased progressive urban design practice that is challenging how slums can be ‘redeveloped’ – and even challenging the basic definition of the word ‘slum.’
Urbz confronts the most daunting problems facing slums: the value of their real estate. Wellmeaning city planners, inspired to create more ‘humane’ living conditions, collaborate with profitminded developers to execute the most common form of slumrehabilitation: level & relocate.
Nowhere is the specter of this method more omnipresent than in Dharavi – often referred to as Asia’s largest slum. Dharavi is home to somewhere between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people, and sits strategically near the center of Mumbai. Surrounded by posh neighborhoods, Dharavi would be worth billions to private sector developers seeking to make new housing, malls, etc. The people of Dharavi, therefore, become a problem to be relocated.
Urbz is part of a vanguard seeking to keep the residents of Dharavi where they are, by improving construction techniques and pushing back against the economic and political forces driving relocation. Above and beyond the physical work, Urbz also endeavors to change the word ‘slum,’ and how it is received. ‘Slums’ are not apocalyptic, crime infested, disease ridden sewers. They are ‘homegrown neighborhoods’ that lack adequate infrastructure. To the extent that they lack such resources, its often a case of deliberate political manipulation.
According to Urbz, “Many of Mumbai’s poorest neighborhoods could become functional and even desirable with a little support from the authorities. If most “slums” don’t enjoy adequate infrastructure, it is not because it is technically difficult or even expensive, but rather because there is a deliberate will to keep certain neighborhoods in a state of precariousness and political dependency.”
Creating functionality and desirability is mostly about bringing infrastructure and community assets into existing communities. To wit, the group has moved beyond their existing advocacy work and launched a new project: Homegrown Cities. The project, piloted in Bhandup, will help improve construction techniques and promote the creation of cooperative housing societies. With the project, Urbz seeks to “provide opportunities for cross learning and technical collaboration between residents, local builders, and professionals from outside. This aspect of the project will develop incrementally, along with the neighborhood.”
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