From Shanties To Schmancy, Expensive High Rises Are Replacing Slums In Mumbai, India

Slumdog blight can’t be bulldozed fast enough for millionaire residents to move into their new condos.

By Jeff Vasishta January 27, 2017

Gentrification apparently happens a lot faster in Mumbia, India, than other places in the world. There are no contentious Community Board meetings or zoning concerns. A developer simply offers shanty town residents the chance to have larger apartments with brick walls and running water as long as they move out, razes their old dwellings and replaces them with gleaming condo towers — like they’d never even been there.

That’s precisely what happened when Omkar Realtors & Developers persuaded 5,000 families to move nearby. “The entire strength of this business is whether you can convince the people to move by offering them better homes nearby,” director at Omkar, Guarav Gupta told the Wall Street Journal.

Mumbai land prices are at a premium, with cranes a permanent on the city’s hazy skyline. In fact, Mumbai, especially the exclusive Southern neighborhoods, now ranks as the 18th most expensive real estate in the world, according to a 2016 Knight Frank report.

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For city officials, the slums are an eyesore, blocking the path to lucrative development deals. But it’s the city, the planners and code enforcement agencies, in particular who are to blame for the density of the ramshackle buildings. About six million people—half of Mumbai’s population—are jammed into a mere 8 percent of its landmass, reported the Journal, living in makeshift settlements, some decades old, on railroad rights of way, state-owned land and some private property.

As the population increases the slums are extended higher and higher presenting dangerous living conditions. Issues with disease, fires and the real possibility of collapse are heightened during the rainy season. The rent for a shanty in Dharavi slum costs around $3-$4 a month. Conversely, The Guardian reported that a three bedroom apartment in the city’s central financial district can cost over $2 million. With such disparity, developers have been on a mission claim every square foot of land they can.

Real estate services firm JLL reported that 47,000 luxury apartments and 19 million square feet of space is being built or planned in Mumbai. Construction has been complicated by the lack of available land. Slum dwellers votes count just as much as those who don’t live in them so politicians, keen to curry favor, have been dangerously lax with slum building construction laws.

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Developers often skirt the edge of legality and sometimes completely cross it in their quest to secure land.

“Clearing the slum is a dirty job. It’s a mix of legal and illegal things that involves putting pressure on slum dwellers who are unwilling to leave,” said Amita Bhide and urban planning professor at Mumbia-based Tata Institute of Social Sciences told the Journal. “Most of it is a legal gray zone.” Further complications arise when slum owners who have been promised apartments to move, don’t promptly receive them or when they are houses on the outskirts of the city, far away from their jobs.

One proposal to solve the dangers of slum living has been the “Containerscraper,” a striking tower by CRG Architects which uses shipping containers to provide housing for around 5,000 inhabitants of the Dharavi slum, where parts of “Slumdog Millionaire” were filmed. The project received third prize in an ideas competition to provide temporary homes in India. The ambitious and eye catching submission consists of stacking 2,4000 containers to form two twisting columns.

Ventilation, safety, insulation and a sense of community were amongst the priorities of the container towers said Carlos Gomex, Principle of CRG Architects. In essence they are a simplistic and cheap form of modular housing. But they are not without their critics.

“Proposals that show structurally ambitious high rises built out of containers…neglect the most important facet of residential design: human comfort,” says Mark Hogan, an architect and lecturer at California College of the Arts.

“They also spin a false narrative by proposing this as an economical solution,” he continued. “In reality a container high rise would cost the same or more than established methods of construction while delivering a horribly inferior product.”

Which still leaves urban planners and architects the issue how to rehouse slum dwellers or face ongoing resistance to their high rise dreams.

Jeff Vasishta



Jeff is a writer, husband and father but not necessarily in that order. As a music journalist he counts Prince, Beyonce and Quincy Jones amongst those he’s interviewed. He's also owned and flipped homes in Brooklyn, NJ, CT and PA.
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