Sem 7 | Mass Inhabitation

Rethinking Housing Redevelopments in Mumbai

Rupali Gupte

Prior to the 1990s, Mumbai had seen a plethora of housing delivery systems and subsequent house types emerge. This included self-built fishing and agrarian villages, chawls and shoulder houses set up for trading communities by erstwhile plantation owners who had become landlords, chawls set up by mill workers for mill labour, apartments built by private enterprise and cooperative societies, housing board chawls and site and service schemes set up by the government etc. Post 90s the government shifted its role from being a provider of housing to a facilitator. Instead it introduced a slew of policies to incentivise private developers to participate in the process of housing development. As a result the focus of housing shifted from its lived relationships to a speculative, commodified form. The focus of this year’s seventh semester project at SEA was to look closely at one of these housing developments, to recalibrate the role of housing to its lived possibilities. The studio took up housing schemes set up by Baburao Paranjpe, a protodeveloper in Borivali in the 1970s.

Cooperative housing societies had received a filip in the wake of the cooperative societies Act of 1904 with ensuing legislation in 1912, 1919 and 1960. This legislation made it possible for individuals to organize themselves as a collective through the institutional form of a cooperative, and seek land and finance for the construction of housing schemes. Mumbai’s first cooperative housing societies, initiated during the early 1900s, included societies such as the Saraswat Cooperative Housing Society, Talmakiwadi Cooperative Housing Society, St. Sebastian Homes Cooperative Housing Society etc. The city’s post-independence suburbanization saw the development of cooperative housing societies by entrepreneurs such as Baburao Paranjpe who established Parleshwar Cooperative Housing Society, Vishnu Prasad Cooperative Housing Society etc. in Vile Parle during the 1950s.
Following their success, several cooperative housing societies were built by Baburao Paranjape at Ashok Nagar in Borivali during the 1970s such as Karmayog Cooperative Housing Society, Dyanayog Cooperative Housing Society, Rajayog Cooperative Housing Society, Bhaktiyog Cooperative Housing Society, Yoganand Co-op Housing Society etc. Most of these housing societies are now slated for redevelopment owing to internal wear and tear, dilapidation, transforming household configurations as well as new development potential made possible by the current legislative framework and subsequent pressure from developers to tap this potential.

The studio chose to work with Bhaktiyog Cooperative Housing Society.  Bhaktiyog currently has around 200 tenements and was built in the 70s for a lower middle class population, largely from the upper caste Maharashtrian community. These were people who worked in Government jobs and had moved as young people in the 70s from places like Vile parle on account of growing households and a subsequent lack of space in their houses. Baburao Paranjpe had worked out easy installment schemes, making it possible for people with low-paying jobs to afford this housing. The type followed was that of a chawl, with a string of two room tenements connected by a corridor and shared toilets. In the current context the society has been approached by a developer to redevelop the plot, promising to provide them bigger houses in return for building extra flats that the developer can sell in the open market to recover the costs of providing the existing tenants free housing.
The students worked in close consultation with its residents. They set up focussed group discussions and a 10% sample of individual household surveys. They also worked out financial feasibility studies by studying the development potential and the needs of the inhabitants. The household surveys and focussed group discussions revealed that the majority of the population was old with children living abroad. The current chawl type of living had shaped a form of life for the inhabitants such that people watched out for each other, particularly the older inhabitants who lived by themselves. The lowrise builtform they currently inhabited was also less resource intensive, making for lower maintenance charges, which the community could afford. In the final presentations made to the community the students compared the builtform the community currently inhabits and the social life it affords to that which the developer, on exploiting the full development potential would provide and the loss of social space thereof. They pointed out the difference in maintenance charges the community would have to shell out in the new development scenario. Students stepped back to also get a grip on the larger economic repercussions at the city level. They argued that the emerging situation in Mumbai showed that the city was economically slowing down, its population was growing less than the national average with migration drastically reducing, predicting a demographic shift, where the city would show an increase in average age of citizens. This housing scheme already catered to a higher age group whose age would only advance. They asked what kind of builform would be conducive to an aging population, that could afford a sense of care and security? How could ‘amenities’ advertised by developers for luxury living be rethought for this demographic group?. They predicted a rise in climate crises with flash floods, increasing temperatures requiring builtform with adequate weather protection, balconies, roofs, overhangs that could deal with this changing scenario as opposed to the shiny images sporting glass and steel, sold by developers.
They argued that the change in urban form with gated living, hardening of boundaries and relinquishing all soft spaces such as in between spaces, interstitial courtyards, verandahs, balconies etc were causing a high social polarity and a sense of alienation within communities. They also looked at the changing scenario of the suburb of Borivali and noted that the increase in the number of redevelopments and increase in second generation property owners were bringing about title conflicts and an increase in developer and political interests. They also noted that the increase in the number of educational institutes around brought about an increased demand for student accommodation, which could potentially act as an income generation source for the community. They therefore asked what kind of builtform would be attentive to a changing economy and demography? Some of the resultant strategies demonstrated by students included, incorporating community spaces at various scales, including open spaces, courtyards, corridors, passages, terraces, allowing interaction and connectivity along vertical and horizontal axes. Other strategies accounted for changing households, from single single occupants to large families to groups of friends cohabiting. Yet others responded to changing climate conditions through different forms of envelopes such as sloping roofs, canopies, weather skins, balconies, terraces etc. Others sought to reimagine resource intensive amenities such as club houses and swimming pools to community spaces at varying scales to facilitate care and support networks. The community debriefing was an essential part of the studio, completely rethinking the ‘final jury’ as the culmination. Here students learnt how to make arguments to non architects and community groups along with other invited experts.