To quote gentle words of W.B.Yeats, ‘I have spread my dreams under your feet; Tread softly because you tread on my dreams’. Now, take those words and think of applying them to physical open spaces in Mumbai and one would soon realize that you cannot but tread carefully or risk stepping on others’ toes. Quite literally in some cases. There are not many open spaces in Mumbai and whatever is still left is organic and chaotic.
And I have failed to romanticize this aspect of the city.
So, you will find people on the roads, cars randomly parked on narrow roads, animals squatting and vendors taking spaces on sidewalks to suit them. Mumbai is a great example of exactly how it shouldn’t be in urban spaces. Currently, it stands like a classic case of urban sprawl pastiche. It’s not a scientific mystery why this is so and because of complete absence of urban planning, it’s already a failed city.
Times of India recently released a report on comparison of open spaces ratio in various cities in the world. The disparity is so huge in comparison that all people living in Mumbai should consider dropping everything that they have embarked on and focus on resolving this strangulating urban situation before building anything else.
To put things in perspective, Open Mumbai has calculated that Mumbai has just 1.1 sq m of open space, parks, recreation grounds and playgrounds per person. The city has 2.5 sq km of gardens and parks, 4 sq km of playgrounds and 7.7 sq km of recreational grounds. This adds up to just over 14 sq km of open spaces for 12.4 million people; or 1.1 sq m per person. Now, compare this to London’s 31.68 sq m per person or New York’s 26.4 sq m per person.
The alarming, often-repeated statistic that Mumbai has a poor 0.03 acre of open space per 1,000 people is something of a big worry and from the looks of it, no one is seriously thinking about a solution for it. I am not against compact and dense urban settlements but this is an extremely degraded version of density.
I am of the belief that Mumbai has messed up its planning, way beyond repair now and it still continues to ignore the larger planning issues that plague the city. No amount of isolated triumphs of shopping malls, fancy offices buildings and IT Parks will help relieve us from day to day perils of planned urban movement. For healthier spaces we will need a balance of indoor and outdoor spaces.
At this point, when India stands at rapid urbanization, it is reasonable to ask, why is the country with the fastest growing urban movement in the world plagued with shortage of urban planners? And why is this question not the primary one rather than a background whispering murmur?