A Hong Kong Case Study: Conserving Central


With a total area of about 1104 square kilometres and a population of 7.1 million, Hong Kong is a highly urbanised city enjoying an enviable per capita GDP of US$34,000 and a low employment rate of 3.2%. The pace of urbanisation was rapid in the past 60 years, with the addition of almost one million people every decade until the most recent one. We have managed this growth via efficient land use, meticulous spatial planning and investment in public infrastructure, capitalising on Hong Kong’s strategic position as a trade, business and transport hub.
In recent years, as we attempt to continue developing Hong Kong to retain our global competitiveness, much more emphasis is placed on nature and heritage conservation, preservation of local culture and social networks, liveability, creativity, sustainability and community aspirations.
This presentation will use the conservation of Hong Kong’s Central District (the most important core business and financial district in Hong Kong) to illustrate a paradigm shift in taking forward city development in Hong Kong. Named as “Conserving Central” announced by the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in October 2009, this plan comprises eight innovative projects to conserve Hong Kong’s natural heritage – the new Central Harbour front of the Victoria Harbour – and a series of historic buildings – the Central Police Station, the Central Market, etc. – in the district. It aims to realise the potential of Central’s unique historical and cultural features suited to sustainable development.

Our Next Train Stop!


I grew up in Mumbai in the 60’s and 70’s. It was a city of about four million people. Today the Mumbai Metropolitan area is the home to over 20 million people. This kind of monumental growth, of necessity brings with it monumental problems. The rate of change we see around us varies from mind-boggling in urban areas to minimal in many of our villages where time itself seems to have stood still.
One has but to look back at our very own Indus Valley Civilization, famous for its town planning, to find a people who first planned and built their cities and completed all infrastructure only after which they occupied their urban areas. For their time these cities were large and the equivalent of a Manhattan today. We do not have that luxury either with land or time but there is no doubt that a lack of planning has also added to the perilous conditions that many of our cities are in today.
So where is our next train stop? As our country hurtles along with its many “Indias” within it, how easy or difficult will it be to assess the direction that Indian cities and its Architecture will take in the future?
I believe the way forward is to look at what we believe our cities should be remembered for when they are looked at through the lens of history. This perspective will enable us to take a view bigger than just today.
To me personally an ideal city should be remembered for its
Adequate Infrastructure
A sense of belonging
A sense of place
All of which lead to a quality of life that every citizen in Mumbai should enjoy.


Metamorphosis, reincarnation or resurrection


The possibility of new lives in old cities is a cultural experience defined by indigenous wisdoms and traditions of society. With changing social patterns and demographic movement in the city, we have now to focus on the continuity of place rather than the continuity of people. But, it is the spirit that is an essential part of the cultural continuity thereby allowing for the identity and memory to provide text, ceremonies and meanings to the city. This capacity is strained with social change and population transformations.
While metamorphosis is a continuing natural process of life, resurrection or reincarnation can take place after some perceived determination of death. The breathing of life into the dry bones of the city needs superhuman actions which will have to be provided in the form of political will and determination from government and grassroots alike. Successful communities that survive these traumas are those that have managed to continue with some syncretistic or symbiotic adjustments.
Built heritage should provide for spatial and temporal sustainability, considering process rather than project through the cultural integration of socio-economic policies. It is the holistic vision at a new scale that demands thinking outside the box and narrow conservation borders. The recent UNESCO Recommendation on Historic Urban Landscapes presents this integrative approach to grasping the knowledge of the city.
Amartya Sen wrote that ‘culture interacts with development in many different ways and there are deep ethical and political issues of the social choice involved in accommodating diverse concerns.’


The infusion of “global technology and finance as the engines of India’s growth” has often been a story of displacement, erasure and overwhelming disparity of scale. Such a phenomenon has privileged the image over patterns of life. Large infrastructure projects are equated with development, and the image of being “world class” steamrolls over the multiplicity of tiny human endeavors that sustain life in the city.
The law and regulations consider historical ways of using space as untidy, unruly, shameful and undesirable. Most town planning regulations in India make it difficult, even illegal, to live on the street, to carry out your livelihood activity in open or mobile or temporary locations, to share space, to have multiple uses in the same space …..In short to live as custom has taught us to enjoy. Time, season and occasion have no place in the legal structure. “New lives” have been legally mandated!
This attitude is adopted by the upwardly mobile elite, globally connected and rich enough to adopt the space-and-resource intensive consumerist life. The word aspiration is a convenient one, and aspiration can be generated by advertising, marketing and all the tricks of media-saturation that consumerism has developed to into strategic warfare.
If I were a migrant into the city, how would I view what I find there? Would I see it perhaps as a kind of natural form, to be used to fulfil my needs? Would I forage and farm the novel man-made terrain? Would I see the buildings and spaces as resources for survival? Would my intervention in the “informal economy and decrepit housing stock” be the only way in which a language and culture of life could be saved from extinction?
Would the occupation of the city by the “new uses”, not technological or financial but human be the subversive and perhaps only possible way of nurturing the origins and spirit of each city?


Indexing the Intangibles: Negotiating our Historic Inner cities: Case Mumbai


The majority of the urban fabric of our historic cities in India is composed of the domestic architecture, which are quite unlike places with monumental architecture visited by people and are often tourist destinations. Yet these precincts are very important for their built-form characteristic as they together often create a unique townscape and are inhabited by strong identifiable communities with unique cultural practices. Over the years these precinct due to various regulations notably the Rent control Act, legislated in cities all over the country, have not been able to attract any fund which are required for their maintenance and upkeep. Most of such precincts are in a state of dilapidation and disrepair. However due to the protection provided by this act these places over time have flourished for a number of complex informal activities which makes these places vibrant and thriving with life. They precincts house bazaars, small scale crafts units and industries inhabited by these communities. This is the contradiction which most these historic areas face, while they are vibrant they are in state of disrepair. It is the case of most historic cities in India.
This presentation specifically explores the case of Mumbai, where such precincts form the majority of the historic fabric of the city. The island city of Mumbai is composed of such area characterized by bazaar districts, old residential areas, industrial lands and earlier town planning schemes. They are very different from the colonial core of Fort or the Art Deco district of Marine lines which house the monumental heritage buildings of Mumbai. Due to lack of funds available with local government institutions, poor tenants and also due to frozen rents, most of these fabrics have buildings which have over time become structurally unstable. Presently the city government of Mumbai has formulated a policy inviting private initiatives, through the provision of incentive FSI to redevelop these historic precincts. This has had disastrous effect on these historic inner city areas which are already dense and are reeling due to a shortage of infrastructure. Also the effect on existing inhabitants and communities have been far from beneficial as most of these builder driven initiatives have lead to complete erasure of the existing historic networks. It has also been observed those areas where buildings show maximum dilapidation and are in need of redevelopment immediately have not been taken up by builders; instead they have shown interest in developing up-market historic areas where the real estate prices are high.
It is in this background that this presentation would illustrate an index of the intangibles that characterize the inner city of Mumbai. The index would map the various typological complexities of commercial activities like markets, bazaars, shopping streets, khau gallis, etc. It would map the soft work activities that are housed in varied complex spatial possibilities. The networks of organization of people and groups inhabiting the place would also be mapped. It would also explore the unique cultural practices of the communities that inhabit these areas.
This index is prepared primarily to negotiate with the government agencies and other stakeholders in the historic inner city, that KRVIA is presently engaged with, to plan for a transformation that is inclusive and less violent to the community.

Bombay has always been Global City


The classic theory of the Global City, coined by Saskia Sassen in her 1991 study, was based on a study of parallel changes in the space and society of London, Tokyo and New York in the eighties, asking how cities with such different histories could experience such rapid change so quickly, in response to a similar global dynamic. Its specific conjuncture was the deindustrialisation and dispersal of urban manufacturing and parallel global integration of producer services and finance in new urban command and control centres, “creating a new strategic role for major cities” in the U.S., U.K. and Japan.
More recent attempts at describing Mumbai as a Global City tend to reverse and abstract the concept into a status symbol or litmus test for aspiring planners, designers, and elites, eager to reproduce what has now become a generic formula for urban restructuring, without reference to sustainability, context, or history. But we know that cities are not merely the outcome of the Economy, they are made into living places by real people, through their search for livelihood and their struggles for survival. It is within this tension between what Manuel Castells calls the Space of Flows and Space of Places that global capital negotiates and transforms embedded built environments, market practices and political formations to reproduce itself in Mumbai.

My paper presentation will attempt to situate contemporary globalisation in a longer view of the economic and spatial history of modern Bombay/Mumbai. I will survey the city’s nodal role as a global gateway for capital, commodities and technologies since the late 19th century, its spatial and industrial restructuring over the 20th century, and offer a narrative framework for discussion on how to think critically about Global Cities and Globalisation in the context of India’s urbanisation.

Disasters and Risks in Urban India 2030


A theme like Urban India 2030 presumes that urban India will grow rapidly in an ever-expanding urban sprawl. But such a presumption assumes too much. What is equally likely is that Indian cities will die, or will be destroyed, partly or fully, due to disasters. Just in the past ten years, natural disasters like floods, tsunami, cyclones, and earthquakes have devastated cities and communities, some of which have been wiped off the face of the earth. Science says this trend is very likely to continue. And let us not forget nuclear and other man-made disasters that have turned cities into ghost towns.
In India, we may assume that with a growing population, cities will only undergo development–fast or slow, and not face destruction, but experience tells us otherwise. The Gujarat 2001 earthquake, the Leh Cloudburst of 2011, not to speak of the tsunami, have shown us all too clearly just how weak Indian urban infrastructure is in the face of disaster. Neither historic nor modern cities have fared well; there is virtually no disaster planning to safeguard infrastructure and communities. Disaster risk reduction needs to be a vital component of any city planning; citizen awareness and preparedness a crucial factor in saving lives. Yet India’s city planning hurtles along on the path of so-called development with unsafe and impractical infrastructure at great expense to the taxpayer. Disasters destroy not just buildings, but also livelihoods. We have no plans in place to rebuild communities and their livelihoods.
I will share the results of the All India Disaster Mitigation Institute’s recent review of 37 cities in ten states where we have worked over the past ten years after six types of disasters. Our work is geared towards capacity building of some 3000 local, public and civil society leaders in cities; building 8000 shelters and revitalizing 14,000 livelihoods. We have worked in Mumbai after the serial bomb blasts, and conducted mock drills to gauge the city’s emergency preparedness system. We focus on school safety and emergency preparedness training in large and small towns. In our view Urban India 2030 is an opportunity to plan for safer cities, informed citizens and building public awareness of a future that is not blind to risk.


Building Creative Cities for Inclusive Growth


In India, rural communities constitute 60% of the country’s entire population and 75% of unemployed people. 45% of rural population is reportedly not formally educated. Despite an important sum of government budget devoted to rural development, there remains much to be done in terms of basic infrastructure, employment, health, education and the overall well-being of rural population. Stigmatized with the image of poverty and backwardness, it is seldom realized that rural India is also a hub of traditional arts and cultures, which are mostly practiced by the marginalized/ lowest sections of the society. In 2004, banglanatak dot com, a social enterprise headquartered at Kolkata, felt the need and the potential of tapping into this large pool of creative talents to offer another pathway for rural development. The underlying principle was to use people’s inherent creative and artistic skills as a means of their livelihood improvement and empowerment. Named “Art for Livelihood”, the new initiative of banglanatak dot com aimed at revitalizing dying folk arts with a view to providing sustainable income to rural poor through the creation of rural cultural industry.
Marketing and creating new audience is one of the vital components to promote rural creative industries. Cities remain the main marketing space for the artists to meet the audience. The number of available concert space and the chance for the rural artists to access to such public space is however shockingly limited. Current urban expansion symbolized by road widening, mega shopping malls and sub-urban residential complexes, is less conducive for the live performers, as arts and cultures are absent from the day-to-day surrounding and happen only in sheltered spaces, limiting opportunities for the artists to meet the audience. After a frenzy of infrastructure development designed merely to accommodate the number of growing population, could an Indian city be creative to offer an innovative space of encounter between the artists and public to promote rural livelihood?

Distributing the benefits of urbanization through a heritage-based approach to city development?


Culture is a powerful economic driver that generates over a trillion dollars worth of jobs and income around the world, with global cultural industries contributing more than 7% to global GDP. Historic buildings, traditional neighborhoods, streetscapes, cultural practices and handicrafts are also socially valuable endowments with vast noneconomic development potential to strength social ties, ensure meaningful services to the poor, improve cities liveability and build dynamic knowledge-based societies. The reality in India tells a story of unmet potential.
India is one of the countries with the greatest wealth in cultural heritage, but also one of the poorest users of these assets for poverty reduction and development effectiveness. Slum formation and the decline of heritage assets is becoming engrained in the urbanization pattern of most cities. Historic areas are becoming pockets of entrenched poverty isolated from the wider economic development and the physical transformation taking place in the cities to which they belong and give meaning. Lagging behind in terms of access to services and infrastructure, historic cores are rapidly deterioration, condemning most already poor residents to the lowest living standards. Yet because Indian cities are in an early urbanization process, they have a unique opportunity to reverse this paradigm and learn from other global cities that applied heritage-based approaches to redistribute the benefits of urbanization.

Integrating Heritage with Livelihoods: The Case of Rajasthan


India has abundance of living heritage in the urban historic areas of its cities with significant historic structures displaying continuity of adaptive usage since centuries. In such situations, generations of local inhabitants continue to live and evolve indigenous means for protection and survival of their heritage thus linking it to the socioeconomic growth of the place. The State of Rajasthan in India that pioneered the concept of Heritage Tourism in the country since independence and showcases its living heritage at the global level is an exemplar for studying the strong linkages of traditions and livelihoods. The cities and towns of Rajasthan present interesting cases of urban conservation initiatives by the public sector and private sector which successfully thrive on income generation of the local craftspeople or resident population. In such situations, where stakeholders have centuries of association with the site, it becomes essential for the site managers and professionals to dialogue with the on-ground situation in order to establish the appropriateness of any urban level intervention.
This paper illustrates case studies of some urban historic cores in the cities of Rajasthan that exhibit the undeniable linkage of History, Traditions and Livelihoods. Using examples of urban conservation in Jaipur, Udaipur and Jaisalmer, the paper aims to address the crucial interdependence of social and economic sustainability of these urban spaces with heritage tourism in Rajasthan. At the same time, this paper examines the long term impact of such an approach and argues the need for reviewing the socio-economics of urban heritage in Indian cities to arrive at solutions that look beyond marketing and tourism.


Conservation vs Redevelopment of the Residential Grain of Mumbai


In UK a museum gets added every week, where as in Mumbai redevelopment of a residential property happens every week if not very day. With frozen rents due to Rent Control Act the buildings are hardly looked after and hence they suffer from good maintenance. These buildings get dilapidated very soon. Strangely, though the government incentives are for its reconstruction and not repairs, resulting in the whole inner city being a large construction site. New high rises with narrow open spaces and multistoried car parks are completely eroding the traditional social fabric which was the strength of the inner city. The new construction is also a severe load to the already century old fragile infrastructure of the city.
In these circumstances I was fortunate to work on restoring about dozen such tenanted residential buildings in past three years at two separate sites in Tardeo and Agripada for a trust. The executed work reveals that it’s economical to repair than to reconstruct and end result is that social fabric remains intact and there is no load on infrastructure and residents enjoy a good quality of life.