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Making Mumbai’s Development Plan 2034 Pragmatic and Implementable

A frontrunner in bringing in innovative mechanisms such as Accommodation Reservation (AR) and Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) in 1991, the expectations from the Mumbai Development Plan are very high. The Greater Mumbai Draft Development Plan 2034 does not disappoint on many levels. Several commendable recommendations are visible such as hinging FSI increases to transit served areas, halving parking requirements within transit oriented development zones, bringing in mixed uses as a norm not only in land use zoning but also in amenity reservations, and even opening the plan out in stages to the public despite the Maharashtra Regional & Town Planning Act, 1966 not mandating the same.

While having reduced the deterministic and inflexible nature of this legal instrument to address the city’s dynamic changes, the plan will need to further address the following parameters as well to be pragmatic:

  • Absent transit should not incentivise exacerbated development:

Density increases around mass public transportation systems are fundamental to sustainable development. Mumbai’s commuter railway station areas have traditionally housed high people densities and extending that principle to metro rail stations is recommended. However, till date only Line 1 (Versova-Andheri-Ghatkopar) of the metro is implemented. It will take at least 10+ years for the other 5 lines to be up and running. These projects are bound to face unexpected challenges and prohibitive costs especially the underground alignments. Ranges of FSI from 5 to 8 being proposed in standard and intensive zones along metro stations not built as of today will lead to unsustainable car dependant developments and demands for near sighted flyover constructions. Phasing of FSI allocation and linking it to actual metro implementation will be a preferred alternate strategy.

  • Parking norms could be more ambitious to reduce car reliance:

The vicious cycle of generous parking supply leading to unsustainable automobile oriented urban development is well understood. Halving parking in TOD zones is a good move but its correlation with increased FSI provisions should be better understood. High transit ridership in Mumbai is also due to captive users who would potentially shift to private modes the moment they have the capacity to do so. Parking should be based on setting a maximum cap not a minimum one. This gives a chance to owners not wanting to buy a car to reduce their cost of buying a house. Developers too could choose to build fewer parking lots if there is less demand from buyers. Transit Oriented Development zones too should opt for a zero parking maximum to incentivise walking, and reduce the reliance on cars. A parking management plan should be mandated into the Local Area Plan. The plan can then include time sensitive congestion pricing models for on-street and off-street parking.

  • Urban design can reduce the unfavourable perception of density:

Poorly designed buildings, streets and open spaces can make public areas seem more congested than they actually are. Good urban design helps to mitigate this by encouraging design from a pedestrian’s point of view. With the new plan proposing FSI’s that will range from 5 to 8 in TOD zones, redevelopment through amalgamation will take the forefront. This could potentially be high rise developments with high compound walls and parking lots facing streets which blocks off any interaction with the street and are unresponsive to pedestrians leading to an unsafe and inactive public realm. Form based codes could ensure safety and security with the right mix of horizontal and vertical mixed uses, urban form that is more responsive to pedestrians rather than vehicles, allocation of street spaces to a multiplicity of users, lower compound walls, etc. nurturing activity and creating vibrant places.

  • ‘Local’ Area Planning should legally mandate the involvement of ‘local' stakeholders:

Local area plans are crucial to implement the aggregated vision of the city development plan. While currently being envisioned through Section 33 of the MRTP Act that allows for ‘areas of comprehensive development’, the frameworks for citizen participation though indicated as a framework in the plan is not legally mandated or enabled in the MRTP Act. The use of open spaces for example can be best safeguarded by the communities that use them. Their participation in city governance is critical. Rules that encourage permitting underground uses such as parking, electric substations and sewage treatments plants etc within open spaces need to be grounded well at the local scale to retain the usability and ecological sensitivity of open spaces. The proposed high FSI needs to be matched with an equally high level of infrastructure services and here the local area plan could serve as the platform for the integration of the two. Correspondingly, 12.5% of the city’s developed area is currently under slums and houses 41.85% of the total population. While this significant population has been taken into account while estimating ‘FSI needs for anticipated growth’, how these sections of society will actually access this benefit is unclear. With S ward for example having 72.3% of its population residing in slums, the need for participation in plan implementation at local scales is key to matching the real on ground needs.

  • Elephant in the room:

Plan financing, implementation and monitoring: The most important stage after envisioning a good plan is getting it implemented. Current available documents seem to hinge plan financing only on revenue from the proposed FSI regime. With municipalities across the country and globally addressing new and innovative mechanisms to raise finance including through green bonds and other sustainable methods the MCGM too needs to address the same including the involvement of private sector participation. A common inter agency fund for master plan implementation should be thought of to encourage cooperation. The visible reduction of Borivalli National Park area for example, indicates the inability of the last development plan to monitor and address developments happening at such ecologically sensitive fringes. A review board needs to be set up independent of the planning department that also involves primary stakeholders. A system of penalties and rewards could also be addressed.

Mumbai having been a frontrunner of innovations in city development plans in India can continue to retain that position if it implements a truly ‘Integrated Development Plan’. Prominent cities in India such as Delhi, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Chennai and Bangalore, all have development authorities rather than their municipal corporations preparing city development plans or city master plans. This often results in a disconnected vision between agencies that formulate the plan and agencies that lead implementation. Mumbai however, has traditionally been unique, (even prior to the 73rd and 74th CAA enactment) and has the municipal corporation preparing the development plan for the city. Leveraging the advantage of a single municipal commissioner who presides over several departments including the development plan, roads, sewerage, drainage, water supply, solid waste, hospitals and even electricity and buses is an opportunity not to be lost.

The instrument of the local area plan must serve as the common platform for the planning department and the services provision departments to come together in a coordinated manner. Stepping up to the city’s challenges and needs in this integrated manner will positively impact and enhance the quality of life of its citizens and the public realm, hence living up to the adage of ‘Maximum City’.

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