‘Eastern part of Mumbai has tremendous potential’

Setting a roadmap: Joan Busquets delivering the UDRI lecture in Mumbai recently.

Setting a roadmap: Joan Busquets delivering the UDRI lecture in Mumbai recently.  

Urban planner Joan Busquets stresses on inclusive development, preserving natural environment

A day in Mumbai is barely enough to understand it, but an urban planner has the natural advantage of registering an image of a city in 3D. Joan Busquets, Spanish urban planner and architect, who arrived in Mumbai barely a day before he was to deliver a lecture here, says from what he has experienced so far, the western part of Mumbai is “very strong”, while the eastern has “tremendous potential”.

Manhattan model

And here is his vision of that potential: “[The eastern waterfront] will probably be one of the most beautiful and interesting residential areas in the city. It could be more articulated, and greener.” He gives the example of Manhattan, which he relates as being the closest in comparison to Mumbai. “That city has a certain profile; we imagine it’s always been this way. But in 100 years, it changed from being a very commercial city with water around it to one that is very residential, with water around it.”

Mr. Busquets spoke to The Hindu on the sidelines of his lecture, ‘Plans versus projects? Plans and Projects’, for the Urban Design Research Institute in the city recently. Mr. Busquets is Professor in Practice of Urban Planning and Design at the Graduate School of Design, Harvard University. He has many decades of ‘transformative’ experience behind him. He served as head of Urban Planning for the Barcelona City Council during its formative years, from 1983 to 1989, and during preparations for the Barcelona Olympics in 1992. He also led the New Downtowns for the City programme and the improvement of existing neighbourhoods. Mr. Busquets has participated in urban planning and design for Lisbon, Marseille, Rotterdam, Singapore and Sao Paulo. He won a national prize for his urban rehabilitation strategy for Toledo, Spain. In 2011, he was awarded the International Erasmus prize (The Netherlands) and in 2012, the Catalan Prize for Architecture and the Grand Prix Spécial de l’Urbanisme, Paris.

Holistic vision

To a Mumbaikar, the city may be bursting at the seams, but to Mr. Busquets, there is potential for housing and different types of activities, which require a holistic vision. “A vision doesn’t mean a rigid project. It means a certain idea of the relationship of the land with the water, and then allowing a scale of development that could include eight or 10 different pieces.”

He is also clear that this development has to be inclusive; a city where the “new and existing merge”; where new and old economies complement each other: “A good city is one that has people of different ages, classes and attitudes.”

In all his projects, Mr. Busquets has focused on working with cities “as they are” — their history, their people. “Understand the city and work within its fragments,” as he puts it. His starting point is always the pedestrian. And then the bicyclist. Any vision requires the individual to be given importance, to be invited, and importantly, to be given hope. This is especially true when designers create housing for slum dwellers in the city. “You have to show them that you have a process, that you can solve a problem and have different solutions.”

Mr. Busquets is a firm advocate of public-private partnership in urban planning, but with clear, transparent rules, strict terms of negotiation, and a vision that is clearly communicated to the public. Public participation also means that they have a say in design, and can push through political impediments. “When people like something, the politician follows.” The problem, though, is people are not confident with the public authorities "because they are saying one thing and doing another”.

A healthy city is one that grows. “When we work back, we see the city is always leading, and aggregating people. Progress is always realised in cities. I don’t see any reason why that is going to change.” Yet, megacities like Mumbai, Hong Kong and Guangzhou need to ensure their natural environment is preserved. “They need to promote professions, prepare land for economic activities” and not simply allow the city to grow at random. “We like cities that work efficiently, because if they are not efficient they cannot be sustainable.”

In this process, the designer is the creator, and his plan needs to have strategic value; while it cannot be a fix for every problem, it needs to have meaning. “You have to imagine spaces, make them new and nice. You create a system, wherein people stay more-or-less in the same area, but beyond the minimal community.” And this is where Mr. Busquets sees an opportunity in the eastern waterfront. Mumbai needs to reframe its clichés, show off its beautiful places. “The city needs innovation and to be attractive, with a dynamic economy. You have to create room for that.”

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Printable version | Apr 7, 2020 12:13:12 AM |

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