author: Komal Gopwani
In November 2018, SEA got the opportunity to host the Mumbai Design Charrette of the Van Alen International Council, who over the course of a four-day, deep-dive exploration of Mumbai, were examining the complexity of the city through three distinct dimensions – public space, social connectivity, and transit infrastructure – conceiving of ways that each could be enhanced to better serve its urban citizenry.
One of the three predetermined interdisciplinary teams (including Johanna Hurme, Steen Savery Trojaborg, Michael Sørensen, Armand Paardekooper, Nancy Hudson, Morten Schmidt, Niklas Carlen, Anindita Dasgupta) focussed on rethinking transit infrastructure, specifically in case of Andheri. At SEA, the team convened with StudioPOD Mumbai co-founders (Mahesh Waghdhare, Mansi Sahu, Sarfaraz Momin), SEA faculty and SEA students to open up a dialogue and brainstorm collectively towards envisioning creative ways that these facets of Mumbai could be improved through architecture and design solutions.
Having physically examined the dense commercial and residential urban fabric around Andheri station and the metro interchange, the team aimed at seeking answers to the central question – What interventions could be used to improve connectivity within the transportation system and ensure that the surrounding areas and beyond are best served?
Moderated by Alfredo Caraballo, the discussants used the space to put forth their observations and share transportation insights and pilot strategies. Citing successful transit strategies, the team discussed the pilot project in Copenhagen to introduce more cycle and pedestrian lanes, thus upturning the pyramid with cars on top, to allow people everywhere. After initial opposition, people readily accepted the change when cars reduced, cafes sprung up, streets were reclaimed and life happened along boulevards again. In another example, Netherlands is reclaiming its streets and encouraging people to use public transport by levying a huge tax on privately owned cars. The (Indian) notion of more cars indicating more development of the state needs to be shunned by the political framework, luxury apartments need to reduce the number of car parks provided and pay-to-park needs to be enforced, if we aspire to become a car-free centre where life unfolds.
In an already congested city like Mumbai, reducing car parking and making the scarce valuable land available to public is crucial. The observation was that instead of a plan of open space, Mumbai (and other Indian cities) have a calendar of open spaces; the autorickshaw waiting zone outside Bandra station transforms when the community uses the same space for their Namaz offering. In densely urbanised areas like Andheri, the same space is used differently over different hours of the day.
With respect to the existing local rail network which runs north-south, the team discussed possibilities of a series of networks running east-west in a different plane. Some ideas also discussed possibilities of faster trains at peak hours, short journey trains and decentralising urban infrastructure for more efficient train travel. Equally crucial are the connections from the railway stations to the major urban centres that they link to. In case of Andheri, the earlier FOB that connected the railway to the metro station was so long that people would prefer taking the road instead. As a result, the railway had to break down an existing extension and construct a new FOB which was a shorter connection between the two modes of transport. This could be owed in part to the fact that land parcels are locked up under different authorities, eg. port land, railway land, municipal land etc and these bodies function independent of each other, leading to incomprehensive planning of public facilities/infrastructure.
The discussants collectively remarked that the country needed to overcome the social stigma related to using public transport and infrastructure be given a face-lift to ensure people across classes engage with it.
Every change at an urban scale requires both the local bodies and citizens to work together. Citing the example of Carter Road which is maintained and operationalised largely by public participation due to a sense of ownership to the waterfront, collaborative efforts of both, the authorities and the public will shape the city’s future of multimodal transport.