Suburbanization commonly plagued cities throughout the North American continent with single-dwelling housing without acknowledging similar dire consequences (Carmona et al., 2011). Nevertheless, one Indian City called Mumbai has a strange case of reverse suburbanization and is ‘suburbanizing’ the city centre while urbanizing suburbs (Mundkur, 2021). This reverse suburbanization is like suburbanization in North America (Carmona et al., 2011 & Hochstenbach & Musterd, 2017). Nevertheless, Mumbai’s history and present time are complex with current issues in the city (Mundkur, 2021, Raghavan, 2023 & Urban, 2012). More people must acknowledge Mumbai’s unique definition of suburbanization (Urban, 2012, Figure 1).

Suburbanization In Mumbai - Sheet1
Photo of Wealth Divide in Mumbai, India (Miller, no date1_Photo of Wealth Divide in Mumbai_©Johnny Miller)
Suburbanization In Mumbai - Sheet2
Mumbai is at East of the Arabian Sea (Sultana & Satyanarayana, 2019, 1_Map of 6 Metropolitan Cities in India_©Sabiha Sultana A.N.V. Satyanarayana)

Mumbai’s Geographic District and Challenges | Suburbanization

Mumbai’s geography does matter before discussing the current trends and the present day. The city is on Maharashtra State’s western coast, which borders the Arabian Sea (Internet Geography, no date & Raghavan, 2023, Figure 2). The population is growing, with “a young workforce from neighbouring cities and rich with a diverse, large economy, rulings, and culture along the harbour” (ibid.). There is a smaller city in at south of the peninsula with the northern south suburban district (Urban, 2012, Figure 3). The economic growth in suburbs explains that the city will become suburbs while the suburbs become the city, with a brief, simplified history (Urban, 2012 & Mundkur, 2021).

This map displays the suburban district Urban, 2012 3_Map of Island City and Northern Suburbs_©Florian Urban)

This map explains the complex history ranging from suburban apartments to low-rise slums to the Northern Suburbs. The reverse suburbanization occurs as the Northern Suburbs becomes denser than the Island City (Mundkur, 2021 & Urban, 2012).

Mumbai’s history 

Mumbai’s history is crucial to understand how suburbanization works. Mumbai began with “the Koli, the aboriginal tribe of fishermen” possibly “hundreds of thousands of years” (Raghavan, 2023). “ the city is a “centre of maritime trade with Persia and Egypt in 1000BCE,” and undergone ruler for thousands of years from 6th century to 19th century (Raghavan, 2023). The list of rulers and conquerors are” Cahlukyas, Yadavas, Portuguese, and British” (Raghavan, 2023). By the turn of the 19th century, the city grew exponentially known as Bombay ironically not called a “great asset to the company” that made connections to Europe. The suburbanization begun to avoid the overcrowding and unsanitary condition of the city for “the artisan class;” it began to expand northward (Raghavan, 2023, & Chopra, 2012).

By the turn of the 20th century after colonialism, the irony of suburbanization is that the suburban area enables more low-rise slums and apartment buildings to cramp more after colonialism and mixture together (Urban, 2012). The turmoil history of Mumbai shows the unique case of suburbanization that occurred that strangely transformed from “typical European and American industrial metropolises” to the chaotic trend that slums are dwellings for the lower class and apartment buildings reserved for the minority classes, the middle to rich, in the suburban regions of Mumbai (Urban, 2012). More chaos will ensue today with uneven distribution and growth in Mumbai suburbs; this growth causes reverse suburbanization to trend nowadays (Mundkur, 2021 & Urban, 2012).

Mumbai’s Reverse Suburbanization 

Recently, Mumbai’s reverse suburbanization is now occurring in which Northern Suburbs is becoming a city while the Island City is becoming a suburb (Mundkur, 2021). Comparing density in a sample part of Mumbai, like Colaba, shows a stark contrast. While a suburb like Kurla of 49,000 km2 (ibid), Colaba’s density is 16,000 people/km2. Mundkur considered the invention of the suburb a monster. These changes explain what is causing Island City to become a suburb. First, the Central Business District is moving to more dense northern suburbs to have appropriate spots for varieties such as “retail, commercial, universities, entertainment, medical centres and culture” with “commercial and office centres of the city” and transportation hubs. They need more office and residential space for the crowded “Northern and Central Suburbs” (ibid.). Third, the city has become a “peak land value intersection” shifted from the suburbs. Fourth, reverse commuting went from suburbs to city to city to suburbs (ibid.). Fifth, slums are growing within suburbs, increasing the Northern Suburbs’ population growth (ibid.). Gentrification is similar in different situations (Hochstenbach & Musterd, 2017, Mundkur, 2021). Mumbai indicates the trend will make other cities follow reverse suburbanization.

Lessons from Suburbanization in Mumbai

The complexity of Suburbanizing Mumbai is awestruck. The geographic importance plays the role of Mumbai which has many diverse sectors in a peninsular divide between the city and the suburban region. The turmoil in Mumbai has a long history as a maritime city with many different rulers as a strategic city for coastal trade. The suburbanization and the chaos ensued with multiple sectors of slums, apartments, and other districts in Suburban Mumbai. The reverse suburbanization will turn the southern city into suburbs and Suburban Mumbai into a City. There needs to bring some lessons not only in India but other parts of the world where places like Nigeria and Brazil must learn the lesson of suburbanization from Mumbai, India, where chaos will exist if history and trends are not taken seriously (Arku & Marais, 2021). That is to encourage the global south to consider both urbanization, suburbanization and reverse urbanization lessons learned by Mumbai to know the future of the growing, chaotic cities to manage.


Arku, G. and Marais, L. (2021) “Global south urbanisms and urban sustainability—challenges and the way forward,” Frontiers in Sustainable Cities, 3. Available at: 

Carmona, M. et al. (2011) Public Places-Urban Spaces: The Dimensions of Urban Design. 2nd edn. Oxford: Architectural Press. 

Chopra, P. (2012) “Free to move, forced to flee: The formation and dissolution of suburbs in Colonial Bombay, 1750–1918,” Urban History, 39(1), pp. 83–107. Available at: 

Hochstenbach, C. and Musterd, S. (2017) “Gentrification and the suburbanization of poverty: Changing urban geographies through boom and bust periods,” Urban Geography, 39(1), pp. 26–53. Available at: 

Internet Geography (no date) What is the location and importance of Mumbai?, Internet Geography. Available at: (Accessed: April 3, 2023). 

Miller, J. (no date) Photo of Wealth Divide in Mumbai, India, Business Insider. Business Insider. Available at: (Accessed: April 3, 2023). 

Mundkur, P. (2021) The reverse suburbanisation of Mumbai, Seniors Today. Available at: (Accessed: April 3, 2023). 

Raghavan, C. (2023) Mumbai, Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. Available at: (Accessed: April 3, 2023). 

Sultana, S. and Satyanarayana, A.N. (2019) “Impact of urbanisation on urban heat island intensity during summer and winter over Indian Metropolitan Cities,” Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, 191(S3). Available at: 

Urban, F. (2012) “Mumbai’s suburban mass housing,” Urban History, 39(1), pp. 128–148. Available at: 


Joshua Yae Joon Park wrote about urban planning and architectural articles ranging from urban design to missing middle. After graduating from the University of Waterloo and the University of Western Ontario, Joshua has experience in urban design and planning projects in Southern Ontario.