Thoughtful and clever urban planning is highly essential in today’s scenario where the human population’s ever-changing lifestyle is inducing the growth and development of cities all around the world. Certain measures have been implemented globally to ensure exemplary city planning.
“By far the greatest and most admirable form of wisdom is that needed to plan and beautify cities and human communities.” -Socrates
An “urban infill” is essentially the redevelopment of an underdeveloped or vacant piece of land, usually surrounded by developed structures, in an existing neighbourhood. Usually, these in-fills are located in an area which has already been bestowed with good public infrastructure such as proper roads, sewer lines, water supply, etc.
Infill development leads to a generation of sustainable communities as it does not require the addition of public infrastructure and facilities. Usually, these developments are executed in neighbourhoods that consist of mixed-use land. This means that essential facilities like clinics and grocery stores may be located in proximity to the infill development, encouraging walking within the urban community, reducing vehicular pollution. Furthermore, regular walkability also encourages improvement of public health.
Additionally, implementation of affordable housing projects in such undeveloped land pockets may also boost social equity, promoting the migration of people into urban areas. Introducing urban infill developments also spawns a close-knit community, thus making the city more liveable all-in-all.
In a city like Mumbai which attracts hordes of migrants annually increasing its population exponentially, space is undoubtedly a constraint. The land use of the city has also changed drastically over the years, and the number of open spaces and empty plots are reducing day by day. In fact, it was land reclamation and infill executed in the 18th and 19th Century that aided the integration of the seven islands that Mumbai originally comprised of. Provision of adequate social and affordable housing in the city is lacking, which has regrettably led to about 60% of the city’s population living in slums. Emphasis has only been laid on the development of profitable high-rise buildings for high-income groups, and hence the development of social housing and affordable housing as not been given the attention it deserves. In fact, some of these slum dwellers occupy land that is worth millions of rupees, but are unable to conduct a profitable transaction as they have occupied the land informally.
Today, most of the land pockets that stand vacant in Mumbai are scattered around the city, each already belonging to a particular urban locality. According to the Mumbai Development Plan 2034, about 63% of the total available land has been reserved for affordable housing, which is undoubtedly in high demand but alas, currently its supply is comparatively low.
Another scheme under the 2034 Mumbai Development Plan includes the augmentation of salt pan lands situated mostly along the eastern coast of the city. 3000 acres of this land out of 5000 acres is developable. Since these lands are situated in densely urban areas such as Ghatkopar, Mulund and Vikhroli in the east, and Dahisar and Mira Road along the western coast, they already have access to ample public infrastructure, making habitation of such infills feasible.
It is not necessary that these in-fills may be used to provide housing particularly. Though 88% of the city uses some form of public transport, the remaining population that uses privately-owned vehicles is a considerably large group of people. This has created parking issues on streets causing traffic congestion all around the city, and the demand for high rise buildings with multiple levels of parking has increased. Possibly, to overcome this issue, infills too could be developed into multiple storeyed parking lots.
The development of small land pockets within urban areas also brings about a decrease in the exploitation of large green land parcels such as forests, mangroves and beaches, thus protecting the environment, especially since development of sewer, electricity, gas, and water lines will not be required. The conservation of such green open spaces is absolutely essential especially for a city that has an urban density as high as Mumbai, to maintain and improve the physical as well as mental wellbeing of the public.
If the city of Mumbai is successful in its urban planning, it can inspire the planning of other metropolitan as well as second tier cities using a similar schemes and planning techniques, which would be less challenging as most other cities are not as densely populated. Schemes such as redevelopment plans and urban infill proposals are an excellent way to make cities better in a sustainable and economical fashion, thus retaining natural features such as untouched forests, beaches, and mangroves. As the rural population gradually flocks to the urban areas, it is highly essential to ensure that adequate and affordable living facilities are available to them in these areas, which must also be well connected to the commercial, employment-generating areas by public transport facilities.