It’s shocking sometimes how, despite immense differences in culture, political structure, and history, cities around the world seem to be grappling with the same problems.
This struck me a few days ago when I came across an article in Canada’s national rag, the Globe and Mail, detailing the struggle between public interest and private development—or gentrification—in Mumbai.
In this case, the struggle centers on an unusual site: the world’s largest open-air laundry, known as Dhobi Ghat, where some 10,000 dhobis (washermen) come to collectively wash more than a million articles of clothing a day.
The dhobis’ de facto labor union is locked in a legal dispute with the city government over a startlingly familiar force: condo development.
From the article:
The source of the conflict is simple: This patch of land in the heart of Mumbai where the dhobis ply their trade is only 40,000 square feet, about the size of two Shoppers Drug Mart stores—yet it’s worth a staggering 10 billion rupees ($220 million) and is perhaps the last meaningful chance at large-scale development in Mumbai’s land-starved high-density financial district.
. . .
The city’s current property bubble can be traced back to 2005 when the government opened up the real estate market to foreign direct investment. Today, land in Mumbai is worth more than land in Manhattan.
Mumbai’s developers believe that it is only a matter of time until the BMC [Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the city government] gives in to the demands of the commercial real estate lobby and forces the dhobis to sell their land.
I happened to come across this article at the perfect time. Tomorrow Elma van Boxel and Kristian Koreman of ZUS [Zones Urbaines Sensibles] are hosting a discussion at the Lab called “Beyond Segrification: Models for Equal Glocalization,” which will focus on the question of how we can find sustainable models for development that do not push out locals.
It will be fascinating to see this discussion continue as the Lab moves on to Berlin and later to Mumbai itself. It will offer us the opportunity to really understand the process through which we look for solutions to these ubiquitous urban problems within their individual contexts.
Does the cultural context change the implication of the problem itself? Even if the problem is the same, does the solution change when we move from place to place around the world? Can solutions to Manhattan’s problems be applied in a place like Mumbai?
You readers probably come from all over the world … so what do you think? How do we go about looking for solutions to global urban problems when their impact is felt on such a local scale?