50 Ways to Game a City


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50 Ways to Game a City: Loophole Planning in Contemporary Mumbai by Vyjayanthi Rao and Vineet Diwadkar with support from the Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in the Fine Arts, Harvard University Graduate School of Design, Harvard University South Asia Institute, Terreform Center for Advanced Urban Research and the Urban Design Research Institute.

This collaborative book of maps, drawings, images, and writing considers the role of the slum in generating Mumbai’s contemporary urban form. We use speculation as a category to analyze land conversion and occupation practices in post-1991 Mumbai, and consider the landscape economies produced by slums as alternatives for working with the unknown and risk in the city.

Human activity has transformed Mumbai through successive land reclamations from sea, wetlands and refuse into a landscape intensifying trading, industrial activity, and real estate investment. Twentieth century Mumbai was locked by the sea, and also by restrictive urban policies, intense demand for space, and strained municipal planning capacity. Policies stemming from economic liberalization in 1991 have re-configured and re-categorized relationships between people, land, space, and economies towards increased volatility. A flood of domestic and foreign investment has manipulated these loopholes into a dominant planning mechanism, spurring new markets for the architectural currencies of people, transferrable development rights, and spatial allotments. The abstraction and commodification of people and space disassociated occupants from the ways they related with land, and has focused their attention on the volatility of the land conversion process.

Over the past twenty-five years, land occupiers, land converters, and professional intermediaries have developed speculative practices to harness uncertainty towards new possibilities from inside and outside state-legitimized categories. Dharavi, M ward, and Dahisar are wet frontiers where slums persist as a pattern for coastal urbanization in Mumbai’s history, generating wet-specific models through which land occupiers drain and fill terrain to support habitation and labor. Over the longer term, land converters seek to capture this drier land, reclassify, and redevelop it towards higher exchange-value outcomes. In this book, we analyze four ecology-based workflow settlements for their relation with wet terrain, spatial interactions, economies and valuations of this landscape, and the ways their practices of speculating on this landscape maximize their possibilities.

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