India's Megacity Discusses its Mega-Problems

Naresh Fernandes chronicles a recent upsurge in events providing opportunities for Mumbai's residents, and fascinated guests, to discuss the city's myriad challenges, and possible solutions. But can all the talk result in real action?
May 4, 2012, 7am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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As Fernandes notes, Mumbai's challenges are varied, "an acute shortage of affordable housing that has forced 62 per cent of its population to live in slums, the pressure-cooker conditions in local trains that carry 7.2 million people a day, the severe absence of parks that leaves every 1,000 Mumbaikars with merely 0.003 hectares of open space." Fernandes observes an increasingly varied series of discussions, exhibits, and lectures oriented around identifying and addressing these challenges. What will come of this increased focus, however?

"Despite all the seminars and roundtables and discussions, though, organizers are aware that it isn't easy to convert the ideas they generate into public policy, especially in a city where property developers, the politicians who make the rules for real estate development and the bureaucrats who regulate the murky process often are the same entity," writes Fernandes.

"Change isn't impossible – if it is backed by a lot of effort, insists P.K. Das, the architect who conceptualized the 'Open Mumbai' exhibition on creating more public spaces in the city. Many politicians visited the exhibition and Mr. Das said he hoped they departed with fresh ideas. But most of all, he hoped that the exhibition and the discussions around it will convince Mumbaikars that it is actually possible to find solutions for many of their problems. 'Pressures put on the government by the citizens and their movements will determine our success,' he said."

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Published on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 in The New York Times
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