Tuesday, December 05, 2006
I am currently in Mumbai, recruiting MBA students. This is my second trip to this marvelous, vibrant, horrible city. When I walk the streets here, I think about Dickens' London.
The city is remarkably entrepreneurial . There are people selling stuff everywhere, and lots of cottage industry, even in the slums. Kids are going to school here in much larger numbers than 30 years ago, and so literacy has risen dramatically. One sees fashionable shops, and the street along the sea, Marine Drive, could become among the most attractive in the world, comparable to Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.
Yet it is a city of eight million in which 20 percent have no access to toilets; in which the largest slum in the world sits; in which commuter trains run with 4 to 5 times the number of passengers for which they were designed; in which live many pavement dwellers. Many workers do unspeakably difficult tasks--such as breaking up old ships with hammers--for about $2 per day.
Some of the horrors here are a function of the fact that this remains a city that, despite substantial progress, remains extraordinarily poor. But land use policy here makes things worse. Two issues stand out in particular. First, government and quasi government enterprises own vast swatches of land here--the old port is one example. To say this land is underutilized is a severe understatement. Mumbai badly needs to use its developable land--right now land here is as expensive as it is in Montgomery County Maryland, while incomes here are about 1/50th of what they are in Montgomery County.
Second, there is a hostility here to tall buildings. But the Mumbai peninsula, with 150,000 people per square mile, is twice as dense as Manhattan. The only way people can be housed reasonably here is to build up. High rise housing had a bad reputation, I think, because of the ugliness perpetrated in the former Soviet and Soviet-satellite cities. East Berlin was not very attractive (nor was most of the high-rise public housing built in the US). But Hong Kong, Singapore, New York and Chicago demonstrate that high rise housing can be attractive. Shanghai has used high-rise housing to rapidly improve housing conditions there in the past 15 years.
One could talk about a lot of other things Mumbai needs to do to move forward--infrastructure development--including good sidewalks--needs to be on the top of the list. But giving people more room to live might do more than anything else to improve living conditions here.