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Tall Buildings in Mumbai: High Expectations?
Mumbai's experiencing growing pains - the city wants to go up, but can it provide the infrastructure needed to support vertical development? Photo by Deepak Gupta.

Mumbai's experiencing growing pains - the city wants to go up, but can it provide the infrastructure needed to support vertical development? Photo by Deepak Gupta.

Today, the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH) kicked off their 2010 World Conference in Mumbai, titled Remaking Sustainable Cities in the Vertical Age.

Rapid urbanization of developing countries such as India and China over the past decade have resulted in almost 200,000 people migrating from rural to urban regions every day.  This translates into the need for the world to accommodate the equivalent of a new city of one million people every week.  How can our urban centers absorb this growth?  To improve energy efficiency, encourage transportation alternatives, and preserve open space, it seems clear that we need to build up, not out.

Mumbai, the conference’s host city, is emblematic of the pressures many developing cities face.  Its population is 16 million and growing daily, while its infrastructure has seen little improvement since construction.  Mass transit, power, waste handling, and access to clean water seem to be operating beyond capacity.  Furthermore, Mumbai’s geographic situation on a narrow peninsula, with its business district concentrated near the end, exacerbates crowding and stretches services thinner.

Mumbai is not alone – cities throughout the developed and developing worlds are struggling with how to re-make cities in a sustainable way.  The CTBUH conference will examine these urban policy issues, considering what role tall buildings and increased density will play in the cities of the future.  After a welcome by the Prime Minister of India, the Vice President, and other ministers, 21 sessions will be held on topics ranging from sustainable urban development to architectural advances to social trends involving high rises.  Additionally, technical tours of local buildings will be offered on Day 2.

Divergent opinions on the development of high rises in Mumbai have already been expressed.  The Remaking of Mumbai Federation, a focus group that promotes the redevelopment of the city’s pre-1940 structures and a joint organizer of the conference, advocates the demolition of these buildings and the creation of taller ones, with the simultaneous re-housing of tenants and sale of extra space to subsidize costs.  Antony Wood, the executive director of CTBUH, stressed the critical need for infrastructure supportive of tall buildings, including schools, hospitals and open spaces.  SK Das of SK Das Associated Architects, New Delhi, commented that while growing affluence, rising prices, and globalization will lead to taller cities, the Indian city, with its diversity and complexity, “has to be a mosaic of high-rise, mid-rise and low-rise structures”.

Developing the infrastructure to support vertical urban growth is no easy task, either.  Regulatory and legislative reforms are needed.  Traditional property-by-property methods of redevelopment are not working.  Urban planners and advocates are calling for a holistic approach towards redevelopment – “cluster” development – where 250-300-acre sectors of land would be rebuilt with new infrastructure, green areas, and public amenities.  However, this requires intense cooperation on the part of city agencies.

Innovative financing mechanisms also need to be developed.  In recent years, a good deal of private equity investment was made across India, with the expectation of infrastructure development.  But hoped-for infrastructure developments never got off the ground, and international investors were deterred from investing in the Indian market.  Experts suggest a government guarantee of funds for basic infrastructure to remedy this.

The CTBUH conference will continue until February 5 in the Renaissance Hotel & Convention Centre.

Fun fact: The CTBUH is also the arbiter of the criteria upon which tall building height is measured, and thus determines the title of ‘The World’s Tallest Building’.

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