Restoration Of Waterfronts, Mumbai

A Movement for Protection and Development ofMumbais Seafront

One of Mumbai’s greatest assets is its coastline which forms a series of unique and picturesque waterfronts. Unfortunately, these have become the backyard of the city and degenerated into its biggest dumping ground. Reclamation, sewage disposal and encroachment have ravaged the waterfronts.

While the eastern coast has been put to use for defence and docks, thus restricting public access, the city’s 34-km, western coast has never been considered in the planning and development process.

But, for the millions who live in the crowded city, the waterfronts are the only major open spaces, whether it is Marine Drive, Chowpatty, Haji Ali, Worli Sea Face, Dadar Beach, Bandra Bandstand, Carter Road, Juhu Beach or Versova. The waterfronts are Mumbai’s most significant and popular public spaces.

People from all sections of society, from the city and its suburbs, and tourists flock to these places to relax. Unplanned commercialization has destroyed the natural environment considerably. The absence of a master plan for development of the waterfronts has encouraged the rich and the powerful to manipulate and grab land along the coast, thus gradually depleting the city of its most vital open spaces.

Our objective is to restore and preserve their natural beauty. We had to offer simple, modest and pragmatic design solutions that work within the existing realities to solve key problems. This, we expect, will generate a momentum for positive change. There can be no grandiose ideas here. In fact, no major construction should be allowed on these waterfronts. Secondly, we propose a selective reallocation of spaces and activities, and thirdly, very minimal restructuring. Most importantly, these waterfronts must remain the collective asset of the city and all its citizens, and a vibrant element in its environmental and social fabric.

In the redeveloped sections, a new relationship between people and public space is emerging. What was, for many years, a filthy backyard to the city and neighbourhood, has now been transformed into a forecourt for social and cultural activity. Neighbourhood citizens’ associations, zealous maintenance activities and social events are all signs of a positive and socially participatory attitude that is emerging slowly. A sense of pride and belonging can be seen in the people who live around these waterfronts and in those who visit.

The idea is to renew social activities at the water’s edge, like the Bandstand, where once a band used to play music as people gathered round. New relationships and new ways of addressing public issues may emerge from such gatherings. We see this movement as not merely a beautification programme, but as part of a larger democratic struggle for reclaiming public space, and to create spaces where people meet, share their experiences and begin to care about each other.

Public spaces in Mumbai should be integrated structurally into the larger programmes for the city’s development, with special emphasis on its social and environmental constitution. Clearly, a comprehensive plan for the city’s public spaces is absolutely necessary.

This movement for the restoration of Mumbai’s seafronts is a significant step in that direction.

The nearly three-kilometre-long seafronts of Bandra Bandstand and Carter Road have been reclaimed successfully now to the public sphere and brought under collective social control. Protection and redevelopment of Juhu Beach and the Dadar- Prabhadevi Beach, each nearly a three-kilometre stretch, are under way. Restoration and revitalization of the Land’s End Hill, an important heritage precinct in Bandra, is now complete.

All the seafront redevelopments have been promoted by the various local area residents’ associations, and have been actively supported and funded by Ms Shabana Azmi (for Bandra and Juhu), Ms Hema Malini (for Juhu) and Mr. Manohar Joshi (for Dadar-Prabhadevi) under the MP Lad Scheme.

A preliminary survey of the entire western waterfront, recording existing land use and activity, has been carried out along with architect Tanu Sankalia.