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Master Cities & Defiant Neighborhoods: Tokyo to Mumbai

Matias Sendoa Echanove / matias@urbanology.org Graduate School of Interdisciplinary Information Studies, The University of Tokyo

Abstract: Throughout the world, countless urban communities are challenged by generic redevelopment plans presented as urban rationalization and modernization. While these redevelopment plans usually benefit real estate actors and financing institutions operating on a global scale, they are often harmful to local residents. This paper argues that a conceptual vacuum allows the rhetoric and imaginary of the generic city to dominate the field of urban planning and development. The paper also questions the category slum which needs to be investigated and transcended. The concept of the organic city is presented as an alternative to both, the generic city and the slum. Examples are drawn from the authors own involvement with urban communities in Tokyo and Mumbai.

All over the world local communities are defying top-down master plans. In Asia, the extremely high speed of urbanization makes this confrontation all the more dramatic. This paper questions the ideological bias that legitimizes urban redevelopment plans in Tokyo, Mumbai and beyond. My involvement over the last three years with grassroots groups opposing a redevelopment plan in the bohemian neighborhood of Shimokitazawa in Tokyo, and more recently, with local communities in the outcast settlement of Dharavi in Mumbai inform this essay. I firstly propose a new concept, the organic city (or at least a new meaning to the term), which should help understand what hyper-modern Tokyo has in common with Mumbais slums. I then argue that the organic city is the dominant urban form in Asia and that a certain idea of urban planning and real estate development has prevented architects and planners from recognizing it as a legitimate alternative to master planned cities. Finally, I expose the limits of the category slum that is used to describe unplanned settlements in Mumbai. From the Generic City to the Organic City In a 1996 interview, Rem Koolhaas stated, the generic city, the general urban condition, is happening everywhere, and just the fact that it occurs in such enormous quantities must mean that it's habitable.1 This paper turns Koolhaas argument upon its head and asserts that the organic city, the general urban condition, is happening everywhere, and just the fact that it occurs in such enormous quantities must mean that its habitable. The organic city is the unplanned city; the city that emerges spontaneously to fulfill peoples need for sheltering and spaces of trade and production. This is not a romantic notion. On the contrary, this term is an attempt to pragmatically describe the dominant reality of Asian cities and can hopefully help us think about our urban future in more creative ways. Of course, the reality of the organic city is Asia is subjected to a certain idea of the modern city, which is systematically conceived as versions of New York, Hong Kong or Singapore. Urban China is currently ruthlessly being reshaped in this image. Mumbais future is also irredeemably envisioned as high-rise, car-centric, consumer-orientated, with functionally and socially segregated neighborhoods.
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Rem Koolhaas, Interviewed in Wired Magazine, July 1996 (emphasis added) http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.07/koolhaas.html

Koolhaas suggestion that the generic city is the inescapable future of Asian megacities, and that we therefore have no choice but to embrace it, is the pense unique2 (single thought) of urban development. The message is clear: there is no alternative, and even if there were alternatives, they will not materialize. In consequence, we are only allowed to think about Asian cities in a binary way: the modern city (high rise Western type building) and the backward city (the slum). Simplistic conceptions of urban development have prevented generations of architects, planners, policy-makers and the general public, from recognizing the existence and validity of other forms of urbanity. As a result, planning departments and other slum redevelopment authorities have been unable to produce anything other than dull copies of an idealized Western model. This happens at a time when this model itself is increasingly perceived as being socially and ecologically unsustainable. The generic city imposes itself first as an economic model; the very model that the two Asian giants, China and India, are eagerly embracing. The notion is that Western-style urbanization is the high way to economic development. So much so that the two have become synonymous in the minds of government officials. However, the case of Tokyo shows that another path to urban development is possible, even in a context of economic globalization. Shimokitazawa and the Tokyo Model Tokyo, which was destroyed twice over the last century, first by the Great Kanto earthquake in 1923 and then again by allied firebombs during the Pacific War, developed itself very rapidly but also largely incrementally, particularly in the periphery. In the post war period, the bankrupt Japanese government was unable to implement citywide redevelopment plans based on modern planning ideas. It focused instead on infrastructure development to support the economy and left residential and commercial urban development to local actors. Thus in spite of some deliberate planning attempts to widen major streets and introduce reinforce concrete buildings the majority of neighborhoods were characterized by flimsy wooden constructions, and slum-type housing dominated many areas until the 1960s.3 While buildings and infrastructure have improved over the years, "there are few effective zoning laws, small civic endeavours, little city planning. While houses are subject to strict scrutiny, the surrounding streets are not. These are thus allowed an organic life of their own. They proliferate, and street life takes on unrestricted, natural forms."4 Tokyos organic urbanism evokes older patterns that have adapted to contemporary needs. The neighborhood of Shimokitazawa in Tokyo is the quintessential example of the citys incremental urban development. Shimokitazawa grew from being a village with rice fields in the periphery of Edo to become the very modern and urbane cultural and commercial center it is today. Shimokitazawa retains a village feel and an old Tokyo atmosphere, which contributes to its present popularity. Its typology is similar to that of many Asian informal settlements: small and low-rise buildings along an intricate network of mostly pedestrian streets, bustling ground level market activity, and tight community networks. Its hundreds of specialty stores, small bars and exotic restaurants attract a colorful crowd from Japan and

This expression was coined by Le Monde Diplomatiques Editor Ignacio Ramonet to describe the way in which political discussion on economic policy is being muttered by the notion that "there is no alternative" to the global spread of the American-brand of economic liberalism. 3 Carola Hein, Jeffry M. Diefendorf, Yorifusa Ishida (Eds), Rebuilding Urban Japan After 1945, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003, p. 26 4 Donald Richie, Introducing Tokyo, Kodansha America; Rev Ed edition, June 1987, pp. 39-40

abroad. In Shimokitazawa, a youthful community of artists, musicians, students and freelancers lives alongside long-time residents. A unique combination of local autonomy and infrastructural retrofitting by government allowed neighborhoods such as Shimokitazawa to emerge. This kind of development, at the same time spontaneous and serviced, is not yet recognized as a potent model for other Asian cities. Instead, a neo-dirigiste approach serving the colluded interests of the government, large NGOs, real-estate developers and speculators is presented left and right as the only possible path to development. Until now there is no way to refer to unplanned urban areas other than opposing it to the formal/planned/legit city. And many unplanned areas have been labeled slums indiscriminately. This label has been used and abused to promote top down redevelopment plans.

Dharavikitazawa: Photoshop collage showing the striking typological similarity between


Shimokitazawa (right) and Dharavi (left).

The Slum Fallacy The organic city concept both encompasses and transcends the category of slum. In order to explain this, it is necessary to expose the shortcomings of some generally accepted facts and ideas about slums. Mike Davis who so brilliantly and sensitively described Los Angeles from within, in City of Quartz, failed to do the same in Planet of Slums. Whereas the former is an engaged critique of LAs paranoid urbanism, the latter reads more like a United Nations report. The book relies on a statistical definition of slums, which is at the same time too general and too reductive. The statistics Mike Davis uses are well-known: A third of the global urban

population lives in slums, which represents 78.2 percent of urbanites in least developed countries; Mumbai is the slum capital of the world with 10 to 12 million squatters and tenements dwellers5; and so on. In Planet of Slums, Mike Davis is uncritical of the mainstream concept of slum, despite the fact that many of the people who live in so-called slums, do not perceive them as such. In Mumbai many historical hamlets have been indiscriminately described as slums. Khotatchiwadi for instance is a centrally located Mumbai neighborhood that developed incrementally throughout the century preserving a quiet village feel and a strong sense of community. Lost in the middle of the rapidly developing city, Khotatchiwadi doesnt correspond to any standard urban category and as a result has been amalgamated to a slum in spite of the fact that it is a well functioning middle-class neighborhood. 6 This categorization is often used to justify redevelopment projects. Just like most urban planners and architects, Mike Davis fails to acknowledge the rural legacy of many slums throughout the world. He doesnt explicitly recognize the fact that most slums are nothing else than vernacular urbanism, produced with local materials and knowhow. The amalgam between the problems of the slums and the slums as a problem has often led to dramatic outcomes for slum dwellers such as slum clearance and blind redevelopment. Slums, or informal settlements are not a problem per se. They are instead the materialization of the solutions that poor people managed to find to their need for shelter, space and for productive activity. The definition of slum dwellers used by the United Nation Task Force in Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers, which is also the one Mike Davis uses, is a catchall: a group of individuals living under the same roof lacking one or more of the following necessities: access to improved water, access to improved sanitation, sufficient living area, structural quality and durability of dwellings, and security of tenure7. How many decent houses in Tokyo actually fall under this definition? How many rundown social housing projects in Europe, Asia and the Americas escape it? Dharavi and the Alternative Future of Mumbai The current category of slum amalgamates a wide range of habitats, and provides the best excuse for ruthless redevelopment. This is nowhere as obvious as in the case of Dharavi, in Mumbai, which Mike Davis refers to as Asias largest slum (despite the fact that no reliable demographic survey is currently available). Dharavi grew from being a fishermans village some 400 years ago to being a bustling commercial, industrial and residential center today. In Dharavi all types of constructions can be found, from country houses to shacks, buildings, factories and stores. Some people, by ignorance or calculation, picture Dharavi as a wasteland full of tent-like temporary structures; an immense junkyard crowded with undernourished people hopelessly disconnected from the rest of the world, surviving on charity and pulling the whole citys economy backward. The reality could hardly be more different: Dharavi is a highly developed urban area composed of very distinct neighborhoods and communities with a bustling economic activity integrated socially, economically, and culturally at the metropolitan, regional and global level. Moreover it is a platform for the social and economic ascension of
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Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, Verso New York, 2006 Rahul Srivastava & Matias Echanove, Why Mumbais Slums are Actually Villages (Essay for Urban Age Seminar Publication), April 2007 7 UN Millenium Project: Task Force on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers, Earthscan, USA, 2005, p. 12

tens of thousands of people that keep coming to Mumbai from all over the Indian subcontinent. It is often in Dharavi that they find their first job and shelter. Most mass media, developers, and politicians have presented a tabula raza approach as the only way ahead for Dharavi, ignoring decades of incremental self-development that made Dharavi into a unique urban, economic and cultural environment. The current Dharavi Redevelopment Project overlooks the deep interconnections between the urban and economic development of Dharavi: The decentralized, human scale, home-based, work intensive, specialized, flexible and highly responsive economic activity of Dharavi is intrinsically connected to its pedestrian, community-centric, network-based, high-density, lowrise, mixed-use, street-level, organic, and incrementally developing urban form. Redevelopment plans biased in the interest of private developers is not only happening in developing countries. For instance, Shimokitazawa is now under intense pressure from the government, which is pushing for the construction of a new 26 meter-wide road that would cut right through the neighborhood. Residents, intellectuals and independent planning experts and architects from Japan and abroad, have spoken against the plan, but have not been heard by the government so far. Indeed, the epic battle between autonomous communities and dominant empires seems to be in perpetual repeat mode throughout the world. The all too common human, cultural and economic tragedy of redevelopment plans indiscriminately directed at informal settlements and historical quarters reveals times and again that urban planning is used to centralize resources and organize territorial control rather than to promote sustainable social, economic, cultural and ecological development. While this argument usually leads to a critique of global political economic order, vested interests and intended choices, there is an urgent need to address it at the conceptual level. Some of the richest parts of our cities keep being dismissed as backward and illegitimate, even by those who advocate on behalf of their populations. The city is usually conceptualized from above and in a binary manner, leaving us with the unsatisfactory categories of slum/informal vs. modern/formal areas. The concept of the organic city aims at filling up that conceptual void so that even unplanned areas can start being recognized as valid forms of urbanity. The organic city lies conceptually and physically in between the two extreme examples of Tokyo and Mumbai. It is a spontaneously and incrementally developing environment that evolved over generations. It is often culturally dynamic and creative. It challenges the ideology of planned, mass-produced urban environments relying instead on local skills and cultural capital. In todays environmentally challenged world, it provides a genuine alternative to the problems most cities face. The organic city form can absorb high population densities in an environmentally and socially sustainable way. Besides, in a global context in which the poor are increasing by the millions and living in degraded urban environments, it has the potential to change the paradigm of urbanism - as well as their lives. This potential doesnt get activated by making the organic city, but merely by recognizing it as a valid urban form and helping it develop from within.

Bibliography: Mike Davis, Planet of Slums, Verso New York, 2006 Mike Davis, City of Quartz: Excavating the Future of Los Angeles, Pimlico; New Ed edition, 1998 Carola Hein, Jeffry M. Diefendorf, Yorifusa Ishida (Eds), Rebuilding Urban Japan After 1945, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003 Rem Koolhaas, Hans Werlemann and Bruce Mau, S,M,L,XL, The Monacelli Press, New York, 1994 (2nd edition 1997) Rem Koolhaas, Interviewed in Wired Magazine, July 1996 http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/4.07/koolhaas.html Philippe Pons, DEdo A Tokyo: Memoires et Modernites, Gallimard 1988, Paris Donald Richie, Introducing Tokyo, Kodansha America; Rev Ed edition, June 1987 Peter Rowe, Introduction in Tokyo Inner City Project Notes, Harvard, Keio studio Published in Japan, 2003 Andre Sorensen, The Making of Urban Japan: Cities and planning from Edo to the twentyfirst century, Nissan Institute / Routledge Japanese Studies Series, 2002 Rahul Srivastava, & Matias Echanove, Why Mumbais Slums are Actually Villages (Work in Progress Essay for Urban Age Seminar Publication) UN Millenium Project: Task Force on Improving the Lives of Slum Dwellers, Earthscan, USA, 2005 Website: Airoots / Eirut, Rahul Srivastava & Matias Echanove, 2007-2008: www.airoots.org Dharavi.organic, Participatory website, 2008: www.dharavi.org Urban Typhoon Workshop 2006 & 2008, www.urbantyphoon.com