chapter  7
Protecting the Habitat: Redevelopment, Illegibility, and the Strength of Dharavi
Pages 20

Dharavi is one of the biggest “slums” on Earth (Figures 7.1, 7.2). Four centuries ago, this location was a small fishing village, a koliwada, on the outskirts of Bombay (now Mumbai). Due to the city’s extensive growth, Dharavi is now “centrally located,” adjacent to Mumbai’s new business district, Bandra Kurla. During its long existence, Dharavi has undergone many transformations, especially since the late 1940s. These changes were caused mainly by the self-building efforts of its expanding population and “slum upgrading” projects carried out by the state. No matter how “bad” the living conditions may be, the inhabitants have established a fabric of social relations critical to their livelihoods (see Simone 2010). In recent years, Dharavi has been in the news due to “Asia’s largest urban renewal project,” called Support Our Slums. The term “slum” is used indiscriminately as a value-free word in India, especially among the middle class, professionals, and bureaucrats, for self-established neighborhoods of low-income people. In regard to Dharavi, this designation implies that the current “development model” is unacceptable to formal society, especially for the middle class and power-holders. The latest proposal for redevelopment was made by Mukesh Mehta, chairman of M.M. Project Consultants. The project seeks to demolish the old “slum” and replace it with residential towers, industrial parks, golf courses, a sports complex, and hotels, thus replacing the grime with glitter. The numbers reveal the project’s magnitude: 600,000 people, 535 acres, 40 million sq.ft. of commercial space for sale, Rs. 9,000 crore (USD 2 billion) spent over seven years.1