Where is the open space in Mumbai?

November 2, 2011 / By  

People familiar with Mumbai’s residential market might be aware about the special provisions developers make in their upcoming projects; swimming pool, sports arena, theme gardens, podium park and much more. It has gone to the extent of providing personal decks, flower beds and lily ponds at every floor, and jogging tracks on the terrace! I have wondered for long about why so much “non residential space” is being provided along with a humble house where the space loading is as high as 80% on the carpet area of the house and I think I found the answer in Mumbai’s abysmal availability of open spaces.

Mumbai, for its 14 million people has public open space of only 14 sq km (out of 480 sq km) or just 2.5% of its city area. This includes parks, playing fields and recreation grounds and accounts for only 1.95 sqm space per capita. This is grossly below the UN FAO (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization) standard of 9 sqm per capita and significantly less than Delhi and Bangalore’s offering of 15 and 6.4 sqm per capita respectively. In fact, Chandigarh in north India offers 35% of its city area for open spaces, Delhi utilizes 20% for gardens and parks, and even the world’s most congested cities like Tokyo and New York are better off than Mumbai with 6 and 2.5 sqm per capita, respectively.

What I found more disturbing was not utilisng Mumbai’s natural gifts. An open western coast line of 35 km and a natural harbour on its eastern coast is kept away from people with less than ten organised access areas to the sea. With hardly any watersports and occasional water front parks, Mumbai’s biggest neighbour- the Arabian Sea is reduced to a mute spectator for Mumbaikars’ (Residents of Mumbai) plight for lack of recreation areas.

Mumbai has a 50 sq km- national park within, but is underutilised; has areas covered by mangroves and wet lands that are meant to be a protected zones without public access but that are fast being encroached by squatters.

And hence, Mumbai’s real estate is creating its own family level open spaces in its residential projects. It is clear that only the crème-de la crème can afford this but the aspiration fast trickles down from luxury to high end and then to mid end residences where one pays almost twice the money for buying “non residential space” while buying a house. Creating such spaces artificially on a concrete base means a heavy carbon footprint, higher energy consumption, depriving air space for additional residences that the city requires so badly, and above all taking the property price beyond the sustainable limit for the majority of citizens.

When the buyers pay through their nose, the city authorities gain nothing as their tax is based on habitable areas and not on the add-ons. Finally, the city authority has acted and will charge a premium from developers for allowing construction of “non residential” elements. Such as lily ponds, flower beds, covered swimming pools and other fancy facilities.

I hope that this revenue will be judiciously used to free enclosed public spaces, to create more open areas for everyone in the city and to generally improve the infrastructure to breathe a new life into Mumbaikars’ stressed life with more green to soothe the eye, more oxygen towards healthier breathing, more spaces for people to stay fit and also for birds, bees and flowers to be part of this thriving city that never sleeps!

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