Mumbai is the capital of the Indian state of Maharashtra and an important harbor city on the west coast of India, situated on the Arabian Sea. With more than 12 million inhabitants, Mumbai is the most populous city in India and the eighth most populous city in the world (2011, Wikipedia).
The greater Mumbai metropolitan area – comprising the “Mumbai suburban district” as well as the cities of Navi Mumbai, Thane, Bhiwandi, and Kalyan – is home for 21,5 million people. Depending on how one defines the size of mega cities, Greater Mumbai is second in size only to the metropolis of the Indian capital New Delhi,with a population of 25 million people in 2014 (UN World Urbanization Prospects).
With approximately 28,000 people per square kilometer (73,000 per square mile), Mumbai is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. In comparison, Tokyo counts 11,000 people per square mile, New York about 6,000, whereas Shanghai and Berlin accommodate 3,600 to 3,800 people per square kilometer. In extreme, the slum of Dharavi reaches an incredible density of 334,728 people square kilometer or 869,565 people per square mile.
Mumbai is one of the wealthiest cities in India, accounting for 25% of industrial output and 70% of maritime trade. The city is a commercial, financial and entertainment capital of India. And the heart of the Hindi film industry – known as “Bollywood” – is to be found in Mumbai. Most of India’s major television networks and publishing houses are located here as well. This concentration of cultural and financial institutions attracts migrants from all over the country and creates a high level of diversity.
In fact, 62% of all Mumbaikars live in slums. The absolute number reaches about 9 million people, living in places like Dharavi – the largest slum in the centre of Mumbai – packing up to 1 million people living in just two square kilometers.
On the other hand, Mumbai is known for its colonial-era buildings, soviet-style offices and two UNESCO world heritage sites. Counting 31 buildings taller than 100 meters, the Imperial Towers (256 m / 840 ft) are the highest to date. The futuristic Residence Antilia – completed in 2010 by Perkins + Will architects – was reported to be the most expensive home in the world.
As the city is overcrowded and housing expensive in Mumbai, lots of people live far away from their workplaces and need to travel daily.
88% of commuters use public transport, i.e. suburban railways, buses, public taxis or rickshaws. Starting with a central plan in 2004, the concept of a metro system slowly became reality. In June 2014 the first line started service.
Given all these matters of size and inequality – how can Mumbai cope with its rapid growth and all the problems typical for a densely populated megacity? There are three concurrent initiatives which can be observed:
First, the persistent influx of new residents into the area is responsible for soaring real estate prices and a significant increase of investments in construction and transportation projects. We could call the recent efforts a “remodeling” of the city: New skyscrapers are built in former traditional neighborhoods, increasing the need for innovative traffic concepts with modernized public transportation.
A further important aspect is that this mostly privately driven boom is accompanied by public initiatives to influence development with regulations. A recent attempt of this was the “Mumbai development plan 2034” (DP) released in a draft version by the “Municipial Corporation for Greater Mumbai” in spring 2015. Unfortunately, the paper contained several errors regarding the mapping of land use and traffic infrastructure. It will undergo revision, to be completed in August. The fact that the proposal of the DP has been intensely debated since then shows the difficulty in balancing the demand for increased density for business high-rises and luxury apartments with the need for cheap housing, open spaces and a more sustainable evolution of the metropolis.
Lastly, we see citizens working with grass-roots associations that try to improve living conditions in slums through simple measures such as building public toilets, supporting education programs, and preserving open public spaces in the city center. Organizations like the Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI) try to lay out potential paths to a new, vibrant Mumbai.
In the year 2030, two of the top five megacities will be in India. Despite the fact that the Tokyo region will still lead the ranking, the real regional and national competition will be between India and China. Recently, the International Monetary Fund determined that India’s GDP growth rate will overtake that of China in 2015 and continue leading in the following years.
In the future, it will be crucial for Mumbai and other Indian cities to raise investments in infrastructure and foster public-private partnerships for more balanced and sustainable growth of some of the largest urban centers in the world.
Historically, the city has been called “Bombay” since the 16th century. This name seems to be derived from the Portuguese expression “bom baía” or “bom baim” (meaning “Good Bay”), which the conquerors coined when they first entered the natural harbor in 1508.
When King Charles II of England married the Portuguese infant Catherine of Barganza in 1662, the Bombay came under British rule as a part of the bride’s dowry. Afraid of ruling the islands himself, Charles rented the territory to the British East India Company for the just 10 pounds of gold per year in 1668.
Under British hegemony and later government from the end of the 17th century until India’s independence in 1947 the city name remained Bombay. Only in 1995 the city council voted for the restoration of the Marathi name “Mumbai” – referencing the Hindu goddess Mumbadevi and the Marathi word for “mother”.