Can alternative development paradigms leverage
high-value land for humane low-income housing?
Harvard Graduate School of Design
In contemporary urban development models, affordable housing has become an extremely scare commodity. In the impulse to solve this problem, policy often incentivizes increasing FAR density on existing plots without a corresponding augmentation of urban services. Such plot-by-plot re-development paradigms have fragmented the urban grain and exacerbated socio-economic dichotomies. This project therefore investigates an alternative urban development model that can address the challenge of leveraging parcel-scaled development policies with focused development of typologies for affordable housing hand-in-hand with and robust urban amenities on high value land.
Mumbai, a city known for extreme density, poverty, and lack of open space in areas of the city while highly juxtaposed at the other end of the spectrum with high-income pockets of extreme wealth and affluence. Affordable housing remains a pressing need, especially in light of the current prime minister Narendra Modi’s “Housing for All By 2022” project, a decree that every citizen have a roof above their head by the year 2022. Extreme directives like this has resulted in extreme pressures on land and housing policy. In turn, this has led to housing policies in which the poor, re-housed in extremely high-density towers, subsidize high-income towers on the same parcels of land.
Such an extreme context has led to 3 major deficiencies in the current Slum Redevelopment Authority (SRA)’s housing policy that is currently being implemented in Mumbai today: (1) displacement of the poor, (2) an imbalanced relationship between density versus open space, and lastly (3) income segregation. The project aims to tackle these deficiencies head on, and fundamentally show that alternative housing models do exist and can be both financially performative yet urbanistic-ly humane, without resorting to the severe cluster developments that the city of Mumbai’s SRA schemes default to. In doing so, it both critiques the current SRA housing policy but also offers a new model of urban housing development for a city of such dire affordable housing needs.
(2) SCALAR IMBALANCE
(3) INCOME SEGREGATION
In order to address the scalar imbalance between density and open space that currently exists in uncontrolled urban growth in Mumbai, a series of typological inventories both through housing forms and open spaces are proposed in order to provide a diverse variation of scales, from highest to lowest density conditions. In addition, a rigorous set of adjacency rule-sets are imposed in order to dictate which typologies can be placed in immediate proximity to another (cross-referenced between both housing types & open spaces). This ensures a density gradient that prevents scalar imbalances in urban form but also ensures that each housing typology has adequate access to an appropriately scaled open space.
The proposed design methodology in this project examines form-based code as a potential model that has the ability to address these three deficits. It proposes an alternative urban development model that fulfills the FSI density requirements that high-value land like the project site demands, yet still provide a humane housing model that maintains access to a scaled set of open spaces, amenities & guardian institutions, and allows for a diversity of building typologies, densities, and aggregations to encourage flexibility in lifestyle. In essence, the values and goals of the project are to encourage organic diversity in housing typologies through multiple developers but control the relationship between urban form & open space through one ruleset, without resorting to top-down planning.
By dictating the larger form-based coding of the block con-figurations, the model allows for a multitude of potential housing lifestyles and architectural scenarios to take place within a maximum buildable zoning envelope, while a rigorous urban relationship to a scalar subdivided set of open spaces (from the neighbor to the district area) is strictly maintained.
In doing so, a gradient of building typologies - all the way from the tower to the single-family home - can successfully coexist on the same parcel of land, while dually ensuring that a wide range of unit subdivisions & sizes can accommodate household incomes of all ranges.
The design of the housing units for each typology allows for a wide range of sizes and subdivisions. By fixing service zones (wet walls, and cores), a diverse yet controlled subdivision of the floor plate into a set of units ranging from the 30 sqm studio all the way to a 200 sqm single-family home can be accommodated for. By accommodating for such a range of unit sizes, household incomes of all ranges can therefore be successfully mixed into the same floor-plate, through multiple typologies of housing. This provides a development model that allows for a mix of families of various incomes much more success-fully than the severe income-segregating clusters schemes currently implemented by the SRA.
As a masterplan strategy, a main commercial axis running across the site re-stiches the adjacent neighborhood of Dongri back to the waterfront via a large public maidan. This public axis also acts as an intermodal transit connector, linking the existing rail stop, ferry terminal, and a newly planned metro station. As this regional axis connects to the waterfront, it branches and activates the water's edge with new civic institutions and public programming. Perpendicular to this axis, a primary residential artery of open spaces organize the housing blocks, which then subdivide into semi-public veins of open space before dissipating into tertiary capillaries of private residential courtyards. Housing blocks are serviced in-between by vehicular lanes and parking. These service corridors terminate in cul-de-sacs that feed into guardian institutions safeguarding multiple scales of adjacent open spaces. Altogether, the masterplan builds upon the nested scales of open space that are created by the block & parcel aggregations - and ensured by form based-coding - in order to create a vibrant, connected gradient of public spaces for multiple scales of community.
OPEN SPACE HIERARCHIES
INTERMODAL COMMERCIAL CORRIDOR
As the ground floor plan to the left illustrates, this urban development model allows for a multitude of potential housing lifestyles & architectural aesthetic scenarios to take place within this maximum buildable zoning envelope, while a rigorous urban relationship to a scalar subdivided set of open spaces is strictly maintained. What is always maintained is a strict relationship to a scaled set of open spaces that organize smaller clusters of the block (which may be aggregated in a variety of ways as dictated by the specific needs of the owners of the land). These open spaces are protected by a set of guardian institutions and amenities that ensure publicness on the ground floor plan while allowing for increased privacy as one moves to the interior cul-de-sacs of the blocks.
While the site currently holds industrial uses, it also houses a vast population of informal dwellers who live in self-built shelters. In order to mitigate displacement of these residents, existing families are relocated to an initial cluster of housing blocks that can be constructed on vacant land in its first phase. Later phases can then incrementally establish primary, secondary, & tertiary open space arteries that will provide relief for existing on-site uses, followed finally by developing block housing clusters.
Extrapolated across the length of Mumbai's eastern waterfront, the project's proposed development model has the potential to stitch the urban fabric of the city back to the water's edge by placing public realm and pedestrian connectivity at its conceptual core. While much of the current land use of the eastern waterfront remains industrial, highly polluted in nature, and separated by rail lines, the conversion of this land to mixed-income housing and mixed land-uses has the real potential to address the extreme shortage of affordable housing stock facing the city today. In doing so, it both critiques the current SRA housing policy but also offers a new model of urban housing development for a city of such dire affordable housing needs.