top of page

Inclusive City

Understanding the concept of Inclusive cities through the bequest of organic informal settlements in Mumbai

Published in 2017-2018

Author: Madhura Joshi, Khushboo Asrani


Today, India is facing large scale migration and, as a consequence, urban centers are under pressure of providing housing, education, food and economic opportunities. With the current urbanization rate in India, the demand for every service is increasing by sevenfold of all cities. The current rate of infrastructure development for growing demand is not sufficient and cities will fall woefully short of demand and supply. There is an ever increasing gap in demand and supply which is constantly adding to the pressure on urban centers. To meet these growing requirements, India has launched two flagship schemes to drive urban transformation and economic growth – The “Smart Cities Mission” and the “Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation (AMRUT)”. Providing infrastructure and services, and addressing issues related to informal settlements and slums in the ever changing environmental conditions are some of the major challenges faced by most cities in the Asia Pacific region. However, India has massive non skilled workforces with limited work opportunities even in urban centres. The government needs to look at the non-skilled, small-scaled businesses and their relation to urban spaces, communities, culture and social factors.


Traditional older settlements of Indian cities have a strong sense of culture, society and well formed economies. Sustainability has become an important part of urban planning in Indian cities. But these planning policies still need to consider the sociocultural, historic fabric and community aspects. In such a context it is important to rethink about the creative usage of limited resources in urban pockets of the country. Having been an economic centre of India for more than decades, Mumbai has many interesting traditional settlements which play an important part in the country’s economy. Mumbai’s scale in terms of size and economic disparities is very unique. Due to its vibrancy, cosmopolitan culture and industries, this urban center is very well-developed, but, meanwhile, 50% of its citizens are living in slums. Mumbai’s diversity, in terms of financial and urban development, population density and growing micro economies in slums, has been studied by many planners, architects and researchers. This has opened discussions about innovation and entrepreneurs of Mumbai slums to understand its physical and social fabric. “An inclusive city is connected to a smart city, because it’s a city that really looks at information, communication, technologies, and it also looks at investing in human and social capital. That’s what inclusion is all about. It’s not just one thing. It’s a whole panoply of ideas and services and access to information.” - Sandra Baer (Smart Cities Council)


A city that values all its people and cater equally to their needs could be termed as an inclusive city. It needs to address issues related to governance, planning, budgeting, providing a sustainable livelihood and affordable basic amenities such as housing, sanitation, water and electricity, while responding to the voice of the people including the marginally poor workers. With informal settlements occupying more than one third of the total urban area, the city of Mumbai is an interesting example to study inclusivity in. Mumbai is a combination of centres of opportunities and concentrations of social problems. Mumbai, also well-known as Bombay, is the capital of the state of Maharashtra in India. Ranking 6th in the world, Mumbai is the most populous city in India with a population of around 20.7 million people. This city, enclosed by the Arabian Sea on three sides, is fastly expanding towards the North. As the financial capital of India, Mumbai is a city of aspirations and is known to make dreams come true, which results in a daily influx of immigrants. Most of the immigrants find their refuge in informal housing units, which leads to the formation of slums. A slum can be defined as ‘a residential area where dwellings are unfit for human habitation by reasons of dilapidation, overcrowding, lack of ventilation or sanitation facilities and having drinking water facilities in unhygienic conditions’.


According to studies, 41.3% of Mumbai’s total population lives in slums. Those slums are dynamic and complex frameworks. Creating unique ecological and economic systems to sustain living, slums could be looked at as a city within a city. Slums provide jobs in industries such as the leather industry, the embroidery sector, recycling and pottery. The annual business of Dharavi, the largest slum of Mumbai, accounts for more than $665,000,000. Different from what one would expect, slums do not only house the extremely poor but well-educated individuals as well. Many people have lived in such conditions their whole life. Even after the businesses they set up there become economically viable, they still choose to stay in the slum due to the sense of community those places have to offer. Being chaotic and crowded, these spaces have a system that is well understood by the inhabitants. Even though survival of the fittest is the underlined motto here, seeing kids laughing and playing in those poor conditions really makes you question the value of life. In current smart city developments in Indian cities, the growing gap between cohesiveness and overall urban forms need to be redefined to fit the cultural, social and economical context, while clear contextual structures can be identified within traditional settlements in Mumbai. These settlements, which are logically put together in a unique way, have become an integral part of the city over a period of time.



Behrampada is one of the most densely built Muslim populated slums in Mumbai. Located at Bandra East in the H-East Ward, it occupies one of the prime properties in the city. The settlement is dense, with an area of 3.3 hectares, and housed around 25000 people in 2010. This 70 years old settlement emerged from being a refuge for extremely poor migrants, daily wage workers and labourers. Behrampada is largely employed in garment enterprises including zari work, embroidery, tailoring and dyeing activities. With up to six storied houses built incrementally by the inhabitants themselves, the urban imagery of this area can be seen as a collage of brick, tin sheets, plywood, plastic sheets and fabric.

The section of this highly dense vertical neighbourhood is extremely diverse in function but works together as a community based housing system. The closely packed, multi storeyed houses create a shaded street with diffused sunlight which houses different kinds of vendors that make this settlement extremely self sufficient and busy at all times. Cantilevering porches create an outdoor interaction space on the ground level. This space also bears a steel ladder helping occupiers move around freely without hindering the internal activities. The ground floor has shops facing the main streets. The residents invest in adding additional levels to their house as they collect funds, since it helps them generate additional income. Thereby, the upper levels are generally leased out to different kinds of labourers. The topmost levels house public activities, such as community halls, primary schools, etc.




Kumbharwada literally means potters’ community and is part of Dharavi. This establishment is about 22 hectares in size and came into being in the early twentieth century. Dharavi has been the city’s’ labour reservoir, growing incrementally over the years. Located in Dharavi (G-North Ward), Kumbharwada has mainly been inhabited by potters from the State of Gujarat. Since Dharavi was built by immigrants and without any regulations, standards or urban planning in place, this slum is divided on the bases of occupational activities, such as cloth dying, leather industries, recycling units and pottery units. Kumbharwada houses around 1700 families, out of which approximately 800 still carry out pottery in the traditional way (Vidu Chandan, 2013, Desi Diaries: Kumbharwada, the city of lamps in Dharavi). The inhabitants carry out daylong activities and prefer to stay close to their work space to increase the efficiency of their work. The typical house is either single or double storied. Generally, the lower floor is made in brick or a wooden frame cladded with tin sheets. The upper storeys are made of a combination between wooden and steel frameworks cladded with cement or tin sheets. The space between two rows of such houses acts as a street and as a work space that harbours a number of kilns and storage spaces. There are multiple makeshift structures to store material such as raw clay and unfired pots. The houses that face the streets have shop fronts on the ground level where everyday goods are sold.



Mumbai has been a home to multiple indigenous fishing settlements even prior to the colonial rule. The coastline of the city is occupied with multiple fishing villages and many of them are still involved in fishing activities. The nature of these villages has remained virtually unchanged over the years. Each fishing village has a central spine, which runs across the village towards the sea. That spine houses multiple activities, such as boat repairs, the drying and repairing of fishing nets, the drying of fish and the filleting of fish. The central spine branches out into numerous smaller lanes with houses on each side. These houses are generally made of brick and have proper sanitary facilities. The tightly knit communities take great pride in their occupation and regularly come together to celebrate this. Most of the inhabitants have seating arrangements in front of their houses, which helps to engage with the community. A typical characteristic of these villages is the existence of a small restaurant, grocery shops, medical shops and a common community gathering space. Another regular recurring characteristic is the existence of a shrine with a deity near the village and the fish market.

Kumbharwada, Behrampada and the fishing villages are a few examples of inclusive organic urban forms whereby the design is based on economic, social, environmental and cultural factors that have contributed to the creation of inclusive settlements. The described settlements have a vertical and horizontal structure, and contain several elements of vernacular architecture with a strong sense of the cultural and social dimension of its community. Kumbharwada and the fishing villages have a complex web of multi-spatial, social and economic factors, which can be seen as a good example of inclusive development. The inclusive cities or urban pockets need to create a spatial, social and economical inclusion to meet the growing needs for: affordable housing with the basic provision of water and sanitation; equal rights for its entire society; access to all services with community participation; and job creation for all skilled and unskilled labours.




  1. Mckensey Institute (April, 2010), Indias urban awakening: building inclusive cities

  2. Rhonda Douglas (2013) Commentary: What We Mean By “Inclusive Cities”

  3. Renu Khosla (2016) The Challenge of Creating Inclusive Cities

  4. Collaborative for inclusive urbanism (2015), http://www.

  5. The Hindu editorial (2013) Building inclusive cities

  6. Vishal Seth (2016) Life in a slum: Ugly face of India, TOI - Zeeshna Shaikh (2017) ‘Mumbai most populous in county, 41.3% live in slums’

  7. Jeffrey Gutman and Nirav Patel (2016) Is better access key to inclusive cities? Making urban areas accessible


Photographs courtesy:

Team of Kamala Raheja Architecture department and School of Environment and Architecture (SEA), Mumbai, Rohan Varma The integration of social, cultural, environmental and political needs without loosing the sense of place is key to create sustainable inclusive cities. As of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the urban agenda for the next two decades focusses on the development of inclusive and accessible cities. The goal of this article was to illustrate that research into traditional Indian settlements can help with the creation of more inclusive, sustainable urban fabrics that focus on better work opportunities, services and the strong presence of culture.

bottom of page