Dencity 2016: 1st Place Award

Mumbai: Versova Koliwada

Entry by: Jai Bhadgaonkar, Ketaki Tare

Introduction

Urban villages are the result of rapid urbanization. Natives can easily become engulfed into the urban fabric. One such example is Mumbai, India. Dating back 400 years, members of the Kul (Koli) tribe, who migrated from the mainland of Aparanta at beginning of Christian era, have survived this segregation. Mumbai is made up of 7 islands. The Kolis (Fisherfolk) were the first inhabitants to live on these islands. These fisher folk, known for their spirited fun-loving way of life, live in small settlements spread across Mumbai’s coastline. The ‘Versova Village’ is one such settlement of 27 existing villages today.

Our study includes analysis in the urban context, the governmental development programs and the historical and cultural facts affecting this settlement. Our study reveals that Mumbai’s urban villages, vaguely acknowledged under the Gaothan Act, are ensured cheaper cost of living, land prices and livelihood opportunities. This ultimately causes a surge in migrants, making the settlement grow denser. With over 5,000 inhabitants, it is now recognized as a slum by the government.

The settlement, in spite of a diverse caste system, has thrived with the help of various existing activity centers and ancillary industries. The open air gathering spaces that cater to vibrant cultural festivities has also helped this bonding to sustain. However, the deteriorating conditions are liable for the suppressed aspirations of these natives compelling them to look for opportunities outside of the settlement.

Versova Village is situated along a creek. The industrial effluents and solid waste (especially plastic debris) from the neighborhood pollute the 19 km long Oshiwara River before it concludes into the creek. Due to the nature of the water currents, the solid waste eventually settles on the coasts of the Koliwada. During monsoons, the coast witnesses heaps of plastic debris as high as 15ft. The small mangrove forest near the sea is thus; extremely polluted resulting in a loss of breeding in the mangroves. All of this is hazardous to both human and marine life.

The consequence of this extreme pollution has brought about an increase in the fish mortality, especially at the intersection of the creek with the Arabian Sea which was once a breeding space. All of these conditions have impacted the livelihood sustenance of this settlement. Depleting fish catch lies at the root of the predicament which further affects the economy, affecting various allied skilled occupations existing in the settlement, at the same time fueling ecological concerns.

The Concept

The proposed four phased intervention encompasses a number of critical issues relevant to the design of the Koliwada community. It addresses two major overarching issues: integration and sustainable development. It also intends to disperse the existing social boundaries among the natives and city dwellers. It also aims to build a connection between integrated governance, spatial integration and environmental sustainability since these fishing communities have an “unseen future” as far as livelihood is concerned.

The first phase aims to commence a knowledge center with support of the established Versova Co- operative Society. The Versova Co-Operative Society is the primary reason why this settlement thrives in comparison to the 27 other villages. This knowledge center aims to insert new activities and services based on the logic of micro- intervention. This would cater to the needs of the infrastructure facility and enhance the skills of the natives (i.e boat builders, net weavers and fishermen). It would blend low-tech sustainability and provide newer applications of the unused waste, enhancing the allied ‘skills’ of the inhabitants that were previously not envisaged. While the implementation of these interventions starts at the micro level it envisions its impact globally as well.

The first step of this phase creates designated focal points for waste collection and segregation. One of the major pollutants responsible for the ecological degradation at various layers, including the coastal and mangrove degradation, is plastic debris. This debris sinks into the costal and marine environment causing habitat destruction and bio-invasion.

This particular fishing community has adapted modern techniques in spite of having only seven types of nets remaining in operation, amounting to three hundred nets total. This center would teach natives critical net weaving skills in order to build a duplicable water filtration system. New nets would then be used to make filter screens that would suspend 2 meters into the creek, anchored along the edge to ensure smooth movement of fish while focusing on waste collection. The plastic debris obtained from the comprehensive sorting of the waste is then used for newer creative applications. Part of this waste is also transported to Dharavi for recycling and reuse.

Plastic bottles are also used to make “poor man’s boats,” which are floats made of plastic gunny bags with three compartments, which are then filled with empty plastic bottles stitched to make a homogenous mass. Its design and the air in the empty bottles allow it to float. This can be further modified as per the purpose of its usability.

This proposed floatation device would positively impact the mangroves and coral. The base of a floating island (diameter of 18 meters) can be created by tying the bottles into plastic nets and attaching them to wooden boards. Among the various ancillary industries, the boat repair industry ensures the supply of worn out wooden members for this intervention.

This technology is also used to build inflatable tubes/rings used for the closed system aquaculture.

The above interventions would allow the participation of natives with their existing skill sets while encouraging team work. This would hopefully lead to the socio-economic and cultural permanence within the community. The evolution of the design would eventually stimulate employment and entrepreneurial opportunities expanding the existing ancillary industries and encourage the germination of other small scale industries.

The second phase aims to introduce closed system aquaculture in the creek as it is one of the most environmentally conscious methods of rearing aquatic species. This would assure more fish catch and strengthen the central element of sustenance at the socio-cultural and economic level.

Intensive and indiscriminate trawling in the coastal waters to meet the rising demand for shrimp has resulted in the exploitation of resources. Therefore, phase three aims at uplifting the economy to strengthen the fish market by introducing an inland fish culture where fresh water and ornamental fish breeding will be carried out. With India ranking second in the world for inland fish production, these wide ranges of interventions would uplift settlements, empowering all sects and classes that the village accommodates.

The final phase aims at setting up Fish Processing Industry. This expansion would enhance its reach to city levels establishing social engagement without social-economic bigotry. It would also preserve the cultural vibrancy of the settlement. This intervention includes setting up a restaurant, an aquarium and an information center. This would also reintroduce spaces designated for organizing city level workshops and even encourage the sales of local fish products (i.e. pickled fish) especially during the Versova Sea Food Festival hosted every year. This would also boost exports of these products to the city and eventually regional levels. Increased income, better purchasing power, education and awareness are even more affects that would result in the increased demand and value of added products. Setting up a fish processing industry will also attract investors and potential developers, ultimately fostering occupational mobility.

These interventions ensure a sense of belonging to inhabitants at the settlement scale. Our proposal also explores possible solutions for low cost building construction implementing the technique of earth bags with local materials. This building technique would be demonstrated at social engagement points across the neighborhood. This could then be used by residents for housing construction.

Conclusion

These proposed interventions can be envisioned as ripples in the sea. The central element spreading further with other punctual components can be viewed as a duplicable system for various settlements with similar issues. This system is not just an answer at the community level – it extends  to form a regional socio-economic network. The merger of the social boundary between the city and the slum dwellers not only complements each other on their respective strengths,  but also helps them in thriving together. Curbing waste in the settlement acts as a stepping stone that would ensure less addition of ‘gyres’ to the ocean. Entrenched in environmental consciousness, the core elements of this proposal end up contributing at a global level when scaled.

About the entrant

Jai Bhadgaonkar is an architect and urban designer based in Mumbai. He completed his bachelor’s degree in Architecture from L. S. Raheja College of Architecture, Mumbai in the year 2007. He has worked in the field of architecture with Sameer Rege and P. K. Das, in Mumbai from 2007 – 2009 after which he set up his own design firm, ‘Earthians’ in 2010. During the course of his practice, Jai developed a keen interest in the field of urban design. He pursued his masters in urban design at CEPT University, Ahmedabad. Since 2013, Jai has worked as an architect and urban designer at URBZ in Mumbai. He is currently trying to nurture his latest design firm, Bombay61. Recently, he has been working on projects based on place-making and incremental housing in economically deprived areas of Mumbai using his design skills to improve local conditions.

Ketaki Tare is an architect and an urban Designer practicing in Mumbai. She graduated from Sinhagad institute in Pune in 2008 and practiced under architect Narendra Dengle. Since then, she has been a professor at PVP institute of architecture. She completed her masters in urban design from CEPT university. Afterwards, she worked under Architect Sanjay Puri until 2014. She has worked for  MESN and URBZ promoting sustainable design. Ketaki is the co-founder Bombay61 and has been working on design projects based in economically deprived areas of Mumbai. She is also teaching architecture and urban design in various architectural institutes in the city.