Mumbai, post-Covid: Remodeling Mumbai’s urban form and reshaping public systems to create a 24/7 city…a city of shifts, and a city form that can be self-contained and monitored

The Coronavirus outbreak (Covid-19) emanated from China in late 2019, and was transformed into a global pandemic by March 2020. India was not spared, metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Delhi, and Chennai became hotspots. Maharashtra contributed to nearly 25% of India’s infections, and Mumbai, 25% of the State. The global pandemic brought to the breakfast table, several prevalent urban and social issues as a topic of daily conversation.

Geographically, the virus spread as the city has grown, from south to north. The D, E and G-South wards housed the core containment areas, followed by northern suburbs, and lastly the Metropolitan Region. Majority of the containment zones comprised chawls and slum areas, with high densities of population, reliant on shared sanitation facilities. Social distancing here was unattainable.

Anecdotal evidence may suggest that the pandemic spread due to the prevailing high densities, but what was the cause of the rapid spread of the virus, with high death tolls, in countries like Italy and UK where average densities in their largest cities are 2,029 and 1,510 ppl/ sq km, compared to Mumbai’s 32,303 ppl/ sq km. What role did high population density play in the spread of the pandemic in Mumbai? What are the measures that the city can implement to avoid extreme urban conditions?

With over 200 people dependent on one toilet seat, shared sanitation facilities have been breeding grounds for the spread of several diseases, and Covid-19 was no exception. However, Prabhadevi in the G-South Ward of Mumbai with substantially improved sanitation facilities and clean drinking water supply too became one of the main hotspot areas.

People returning from abroad, as part of tour groups seemed to be the first point of infection. Affordable tickets and a growing affluent middle class has resulted in boosting the travel and tourism industry. The returnees were able to enter the country without any checks in place. How can this growing mobility, at various levels, be monitored, and what SOPs need to be put in place to manage future disasters?

The inadequate provision of healthcare facilities was unable to curb the spread of Covid-19. There is an evident dip in funding when it comes to provision of infrastructure, especially beyond the city’s limits, and even metropolitan areas such as Mira Bhayandar, Kalyan Dombivli, Ambernath, are totally dependent on Mumbai hospitals. How can we plan for equitable and adequate healthcare infrastructure so that non-city areas can be serviced efficiently?

Digital inclusion, or sabke liye broadband which seemed to be a distant requirement, has become a necessity. With practically all educational institutes and formal work spaces having shifted to working from home, our broadband networks need to be severely augmented. Majority of the financial services, paying of bills, ordering takeaways and even a lot of the essentials shopping is now online. The post-Covid city will need to be urgently rigged with high speed broadband networks.

What has the virus offered to our urban conundrum? It has not slowed down, it has just continued to move from one area to another, from the city to suburbs to the hinterlands, we have been unable to contain it. How has our urban form impacted the mobility of the virus? Where lie the chinks in the armour? With high populations we need to reconsider catchments – a sub-ward level is an entity in itself, and needs to be self-contained. Our suburban railway network, normally defying crush densities of 8 to 9 people/ sqm with no room whatsoever for social distancing had to be shut down. How do we alleviate our exhausted public transport systems? With the sheer volumes of people, would the post-Covid city need to work in shifts, say with only 25% of the workforce out at any given point? Public transport will need to be run at regular frequencies with reduced numbers and with unified ticketing e-portals. The city would need to become a 24/7 city.

How do we perceive Mumbai, post-Covid? UDRI’s research rubric enquires into the remodeling of Mumbai’s urban form and reshaping public systems to create a 24/7 city…a city of shifts, and a city form that can be self-contained and self-monitored. It is a multiple year, multi-disciplinarian initiative, spanning across several layers of urbanism comprising several tools for examination. It is an overarching umbrella for a number of research projects, programmes and publications, undertaken in parallel, on Mumbai and the Metropolitan Region.