A New India: Defining Urban Space in Navi Mumbai

Royal College of Art

One year research project on urban space in India now for MA Dissertation at Royal College of Art, presented as a 150 page paper. Supported by the Montjoie Prize and awarded the a Distinction as well as the annual Dissertation Prize. Full text available on request.

Research Summary

Navi Mumbai is a new city that sits across a narrow creek from Mumbai. Right outside the train station in the district of Vashi is an expanse of open space: a giant, paved square bounded by the Raghuleela, a shopping mall with a conical, glass roof that twists into the sky. The square has no hawkers. No food stalls selling buttered sandwiches. No makeshift shrines. There is barely any trash and no open drains. In other words, none of the paraphernalia of the average Mumbai street. How and why this new, different city came about is the focus of my dissertation.

As India urbanises at a scale and velocity that dwarfs previous human experience, new cities like Navi Mumbai are being built across the nation, giving way to new forms of spatial design. Navi Mumbai’s name drew on the power of the ‘new’ to discard the past and start afresh. I examine how the city’s urban design and architecture reflect the aspirations of a nation in the process of radical redefinition between the 1960s and today.

By visually analysing space, I reveal how the ‘leisurfication’ of Navi Mumbai – through its parks, malls and gated communities – turned it into a middle-class haven, contrary to its originally socialist agenda. These new genres of space are exposed as being based on exclusionary politics, social division and the privatisation of public space. This raises questions about the moral imperative of urban designers to foster social cohesion.

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