The conflict between heritage and development that is being played out yet again over the past few months stands to hold the Mumbai’s future at stake if not resolved pragmatically. The extremist positions that are being illustrated in the media is visibly pointless- On one side there are lobbyists who claim that the new developments will “destroy our heritage” ; even as the pro-development lobby talks about how the heritage lobby arrest any move towards regeneration of the inner of core of the city thereby ensuring our “economic ruin”. The answer lies in between. We need get out this of the heritage or development mode and stop viewing them as opposite ends of the spectrum. Heritage and development are not contradictory to one other. In fact, a great city is a fusion of the old and the new. There is clearly a need to discourage divergent positions and look for balanced solutions that integrate the past as we progress.
Even as it is important to respect the legacy of our city’s architecture and public spaces; one also has to dig deeper to recognize that a number of dilapidated sections of our old city that have been categorised as heritage. Often, a number of activists use the idea of preservation to freeze a place in time and fight against any sort of development. It is this type of mindset that I question. The manner in which neighbourhood after neighbourhood is being classified as a heritage zone is something I don’t agree with. Who are making these decisions on our heritage? A number of the cities neighbourhood that require desperate revival are being labelled heritage zone. This type of approach will be disastrous for the longer term health of the city. A city cannot be frozen in time and we need to appreciate that greatest allure of any city is the element of change.
There is absolutely no question that Mumbai is home to some of the worlds most valuable architectural jewels and I concur that these landmarks and their immediate precincts need to be protected. But to have a blanket law that classifies large parts of the city as heritage and thereby demand total preservation of those areas is unreasonable.
Internationally there are many great cities that have preserved their heritage while allowing new development. The addition of the glass pyramid designed by I.M Pie in three-sided western courtyard of the Louvre, which is arguably among the worlds most prized architectural heritage is an example of integrating the old and the new. Barcelona is another city that allows the vibrancy of past and present to come together to create a dynamic cityscape. The city has the radical architecture of Antonio Gaudi and the more recent Santiago Calatrava coexisting close to the historic core. We need to look at such strategies of preserving our heritage precincts while allowing progress. Solutions that would prioritize different aspects of urban growth should be explored in such a way that it does not deter developmental growth and at the same time does not fade the city’s heritage values
Also it is important to note that architectural conservation is costly, and as a result a lot of private property owners are unable to manage the upkeep of these structures leading to decay of neighbourhoods. They are also often unable to redevelop these buildings due to monetary impracticality. A number of these old buildings had a higher FSI than the current 1.33. Without higher FSI projects are usually not financially feasible. As a consequence, few buildings get renovated and the city is saddled with inefficient, obsolete neighbourhoods.