Bhandup is called a slum by the municipality. We prefer to refer to this hillside settlement located in the northeastern suburbs of Mumbai, as a ‘homegrown neighborhood’. We have been active there for a few years, documenting local construction techniques and contributing to the construction of a Hindu temple. From above, Bhandup looks a lot like a Rio favela. Within it has the same vibrancy and similar infrastructural issues. The area is typically low-rise, high-density and pedestrian. It is also mixed-use, hosting a great variety of businesses within its residential fabric. Every time we visit the area we see new houses being built by local masons and residents. Each of them occupies a 150 to 200 square feet area, and has one or two floors. Bhandup residents have access to water and community toilets, and electricity is available everywhere. Most people have television and cell phones. No one there is dying of hunger. What this neighbourhood needs most is to be recognized as a viable form of urbanization – not as a slum. The efforts of its residents and local constructors should be supported.
Our contention is that only by working within the existing fabric and with local actors, can urbanists, architects, engineers and policy makers contribute meaningfully to ongoing user-lead improvement in homegrown neighbourhoods. This is why we have just launched the project Homegrown Cities that aims at demonstrating that common sensical alternatives to ‘redevelopment’ do exist.