Urban Design and Informal Urbanism

Case studies from Delhi and Mumbai

Authored by: Manish Chalana

The New Companion to Urban Design

Print publication date:  May  2019
Online publication date:  June  2019

Print ISBN: 9781138302129
eBook ISBN: 9780203731932
Adobe ISBN:


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Urban informality is the predominant form of urbanization in India yet continues to be seen as out-of-the-ordinary and problematic. On the one hand, professional planners have tried various methods to formalize informal settlements; on the other, designers have mostly stayed clear with the exception of a small subset, who have worked on project upgrading, rehabilitation, and low-income housing. Critics have generally dismissed this type of work as piecemeal and superficial. Through two case studies – Dharavi in Mumbai and Kathputli Colony in Delhi – this chapter examines urban informality and discusses settlement morphology and benefits for practice of everyday lives and livelihoods. I review examples of “ordinary design” interventions as well as low-cost rehabilitation projects in other settings, which have largely avoided the top-down trappings of grand design and sought to make incremental but meaningful differences for residents of informal settlements. I consider their potential in Dharavi and Kathputli and argue that urban design can play a greater role in urban informality than it currently does.

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