Thursday, 23 June 2011

International Dialogue Group Mission to Mumbai 2011

The last few months has seen me travelling a lot as we help boost our UK workload by expanding into new markets. Trips to Russia, Ukraine and the Middle East have proved fruitful, so when I was invited to travel to Mumbai as part of a 10 man delegation organised by the International Dialogue Group, I decided to take the plunge and see how much further the Indian economy had moved since my last recce in 2009.

Given that this particular patch of land had been earmarked for redevelopment for over 10 years, knocking it into shape in 48hrs through an architectural charette chaired by NLA‘s Peter Murray was always going to be a challenge. Well, ok, we actually had three days, but we needed to make sure we were finished in time to watch the cricket, obviously. The guys on the trip were a great mix of high proile british talent and experience, a real age range too – most, if not all, had some connection or business reason to be in Mumbai. What really shone through was the professionalism of the team and how well they gelled together.

Given the scale of the plans for Mumbai (we got a sneak preview into their 40 year plan) it was always going to be a challenge to make an impact in such a short time, but we did achieve something - over the course of a few days we met with various government and private sector organizations. We were able to stimulate debate and canvas ideas that had not yet been considered - issues of land reclamation (currently regarded a sin in India on environmental grounds) expanding green and civic spaces and housing were all systematically considered and represented with commercial and passionate flair. Listening to one local architect explain "one of the problems with trying to improve housing for the slum dwellers is that the slums are built next to the place of work and the new housing is usually out of town, about 20-30k out - what often happens is the slum dweller gets his new house, he then sells it for good money and moves back to where he started from". The vast majority would rather be local than commute through the mad traffic. What an earth can you do about that? Possibly not a lot, by all accounts.

I would love to go into further detail as to what we were specifically tasked to look at, but the powers that be have been stimulated by the team’s ideas, and it looks like it may well be taken further. As a result we are limited in what we can and can't say. Notwithstanding, such big ideas tend to touch a great many, so one has to tread with a certain amount of diplomatic dexterity. It may be that some or all of the team will need to be back in the coming months to see if we can make a difference to what has been a long time in the making - watch this space.

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