Livelihoods and Urban Form: Mumbai in a Comparative Perspective

Small-scale manufacturing in workshops and homes, small-scale trading on street corners or makeshift markets, car guarding, waste collecting, among a myriad of informal activities, is what characterizes work and employment in most cities of the Global South. Statistics demonstrate that informal work, rather than being the exception, is one of the dominant modes of work in these cities. In India, 80 per cent of the urban workforce is engaged in the informal economy and although individual incomes are low, cumulatively these activities contribute significantly to GDP.

Planners and designers can and have played a crucial role in both facilitating and hindering the livelihood activities of the working poor. Developing design imaginations for supporting these activities is an important contemporary challenge to local authorities, urban planners and designers across the globe. Much of the planning literature addresses the issue of ‘informality’ very broadly, referring not only to forms of income generation but also modes of settlement, housing and general modes of negotiating life in the city. This course will specifically examine the informal economy and more specifically the dominant modes of livelihoods and their relationship to urban form. Mumbai will be the focus of the course but in a comparative perspective. The size and significance of the informal economy, a critical analysis of its nature, the role it plays in development, and how planning has and could potentially respond, will be the central themes of the course.

The course will examine cases in contemporary South Asia, South Africa and Latin America as references to structure a framework for analysis in Mumbai. Through the semester students will develop an understanding of how different informal sectors operate within regulatory frameworks of planning and design to structure their own urban form and networks, and use this to construct a spatial narrative of a particular sector of the informal economy in Mumbai. Through a semester-long research assignment, students will study an activity or sector in the informal economy of Mumbai and spatialize its networks throughout the city across the various scales at which these networks exist.