UP594CW – Technology and the Megacity Studio and the Mumbai Modeling Project

Field trip: March 20-29, 2015

What does urban planning in one of the world’s largest and fastest growing megacities cities look like? How is it different from other contexts? What are the key planning challenges and opportunities? Can planning theories and tools assist? Does technology have a role? These are some of the questions that six urban planning students had the opportunity to explore closely during their Spring Break trip to Mumbai, India. The trip was partly supported by the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at UIUC and the Center for Urban Science and Engineering at IIT-Bombay. It complements the research that the students are doing in UP594CW Technology and the Megacity Studio, a semester-long course taught by Prof. Arnab Chakraborty and Prof. Bev Wilson.

During the trip, the UIUC students (1) participated in a joint-workshop with scholars and students from IIT (2) conducted field research on planning issues, (3) shared their work with local officials and decision-makers, and (4) presented their preliminary findings at an international symposium.

Figure 1 UIUC and IIT students (and Prof. Arnab Jana) at the Center for Urban Science and Engineering

Student projects and linkages:
The student projects fit within the broader umbrella of the Mumbai Modeling Project that aims to develop a toolbox of models to assist Mumbai’s planners make better decisions. Unlike the common practice where models developed elsewhere are applied to India, our project is generating empirical data and theories in India. We are also working closely with professionals and researchers from India and are interested in exploring the implications of findings both in Mumbai as well as other Indian cities. Ultimately, we’d like to build a decision support system that can assist agencies simulate future outcomes of present-day decisions, compare the impacts of possible scenarios and make better choices over time.

To that end, the team members are exploring a number of distinct yet interconnected questions. Andrew McMillan’s work is trying to understand the urban spatial structure of Mumbai and its components, and exploring how this information can be used to enhance urban analysis. He is asking, for example, how can we characterize Mumbai’s unique neighborhoods? Can we translate these ideas to rules that can be applied to aerial data and street level photographs? Can these help us generate useful urban data? Elizabeth Bastian is developing novel protocols for creating usable data where little exists using tweets. Her work will show whether the location, frequency and timing of tweets as well as their contents can be used as a proxy for determining the nature of the urban area.

Both of their works can provide useful inputs for urban analysis and modeling.For example, Arnab Chakraborty, Bev Wilson, and Shakil Kashem recently developed a regional land use change model for Mumbai (see their Cities paper here), which due to lack of detailed data uses a limited number of urban layers at a relatively coarse spatial resolution. The regional growth model, however, can’t account for some key Mumbai uses, most notably informal settlements or slums. To address this, Juliana Wilhoit is developing S.L.U.M. or slum land use model for the K-West Ward of Mumbai. It is a spatial logistic regressions model that can predict the probability of where new slums may emerge or which existing slums may redevelop.

Shruti Syal is interested in how residents of different communities source and use water and Ashma Basnyat is looking at how urban form characteristics are linked to demand for infrastructure. Their work will lead to new understanding of Mumbai specific water consumption patterns and travel behavior, and by linking these models with urban form datasets of present and future, planners will be able to understand how changes growth and change in Mumbai will affect the need for infrastructure and quality of public services. Finally, Karin Hodgin Jones’ research is looking into Electronic Waste processing in Mumbai in both formal and informal sectors. This understanding may help improve waste management practices and reduce the negative health and environmental outcomes of unregulated processing.

During the trips, the students’ activities spanned the following areas:

The joint-workshop
At the workshop, students and faculty started by presenting their research ideas and challenges to one another. Over the next three days they worked together to resolve these challenges, and conducting fieldwork and analysis.

Figure 2 UIUC MUP student Ashma Basnyat presenting her research on travel behavior

Figure 3 C-USE PhD student Naveen Alla presenting his research in urban health

Workshop participants:
From UIUC: Ashma Basnyat, Elizabeth Bastian, Karin Hodgin Jones, Andrew McMillan, Syal, Shruti, Juliana Wilhoit, Prof. Arnab Chakraborty

From IIT: Naveen Alla, Rathin Biswas, K Kranthi, Surabhi Mehrotra, Ravindra, Samir Shaikh, Chhavi Sharma, Prasann Soni, Abhinav Tyagi, Abhinav Sharma, Varun Varghese, Prof. Arnab Jana

Field research
Teams of UIUC and IIT students spent several days conducting pilot surveys, walking around areas of interest, and talking to potential stakeholders.

Figure 4 Three-wheeler (two-stroke) auto rickshaws are a common mode of conveyance in Mumbai

Figure 5 UIUC Workshop participants outside the Chatrapati Shivaji [Train] Terminus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Mumbai

Meeting with community members and decision-makers
The research team also met with a number of key players in the development planning process and a variety of community members. These included the coordinators and child advocates of Humara Bachpan, a non-profit organization working with slum children, senior officers of CIDCO, the director of UDRI, and the Municipal Commissioner of Mumbai. The meetings provided the team an opportunity to learn about planning issues, share their own research ideas, and develop connections.

Figure 6 Signs outside MCGM Chief Engineer’s (Development Plan) office

Figure 7 Workshop participants meeting with the MCGM Commissioner Mr. Sitaram Kunte


Figure 8 A visit with the Humara Bachpan Child Advocates

The international symposium
Finally, the students worked quickly to create posters that were presented at the Mumbai-Amsterdam International Symposium on March 27.

Figure 9 Students presenting their research findings at a poster session at the Mumbai-Amsterdam International Symposium

Figure 10 Students presenting their research findings at a poster session at the Mumbai-Amsterdam International Symposium

For the remainder of the semester, the students will work on further developing their research, fine tuning the tools and end with some research products (papers, survey instruments, etc.) and some professional memos that we will send to Mumbai’s planners to discuss potential applications of our work.

It wasn’t all work, however…

Figure 11 Leisure time at Juhu Beach

Figure 12 Waiting for Lassi at a local dairy shop

Figure 13 An Indian Langur Monkey (long-tailed) waits by the bus stop inside IIT Campus (The campus abuts also the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, a major urban wildlife sanctuary, and is known to receive occasional visits from leopards and other wild animals!).

Figure 14 “Hydrating” with coconut water

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