December 8, 2010
by Jessica Sheridan Assoc. AIA LEED AP

Event: Dharavi Slum for Sale Premiere / “Jugaad Urbanism” Exhibition Preview
Location: SVA Silas Theatre, 11.19.10
Speaker: Lutz Konermann — Flimmaker, “Dharavi, Slum for Sale”
Moderator/Welcome: Sabine Ulmann Shaban — Deputy Consul General of Switzerland
Introductions: Kanu Agrawal — Curator, “Jugaad Urbanism”; Margaret Castillo, AIA, LEED AP — 2011 AIANY President; Aroon Shivdasani — Executive Director, Indo-American Arts Council
Organizer: Center for Architecture; Consulate General of Switzerland; Indo-American Arts Council; The New School; Society of Indo-American Engineers and Architects
Sponsors: Consulate General of Switzerland in New York.
Special Thanks: Umberto Dindo, AIA, AIANY Secretary

A street in Dharavi, Mumbai.


Dharavi, in Mumbai, is one of the three largest slums in the world. Approximately 100 million people live within one square mile, and up to 15 people live within 200-300 square feet of space, stated Aroon Shivdasani, the executive director of the Indo-American Arts Council. While vividly depicted in “Slumdog Millionaire,” the film “Dharavi, Slum for Sale” documents the struggle between the inhabitants and those who want to change the quality of life for those who live there. Directed by Lutz Konermann, a preview of the film was screened at the SVA Silas Theatre to raise funds for the upcoming “Jugaad Urbanism” exhibition coming to the Center for Architecture in February.

The film begins by tracing Mukesh Mehta, an architect who moved to India from NY. He is the mastermind behind a plan that would turn 35 acres of the slum into a mixed-use development with high-rise buildings and free housing for the current slum dwellers. As the camera follows him from his office to community meetings, Mehta says that he is trying to create a better life for the residents. If he is able to rid Mumbai of the slum, then he will have created not just a better way of life for the local community, but also a positive impact on the world.

However, Mehta is constantly faced with opposition, both by organized groups, including the Society for the Promotion of Area Research Centres (SPARC), and individuals on the streets. Naysayers are concerned that when the government decides who will receive free housing, many slum dwellers will be kicked out of the community. Also, despite the appearance of chaos, there is a complex network of businesses that are not only self-sustainable, but also assist the local government, as well. For example, many of the designer clothing knock-offs that are traded internationally are made within Dharavi by slum dwellers.

“People live between the cracks of city streets,” the film begins, and Konermann focuses on the pros and cons of both sides of the development war. Despite objective filmmaking, he did not mince words during the Q&A after the screening when discussing the necessity for the local inhabitants to maintain ownership of their way of life. Rather than razing the slum altogether, Konermann believes that enhanced infrastructure is what is needed to improve lifestyles. Instead of telling slum dwellers how they should live, he suggested that the government evaluate the reasons why the inhabitants — many of whom came to the city from small farming towns on the outskirts — moved there in the first place. New developments should begin in rural towns, not in the center of a bustling city, he said. It is trendy to discuss ways to “integrate” the city, but, in Konermann’s opinion, the city already is integrated.