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Charles Correa's solution to urban overcrowding

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A city of Bombay's scale and intensity can be disorientating and alarming, but Charles Correa's lecture 'Housing Urban Growth' was a declaration of love for urban life and of faith in the expansion of cities. The city, he affirmed, was about interaction rather than 'the city beautiful'. 'Once you've experienced a greater density - that complexity - you can't go back, ' he said.

Most great cities were terrible places, he said, but their inhabitants were sustained by the myth, the overall image with which a city's identity is inextricably fused.

The key to handling urban expansion, Correa insisted, was not decentralization and dispersal to rural hinterlands, but increasing 'the absorptive capacity' of the metropolitan conglomeration.

In Bombay - which has reached a population of 14 million and, like most Indian cities, is set to double in the next 20 years - he said nothing has been done about restructuring the city (not quite true, in light of the New Bombay initiative for expansion in the 1970s).

Ironically, the clue to its vast growth lay in the sheer success of its 'mass transit' system, the parallel railway lines running down into the tip of the island which, with subsidised fares, provided a level of mobility that allowed it to 'grow beautifully'. As Correa pointed out, migrants into Bombay are quick to identify sites adjacent to the railway lines on which to establish new squatter settlements, allowing them easy access to the jobs they are so desperately seeking.

Correa stressed that people were coming to cities for jobs - 40 per cent of a village population was landless labour, he said, and that land distribution reform was not in sight (it is not even on the Communist party agenda any more). Therefore 'to give them housing unconnected with jobs is useless'.

By subsidizing fares, in effect you subsidise housing. But another key way of generating employment was by designing small-scale, highdensity housing that can be built using the fairly traditional construction skills of the ordinary mason and electrician.

Correa was adamant that high-rise was not a solution for urban housing provision. For one thing, it had to be financed by banks which then pocket all the equity. But, also, 'doubling the height of a building doesn't double the density', while the open space around high-rises was wasted. Correa advised that 'we must know how big the numbers are' - in terms of dwellings required - because 'it sends adrenalin through our systems'.

The cluster model Correa developed for courtyard housing in India, with private and shared 'open-to-the-sky space', and a built-in capacity for incremental growth, is well known, but he offered no clear models for, say, London. What he did advise was always to judge optimum density in relation to the other crucial factors of economy, culture and lifestyle.

Charles Correa's lecture, 'Housing Urban Growth', took place at the London School of Economics

vital statistics

About £30 billion worth of UK construction (almost half the total annual production value) is made up of schemes valued at less than £300,000.

There were 29.3 million tonnes of municipal waste in England and Wales in 1999/00, an increase from 27.9 million tonnes in 1998/99. In both years, around 90 per cent of the municipal waste came from households.

Grimsby and Immingham overtook London to become the UK's leading port in 2000, with a total freight traffic of 52.2 million tonnes (Mt),2.4 Mt up on 1999. Tees and Hartlepool handled 51.5 Mt in 2000,2.2 Mt up on 1999.

The UK population was 59,500,900 in 1999, with 49,752,900 people living in England,2,937,000 in Wales, 5,119,200 in Scotland and 1,691,800 in Northern Ireland 2.4 million goods vehicles travelled to mainland Europe from the UK last year, an increase of nearly 150,000 on the previous year.This represents a third of all vehicle traffic.

  • Charles Correa's solution to urban overcrowding

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