An institutional approach to urban fragmentation : power and sustainability in un-recognized settlements of Mumbai
ColaboratorÁlvarez del Castillo, Javier; Smith, Harry; Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya. Institut Universitari de Recerca en Ciència i Tecnologies de la Sostenibilitat
Document typeDoctoral thesis
PublisherUniversitat Politècnica de Catalunya
Rights accessOpen Access
Urban fragmentation is a phenomenon which characterizes the so-called "global city", both in the North and in the South of the world. Since the 1990s, several disciplines have approached fragmentation dynamics from different perspectives, mainly focusing on their consequences in the urban fabric. Urban fragmentation has risen to the attention of decision-makers as a "political issue" during the 2000s, particularly after the global crisis of 2008, with the increase of socio-economic inequalities in urban areas and the emerging of the question of rights as key issues for city development. In this period some authors started a debate on the causes and the roots of the phenomenon, influenced by their different ethical-political and ideological positions on society and on the city. Thus urban fragmentation has become one of the paradigmatic phenomena to rethink what sustainability actually is in its urban connotation and to question current policies addressing sustainable development at the city scale. The research explores urban fragmentation processes through a new institutional approach. Following the French-Syrian linguist Emil Benveniste, within a neo-institutionalist perspective, institutions are thought of here in a "radical" way, as entities structuring society (state, law, religion, technology, processes of thought and word, etc.), thus including both organizations and mental models and coming back to their etymological meaning in the Indo-European culture. This focus allows the research to go beyond the superficial facets of the phenomenon and understand the relations in place between the socio-spatial aspects, the institutional roots, the power balances and the planning solutions which involve fragmented territories. In this work the knowledge of the phenomenon is generated through an analysis grounded in the researcher's fieldwork experience in Mumbai. In the literature, Mumbai is commonly identified as a "fragmented city", and this statement is confirmed by a wide range of narratives on the theme. The research works at the community scale, focusing on three legally un-recognized settlements and using these case study areas for their richness in evidencing fragmentation dynamics characterizing the whole urban fabric. Key findings from the analysis of the fieldwork are that the "not notified" settlements are involved in power relations without any protection by the public authorities and, due to their condition of socio-economic and legal-political vulnerability (even in relation to other recognized slums in Mumbai), develop underlying practices of negotiation with the Municipality and criminal institutions, which control the territory, bypassing conventional urban policies and developing specific planning rationalities. At the empirical level, the research shows the importance of the recognition of "not notified" settlements, seeking basic rights to the city, promoting inclusive urban policies and mitigating fragmentation tendencies. On a methodological plane, the narrative of the research shows the key role played by institutions in shaping fragmentation processes and the relevance of the institutional dimension in understanding the complexities embedded in these urban dynamics. From a theoretical perspective, the research allows reconsidering the role of equity in planning practices: a more equal distribution of power, as emerged in some case study experiences, is a pre-condition in reducing urban fragmentation and in fostering a sustainable development of the city.
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