ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Limitations of the Anti-Floor Space Index Position

Floor space index is only one of the tools in a planning kit that has zoning, growth boundaries, inclusionary housing and the like. This article holds that plans for higher densities in cities such as Mumbai should include urban peripheral nodes and not just the urban core and central business district. Managing land uses and supplying infrastructure is easier in emerging urban nodes, which can encourage a balance between housing and jobs, and help establish an efficient use of expensive transportation infrastructure. To make this a reality, the development focus should equally be on improving institutional capacity.

In , “Life between Buildings: The Use and Abuse of FSI”, (EPW, 9 February 2013) Shirish Patel presented an insightful evaluation of why the proposed changes to floor space index (FSI) in Mumbai might make the urban experience unbearable (2013: 68-74). His pre­mise is that higher FSI would generate more built space, leading to higher crowding (density), and without new infrastructure, this would lead to unworkable urbanisation. This premise was based on a critique of research on height regulations in Indian cities, a comparison of density metrics between the islands of Mumbai and Manhattan, and the author’s extensive knowledge of Mumbai.

Given that the anti-FSI position is largely popular in India, it needs further examination, especially since initial evidence on Indian cities shows that (within limits) increasing FSI could be beneficial. Yet, increasing FSI is not enough, because this planning tool has to work alongside with zoning of land uses – housing, office, retail, industrial and so on – and the supply of adequate infrastructure. Further, city-regions such as the Mumbai metropolitan region are inherently more complex than central business districts (CBDs), such as south Mumbai or Manhattan, because they have multiple sub-centres outside the CBD. Therefore, my argument supporting density is not just in reference to CBDs, but also for peri-urban sub-centres. In writing this essay, my purpose is to open up Patel’s argument with an examination of the literature citied, to add arguments for the benefits of managed and phased densification, to expand on planning beyond FSI, and to generalise the findings to other cities.

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