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Ghansoli Node: TOD By the Bay
By Laurence Aurbach

Citation: Aurbach, Laurence. "Ghansoli Node: TOD By the Bay." In Council Report II, p. 12. Gaithersburg, Md.: Town Paper Publications, April 2002.

The city is called Bombay, Mumbai, the island city, the Manhattan of the East. It is India’s largest and fastest-growing city, the capital of Indian business. Millions have migrated to Mumbai in search of opportunity or just food, but the urban core is antique, its planning haphazard, and its housing in short supply. More often than not, the only places for in-migrants are the city’s grim slums where five million people live (1).

Even for the middle and upper classes, the excitement of city life does not come without drawbacks. Air and water pollution levels are rising. Buildings in the historic district have an unfortunate habit of collapsing. The streets are utterly clogged, the transit system is overloaded, and both are prone to shutdowns due to flooding. The conditions in central Mumbai bring business to an functional standstill.

The government’s solution has been to disperse the city. Since 1970, the state-owned company CIDCO (City and Industrial Development Corporation of Maharashtra) has been promoting the development of Navi Mumbai (New Bombay) on the Indian mainland. Navi Mumbai is the largest new town development in the world. It is planned as a linear series of satellite towns (or nodes), each accommodating a population of 100,000-300,000 persons (2).

While CIDCO has espoused good regional planning principles, some of its development activity has been poorly coordinated because of political and financial challenges. Development has often been unplanned, along congested highways, and without adequate infrastructure. In addition, CIDCO’s modernist schemes for urban design were not succeeding as hoped. The company’s planners adopted a pattern of large-scale segregated uses: office parks, convention centers, power retail centers, college and medical districts. Large housing projects were built for low-income residents but gave little sense of being a part of any larger community.

Navi Mumbai’s population growth has been far below projections and the construction of rail lines to the new suburbs has been slow. Housing was located far from the rail stations while the stations themselves were mixed-use, self-contained megastructures. The result: Rail ridership was lower than expected and commercial activity at the stations has been disappointing. When CIDCO officials asked Thadani/Hetzel to plan a node, they must have been ready to try something different — because they got an earful.

The firm was charged with the task of importing ideas, not technology or personnel. They brought a suitcase of books to the planning meetings, handing out copies of Great Streets (by Allan Jacobs) and The New Urbanism (by Peter Katz). The Ghansoli plan began with the process of education and persuasion.

Having a crystal-clear, concise set of priorities was an advantage when making the case to public officials. The priorities were a) creating civic spaces and buildings and b) setting these in a fine-grained matrix of blocks. This showed the value of having a fully-elaborated design philosophy. There was no need to reinvent the wheel; time-tested principles were immediately available for use.

Thadani/Hetzel had a choice of locations to work on and it picked the Ghansoli node for strategic reasons that would furnish the greatest potential for success. The site has good rail and bus service along with connections to the highway spine. It was positioned along the seashore for superior scenic and recreational possibilities. It was programmed with a diverse mix of commercial districts, composed largely of wholesalers that will be moved out of central Mumbai.

The plan was elaborated using Mumbai’s Fort District (Mr. Thadani’s childhood home) as a model. In the Fort District, Marine Drive along the waterfront is a citywide attraction. People arrive at the train station and filter though the neighborhood, moving west until they reach a spectacular 3-mile promenade along the water. In Ghansoli, parks with promenades will provide similar town/shore connections.

Civic spaces and buildings are a constant focus and are evenly distributed throughout the site. At the same time, they are placed with care with respect to prominence and terminating vistas. The religious square, accommodating a different faith institution on each corner, seems nearly a plea for tolerance in the current climate of political strife. Many sites provide opportunities for memorials, which appealed to the state planning officials’ sense of posterity. Cricket fields in Bombay are in constant demand; the Ghansoli plan broadly distributes as many as possible.

In Indian culture, the crematorium occupies an honored, even sacred part of public life. Ghansoli’s crematorium is positioned on the water, where mourners will walk the promenade seeking solace and refreshment in the shoreline setting. The mourners and the recreational strollers are expected to maintain an untroubled coexistence. In the United States such a land use would put a damper on nearby business activity, to say the least.

The predominant residential type of Ghansoli Node is the 3-4 story walk-up apartment. Apartments are composed of modular units and can range in size from 440 to 2,000 square feet. A minimum-size unit can house a maximum of 5 people for affordable family housing ($6,000 purchase price), and units can be joined to create larger luxury apartment with servant’s quarters. The broad range of sizes shows the powerful influence of cultural assumptions on development. A 440-square-foot unit that houses 5 people is unthinkable in America – it’s illegal and against the building codes. But a luxury yacht of similar 440-square-foot size is eagerly demanded by the same code-writing cultural elite. Everything depends on context, and in Ghansoli the context is diverse apartments with a rich and lively public life at your doorstep.

Mumbai’s metropolitan area is nearly identical in population to Los Angeles. Mumbai has 59 vehicles for every 1,000 inhabitants; Los Angeles has 710 vehicles for every 1,000 inhabitants (3). In Ghansoli, the lack of automobile facilities allows a high population density in a pleasant setting, with spaces devoted to recreation and scenery instead of paved surfaces. Freedom from residential off-street parking requirements will help keep the cost of housing low. In Indian cities, streets are not simply high-speed throughways but are shared by sacred cows, people, buses, commercial vehicles and draft animals. Cows make excellent traffic-calming devices.

Several of Ghansoli’s retail corridors come to an abrupt stop rather than connecting to other commercial centers. Will the shoreline be enough of a pedestrian attraction to generate a successful level of foot traffic at the ends of the corridors? To validate the Marine Drive model, the design relies on the powerful Indian cultural orientation toward waterfront activities.

The isolation is most pronounced in the “sites and services” district. This is a World Bank project where a 240 square-foot-concrete pad sells for $1500. Its location reflects unfortunate echoes of caste system: a segregated commercial zone on the far side of a canal. All in all, this degree of diversity is far beyond anything one might hope to see in the United States, like a trailer park next to McMansions. Will the infrastructure be overwhelmed by an excess of people trying to inhabit its precincts? The firm hopes that in time the sites and services commercial corridor will connect with the central neighborhoods.

There are two rail stations in the node, but only the north station is within easy walking distance of residential areas. A square in front of the station integrates it with the pedestrian network and creates a landmark gateway. The south station is buffered by wholesale districts, putting the residential sections ¾ mile distant. This was mandated by CIDCO planners to allow easy freight loading access for the wholesalers. However, single-use districts are inferior as living environments and a preferable model would be a mixture of uses where the industrial facilities are not noxious. Probably that’s what will evolve anyway, given the desirability of easy rail access.

Per the CIDCO mandate, the plan contains specific allocations of land uses. We see the wholesale districts, the middle-income housing blocks, the commercial corridors and the low-income enclave. Immediately one wonders: Are these allocations the correct ones – is the market being anticipated perfectly? For instance, a clock-makers district is a highly specific use that may not be economically viable at particular planned time and location. Centralized land use planning has dismal track record. As Wolfgang Braunfels writes, “All forms of overplanning prevent order.” Flexibility is required — does the plan provide for it? Can it adapt to the forces of evolution and accommodate the inevitable changes in land use needs and market demands?

Within the strictures of the CIDCO framework, Thadani/Hetzel has in fact provided a great deal of potential for flexibility and adaptation. The ground-floor commercial spaces will line the building frontages and will be deep and narrow. This makes them customizable; they can be subdivided or joined with other storefronts. The short blocks and continuous commercial frontages create many prime sites and allow easy relocation. Neighborhood density, high foot traffic and transit access will make Ghansoli attractive to entrepreneurs through future ups and downs of the economy.

How will the node perform when it is under construction, in a state of incompletion? With such a large project, timing will be critical. The separate retail corridors will allow phased construction, assuming the basic station-to-shore configuration is viable. A potential pitfall will be the scale and speed of construction. Ghansoli may struggle with substandard construction practices, as has been the case elsewhere in Navi Mumbai (and in Celebration, Fla. for that matter).

Ghansoli Node is exurban in location and new urban in character. In spite of its high population density, it will have abundant light and air, new infrastructure and waterfront scenery. If successful, it could provide hope for a new model of planning reform in Mumbai and India at large. Especially in its northern portion, Ghansoli conforms fully to the TOD concept; it is a living illustration of a pedestrian city that will function by virtue of a regional transit system. And by relieving pressure on central Mumbai, a successful TOD makes the historic city that much more desirable and likely to be renovated.



(1) Ministry of Home Affairs, Census of India 2001, <> (Slum Population in Million Plus Cities), accessed October 2001.

(2) Thadani, Dhiru and Peter Hetzel. "Project Description." In Council Report II, p. 10. Gaithersburg, Md.: Town Paper Publications, April 2002.

(3) Los Angeles figure calculated for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Statistical Area. California Department of Finance, Calfornia Statistical Abstract 2001, <>, accessed October 2001.

Mumbai figure from Government of Maharashtra Motor Vehicles Department, Motor Vehicles Department Statistics, <>, accessed July 2002, and Ministry of Home Affairs, Census of India 2001, <> (Population by Urban Agglomerations), accessed July 2002.

Note: This online version was updated on July, 2002.

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