Headline Jan 29, 2015/ ''' MUMBAI : SOME MINIMUM CITY '''


IN THE MINDS of Mumbai residents, whether they sleep on streets or silk sheets, property developers loom large in haunt mode.

In films and novels, skyscraper-erecting baddies bring wealth and renewal  -and more often than not, misery and terrible violence.

Yet in reality, buildings do not loom as large as you might think in Mumbai.

Take the view from one of the towers clustered in midtown, owned by Abhisheck Lodha, a razor-sharp American educated tycoon making  billion dollar bets on transforming the city.

The odd skyscraper erupts out of low-rise clutter. There are pockets of tall buildings on old mill land and along the city's west coast. But much of Mumbai  -supposedly a rival to Hong Kong, London and New York looks flat and knackered.

To the east is the vista is of derelict factories, rotting low-rise rent controlled buildings and the odd slum. To the south lies the ossifying old-city centre, with its ageing port, colonial showpieces and Soviet-style offices and bureaucrats' flats.

The nearest green spaces are a racecourse and a club on whose ample lawn members feed stray dogs buttered toast.

Mumbai has perhaps the most extreme statistics of any metropolis. Its land mass is small, stuck like a crooked blade into the Arabian Sea. It has poor transport links, so people who work in the city live near it.

That in turn means that it has highest population density of any big city, but it is also low-rise. Panama City has a taller skyline. 

The result is tiny living spaces of 4.5 square metres  (48 square feet)  per person, compared with 34 square metres in Shanghai. And prices are high.

Mid-town flats cost  $1 million - to -3million.

The average price of  1,000  square-foot pad in the city is perhaps $250,000, or 90 times GDP per head  

With flats out of reach, the share of people in the slums has risen to perhaps 60%, compared with 20% in Rio de Janeiro and Delhi.

Of the rest, about half live in rent-controlled digs, sometimes propped up by wooden staves, or flats for public-sector employees.

Other cities confined by the sea, from New York to Hong Kong, have soared upwards. Many think Mumbai has had an epic building boom. There has been dense activity on old mill land and in some suburbs where rules are laxer.

But the city has  31 buildings over  100 metres high, versus more than  200  in Shanghai and more than  500  in Hong Kong and New York.

Perhaps  $10  billion- 20 billion has been spent on land and building in the past decade, not much given that the population has risen to 12 million plus.

At this current rate it will take over six decades to build everyone a home.

Much of the building has targeted the  well-off with some magnificent complexes. But are there enough wealthy people?

''It's hard to find homeless millionaires,'' says a developer. At the current pace of sales it would take three years to clear the stock of  28,000-odd unsold flats in the city which are complete.

Or being built, according to Ashutosh Limaye, of Jones Lang LaSalle, a property service firm. Pankaj Kapoor, of Liases Foras, a research firm, puts the figures at 38,000 and four years.

So inefficient and cartelised  is the market that the prices are still rising, despite the overhang, a weak economy and the debt troubles of some builders.

Listed Indian firms which make public their accounts, and are about fifth of the industry, are often in poor shape.

One builder, from his private drinking den in the city's north, is full of foreboding about his trade:

''All the bad karma is coming back, All the Porsches  and  Lamborghinis, all the bodyguards and security details; it's all coming back.''

Simply put : Flat packing humans.

Three things explain Mumbai's predicament : regulations, financing and graft. The city, reckons Edward Glaeser of Harvard University, has  ''some of the most extreme land-use restrictions in the developing world.'' :

Designed to deter new migrants which have backfired. In much of the city the ratio of new building's floor space to the plot it is built on is capped at 1.3 times. 

Compared with over five times in New York and Hong Kong.

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