By Vidyadhar Date, 18 October, 2006,Countercurrents.org
Neil Smith, distinguished professor at the City University of New York, has spent several years studying gentrification, the process of grabbing urban areas of the poor and turning them into posh localities. Yet, he was overwhelmed by the scale of gentrification going on in the textile mill and other areas in Mumbai which he visited last week.
Thousands of textile workers in Mumbai are now being evicted from central parts of the city with the closure of the mills and the rich taking over their spaces which are highly coveted by the property market.
Cities like Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Mexico city and Shanghai are now at the cutting age of urban change. The gentrification in the US and Europe is nothing compared to what is happening in Mumbai and China, Mr Smith said in an interview with this writer.
In China the scale of gentrification was colossal. In one project called 365 no less than 27 million sq metres of land was being developed after displacing 640,000 people.
He noted that apart from the textile mill lands , it was now proposed to develop hundreds of acres of lands of the Mumbai Port Trust, Dharavi, Asia's largest slum, and the Bandra Kurla complex. We researchers did not have ears to the ground and had not noticed the phenomenon earlier. But now a whole book with a title like Learning from Mumbai can be written, he said.
The process of gentrification began in the 1950s on a small scale and noticed in only a few cities like London, New York, Paris and Sydney. It is now virtually global. It has ranged from Tokyo to Sao Paulo, Mexico, Cape Town, Shanghai, Mumbai and Seoul.
A feature of all this development involved disposessing the poor to promote accumulation of capital in pursuit of more and more profits. The ordinary people, the victims of the development, are not even mentioned in a document on real estate development in Mumbai prepared by an American real estate agency.
Mr Smith,author of the acclaimed book The New Urban Frontier, Gentrification and the New Revanchist City,said the new development was accompanied by an attitude of revanchism , a French word which means taking revenge , in this case it is revenge against the poor.
In China the new development was accompanied by supression of social movements. There were no fewer than 74,000 public demonstrations against injustice in China in 2004.
In New York the police had been given the infamous dum-dum bullets which were designed to do the maximum bodily harm. It was revealed that betwen 1994-97 the city of New York had paid a record $96.8 million to settle burgeoning number of police-brutality lawsuits.
Real estate development was now becoming central to the economy of cities. That is why there is so much repression of protests against the gentrification process in different parts of the world.
Mr Smith was in Mumbai to participate in a seminar on the process of globalising cities involving disposession of the poor and accumulation of capital organised by the geography department of Mumbai university.
He said global finance was investing in a big way in cities round the world on the assumption that while other investments may fail, built property remains, it does not disappear.
Formerly the state in Europe invested a lot in housing for the poor. Now the process was being reversed. The poor were being disposessed of their assets.
Cities are now increasing competing to attract investment. When the New York Stock Exchange threatened to relocate , the then Mayor Giuliani announced a $ 900 million taxpayer subsidy ostensibly to keep the stock exchange in the city. This was part of a series of `geobribes' paid by the city to global corporations.
The Mayor had even talked of having a separate foreign policy for New York, Mr Smith said.