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(The write up and diagrams used in this blogpost were produced for CRITs entry to Audi Urban Futures Initiative Exhibition at Istanbul. The design project Giants Garden is my undergraduate thesis)

There is much optimism amongst the Indian policy circles about the country reaping a dramatic economic growth over the next few decades, thanks to the “demographic dividend” produced by its youth population. In 2001, approximately 48% of Mumbai’s population belonged to the age group of 15 – 40, the most productive working age. The number of seniors (people above the age of 65) in the city was a mere 4.16 %.

However by 2030 this trend is expected to reverse. With improvements in medical facilities and couples choosing to have fewer children, the death rate as well as the birth rate in the city has dropped giving rise to a spindle shaped age-sex diagram, that is slowly widening on the top. Also, the 2011 census shows that the famed city of migrants is starting to have a negative growth rate. The increase in the population of the city is due to natural growth. Migration is minimal. In the absence of migration, as todays “productive population” shall start entering their “senior ages” there shall be a smaller number of youth to take care of them.

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Mumbai post 2030s shall be a city of seniors. The city shall look, feel and operate with a logic that is very different from the young city of 2013. As of now, the city is ill prepared to handle this scenario. The situation is further exasperated with the breakdown of family ties and withdrawal of social security nets post liberalization. This blog post attempts to open a conversation about the systems of mobility, care and housing that must be rethought for the Senior City.

Mobility

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As people in the city grow old, their frequency of travel beyond the immediate neighborhood decreases tremendously. Neighborhood ties become stronger and more relevant. However most transportation investment in Mumbai is taking place at the scale of the city, in an attempt to connect it to other investment hubs in the country and around the world. The space of the neighborhood is grossly under planned and under maintained. With the drastic rise in the population of seniors, in the future, Mumbai will have to find a way to invest and retrofit in neighborhoods and make them senior friendly.

Housing

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The kind of housing and tenure an individual holds at the time of retirement determines if s/he can use it to produce a daily income after retirement. Those who own a house can depend on market mechanisms like renting or reverse mortgage to produce income, however those who do not own a house at retirement have to find means to pay for rent and everyday expenses. In the future there is a possibility of tailoring private enterprises that can help seniors convert their homes to produce income. State will have to play the role of a provider and build senior homes for people who do not have means to pay for daily decent housing and subsistence.

Support and Care

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With better medical facilities the life expectancy of an individual in Mumbai has risen considerably. However with the breakdown of the joint family system and withdrawal of the welfare state, there is a dearth of facilities for senior care. Private enterprises are filling these needs for seniors who can afford to pay, however there are few options for low income seniors. The Senior City will have to look for new systems where by groups of seniors provide emotional and physical support for each other.

Financial Support

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There is a need to tailor financial support mechanisms for the old on the basis of their income and saving capacity over their productive earning years. In other words to provide for seniors in 2035 the State must start planning savings programs now. However 40.6 Million people in India earn less than Rs. 7,500 a month; an income barely enough for daily survival. The State will have to come up new ways of providing a basic minimum income and shelter homes for people in this income group.

Reimagining Retirement Homes

Many of these concerns can be bridged through the institute of the retirement home. But not in the way in which it is presently conceptualized and imagined.

If the city is the center of consumption and production, the aged bodies who are imagined as neither producers nor voracious consumers are seen as bodies that must be placed outside of it. As a result old age homes are always seen as institutions that don’t belong to the urban landscape. In Mumbai too, a large number of old age homes are presently popping up on the edge of the city. However aging city dwellers who have ties to their immediate neighborhoods and have enjoyed the bustle of the city often find them selves alienated by the suburban landscape of these old age homes. Also, in India where joint family systems have traditionally been responsible for senior care, old age homes are seen as a pitiful spaces meant for those who have no families. Although slowly many senior citizens are now thawing to the idea of old age homes as viable options for senior care, retirement homes still have to go a long way to reinvent themselves from being tabooed, isolated spaces and hybridize their institutional structures to connect with the community.

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My undergraduate thesis attempted to answer a few of these questions through the design of a senior home for the aging community in inner city, Kalbadevi. Proposed on land belonging to the Roman Catholic Trust, the project uses the development control regulations for redevelopment to densify the existing plot and insert an amenity, the senior home. The project rehouses the existing school, library and residents that currently reside on the plot.

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The project derives its name “Giants Garden” from Oscar Wilde’s story about a Giant whose snow ridden garden sees the bloom of spring only when children from the community enter his cold high walled premises. Likewise the senior center at Kalbadevi attempts to build it connections with the surrounding community. It preserves the existing pedestrian pathways that pass through the plot and engages with the community through a playground, cheche school and library. The roof of the building allows the garden to expand increasing the open space for interaction in this otherwise crowded neighborhood

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The project attempts to reclaim a right to urban space for aging bodies within neighborhoods that they have lived in and wish to continue living in. While it’s easy to imagine such spaces within the confines of the university, we still need to come up with ways for our cities to allow for such reclamation.

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