Mumbai is a city of imbalance. With an estimated wealth of $US950 billion, the city is the 12th richest in the world, ranking ahead of major urban centres like Paris and Toronto. Much of this prosperity is due to the combination of a large billionaire population and the presence of India’s oldest, and most prominent, stock exchange.
At the same time, more than half of the city’s population lives in slums, or areas of extreme poverty that often lack access to clean water, electricity, and public transportation. With an estimated 6.5 million people residing in these conditions, Mumbai has the largest slum population of any city in the world.
This disparity is not unique to India. As cities around the world become denser and more urbanized, the gaps between rich and poor have widened to intolerable extremes.
But unlike in many cities, Mumbai’s slums sit at the heart of economy activity in the urban core. This has resulted in a unique geography, wherein packed single-story dwellings border the city’s expensive high-rise buildings.
In his ongoing photo series, Unequal Scenes, photographer Johnny Miller captures the troubling inequality of Mumbai, whose remarkable progress has given way to many unfortunate side effects.
The top 1% of India’s population holds nearly three quarters of the nation’s wealth.
This inequality is no more evident than in Mumbai, the nation’s financial capital and most expensive housing market. In the center of the city, the Dharavi slum – the largest in all of Asia – provides cheaper housing options for low-income residents.
But the environment is less than ideal: The slum’s ramshackle, one-story buildings are so crammed, they appear as one large mass from above. Even newly-constructed housing blocks have fallen apart due to neglect.
The Dharavi slum consists mostly of grey, concrete structures.
Many of its inhabitants are second-generation migrants who have lived there for decades. Dharavi homes also function as work spaces for the city’s artisans, including potters, tanners, weavers, and soap makers, whose offices are located underneath living spaces and bedrooms.
Residents of Dharavi cover their roofs in blue tarps to protect their homes from monsoons.
India’s monsoon season lasts from early summer to late fall. Extreme weather has made the nation vulnerable to floods and landslides, resulting in a death toll of around 200 people this year alone. In Mumbai, thousands of people were stranded and transit services were suspended due to heavy rains.
The former fishing village is characterised by dirty, narrow alleyways and open sewers — but not all conditions are bad.
Dharavi has seen a decrease in violent crime since the 1980s, and its proximity to the airport and subway lines has spurred a host of new development.
The slum’s small businesses help feed a burgeoning economy, one that produces around $US1 billion a year.
In addition to artisan workers, Dharavi benefits from a massive recycling industry. As the setting of the popular film Slumdog Millionaire, it also attracts a number of tourists – though many have questioned the ethics of the area’s “slum tours.”
The slum runs up against the Maharashtra Nature Park, a green oasis amid a sea of concrete.
The park was made possible thanks to a joint project between the Mumbai government and World Wildlife Fund.
The site was once a garbage dump. Now, it contains 14,000 trees and 300 varieties of plant species.
Entrance to the park costs less than a cup of tea, or around 14 cents, according to Miller.
Across the river is one of the city’s wealthiest business districts, the Bandra Kurla.
The Mithi River separates the Dharavi slum to the right and the Bandra Kurla to the left – the site of many wealthy financiers, real estate professionals, and media execs. The city is currently constructing a bridge to connect the two locations.
Though one side is more impoverished than the other, both are home to wealthy institutions.
On the right, the Bandra Kurla hosts India’s top energy company, the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation. But the neighbouring slum is home to the Bombay Stock Exchange and the consulate generals of several countries.
The stock exchange is surrounded by dilapidated, single-story homes — a metaphorical and physical reminder of the city’s inequality.
The Bombay Stock Exchange issued more than $US2.2 trillion worth of shares as of March 2018.
Miller’s photography shows a city in flux, straddling the line between prosperity and decay.
“The city is incredibly busy and huge, but not overwhelming or scary,” said Miller. “Understanding the context of a place is important, and I hope that’s apparent in the aerial images.”
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