Some of our readers commented on the interview with Shirish Patel published on this website on 26th October 2023. The authors agreed to respond to these comments, in the form of an open discussion, as a separate article. The original interview can be accessed here. The comments and responses have been arranged in Q&A form, and wherever the responses are to specific parts of the question, these have been numbered in linked footnotes in square brackets. Clicking on those links will take you to the responses below.
Q1. [Miki and Madhavi Desai] : Well said, Shirishbhai. However, don’t you feel that our cities must be a happy experience for all the inhabitants and the new-comers? Miki with regards.
[Shirish Patel]: Absolutely, that is what a city is all about: a happy place to live in with a wider range of experiences than would be possible elsewhere.
Q2 [Varun Phadke]: Felt extremely sad by the end that feeling of giving up on Mumbai :. The city could have been India’s time to shine on a world stage. Money corrupts after all and we have given the developers a free hand in doing things for their own desires. How have other global cities managed to free themselves from the grip of their developers and the money for greater public interest? 
[Shirish Patel]: I haven’t quite given up on Mumbai: giving up takes you nowhere. So you have to keep fighting, and making suggestions, big and small, for improvements, for change towards what is more desirable. But as long as our political leaders, who call the shots, are also developers, I see little hope of a better future. Little hope as distinct from giving up. For example, I have been arguing that Government as an owner of public land cannot function like a developer. Government land is public land, owned by the public, and therefore must be put to the use that is highest in the public interest, which may not be monetization. So the redevelopment of BDD Chawls should not be on how to make the maximum money out of it but on doing what is best for its residents. In the case of BDD Chawls at Worli it is possible to give all residents the 500 sq ft flats they have been promised, plus have schools, a football ground and a full-sized cricket ground on the same 22-hectare plot. This would mean a break-even project, not one that generates a massive surplus to go into Government’s pocket, at the cost of residents’ health because of the severely cramped conditions they would have to live in. For more on this, see [BDD_Worli].
[Shirish Patel]: An interesting parallel is Chicago a hundred years ago, which was run by gangsters. I guess we should be grateful we are run by developers, not organised crime. Finally the quality of governance in Chicago changed. We can hope the same happens here, but it seems unlikely to happen any time soon. Developers’ construction is driven by the promise of free housing, and who among our mass of citizens doesn’t want free housing? Regardless of how insanitary it may be, and unworkable for the city.
Q3 [Mahender Vasandani]: Excellent article but the title needlessly misleads… . While describing in good detail the developmental challenges faced by the city of Mumbai, the article covers no discussion about what beauty is or what it means to have beautiful urbanism (good architecture and urban design combined) that enhances not just daily human experiences but also makes urban areas function better. Nor does the article say anything about why beauty is fundamental to humanity’s sense of well being and as an extension, why it’s needed for good urban design  . Instead, the article primarily gets Shirish Patel to address the myriad historical and current issues faced by the city. While there are always complex, overlapping challenges in the design of cities whose effective solution may rake precedence – the article mentions only once that Shirish Patel is against city beautification, if basic things affecting urban concentrations are not addressed first . Besides, as implied in the article, city beautification, per se, need not be taken as an afterthought in the planning of cities. It can be an integral part of urban area planning built into the process from the start. This has been demonstrated successfully across the world in major cities like New York, Vancouver and Paris through effective urban design policies and guidelines  . So, to draw focus on city beautification alone in the title is both misleading and inappropriate. I think a more fitting title could have indicated how there is no future for the city of Mumbai – for all the right reasons discussed very well within the article. After all that’s the main takeaway from the article – given that a 91-year old, highly respected planner with decades of planning experience for Mumbai and its surroundings, has given up on the future of the city. However, I believe good urban design (not beautification, per se) can still be an effective tool to revitalize and improve even a city like Mumbai, incrementally .
[Shirish Patel]: I think Buckminster Fuller put it very well when he said “When I am working on a problem, I never think about beauty…….. but when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” I agree entirely. Beauty is an outcome, a bonus if you like, when you solve a problem well. The problem in this case being how to lay out a city well, with good regulations, so that its citizens from all income groups lead contented and fulfilling lives. A beautiful building, “good architecture”, is irrelevant unless it is part of a well functioning whole. It is the cherry on the cake, and poor compensation if the cake is hopeless.
[Shirish Patel]: Good urban design and good urban planning have far more fundamental issues to grapple with (like good urban transit or good waste disposal or adequate low income housing).
[Hussain Indorewala]: I suspect that this comment is primarily an objection to the choice of the title – which was my decision – rather than Mr. Shirish Patel’s responses and comments. I agree that a title can be objectionable if it misleads. However, the term “beautifying” perhaps gave you the impression that the article will discuss things like “why beauty is fundamental to humanity’s sense of well being.” But apart from the fact that the title makes it clear that the article is about things other than beautification of cities, typically, the verb “beautifying” takes on a slightly different meaning than the noun “beauty.” Furthermore, if you read the context of that sentence carefully, the argument there is if planners are unable to affect fundamental problems such employment locations, densities, transit, etc, all that remains for them to do is the isolated task of ‘improving the appearance of’ cities – or beautification.
[Shirish Patel]: Incidentally, did you like the “beautification” of Mumbai for the G20 meeting, screening off the dilapidation behind? It made me angry, such dishonesty of purpose and such extravagant spending when so much remains to be done for our citizens. But in a way you are right, even if sometimes it is in poor taste, it does make the drabness more cheerful, for everyone.
[Shirish Patel]: I repeat, beauty is an outcome of good solutions. You’ll probably never get it if you make it a primary goal—more likely you’ll get a bad solution, along with doubtful beauty.
[Hussain Indorewala]: I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Shirish Patel’s comment. Beauty, much like happiness, something that is achieved along the way: in an elegant solution to an intellectual challenge, in a well solved practical problem, in an impossible technical feat, in the mastery of a skill, in a socially just outcome – but almost never when it is the principal aim of thought and action.
[Shirish Patel]: Unlikely, unless there is a fundamental change in who runs the city, and a fundamental change in bureaucratic corruption.