The country’s next government will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to transform Mumbai into a true global financial hub.

[the] chaotic city needs to create an efficient core -- a business district attractive enough for leading global businesses to want to locate there. Dense urban clusters create agglomeration benefits, one of the very few ways available to improve productivity permanently.

This is, to say the least, hard to imagine. However much residents love Mumbai’s freewheeling, cosmopolitan spirit, the city is an infrastructural mess. Headlong growth has worsened congestion, air pollution and the general quality of life. Urban planning is mostly an afterthought. Haphazard development and an explosion in car ownership has made parts of the cramped city virtually unnavigable during rush hour, when the average commute from the airport to downtown Mumbai can take over 1.5 hours.

However, Mumbai has a unique opportunity to turn its fortunes around. The city’s port, which occupies about 900 hectares along the prime eastern waterfront, is slowly vacating the area because shipping and allied activities have moved elsewhere. Redevelopment plans so far have focused on infrastructure, including a cruise ship terminal.1 The area could be something much bigger: a means to transform Mumbai into a financial powerhouse on par with Shanghai and Hong Kong.

Remember that the City of London occupies only 290 hectares. Canary Wharf, London’s new financial district where most major banks are located, is just over 40 hectares. This tiny area hosts financial services firms that provide 160,000 jobs with an average wage in excess of £100,000, while serving as a magnet for other businesses; those 40 hectares generate economic output of over $50 billion annually. Harvard’s Ed Glaeser shows that the area in midtown Manhattan between 41st and 59th Streets houses 600,000 workers, earning $100,000 on average. In Asia, the central business district of Singapore is built on 184 hectares and the Dubai International Financial Centre on 45 hectares.


  • 1. Bimal Patel, a senior visiting fellow at the IDFC Institute, has consulted on the masterplan