Hoor Asrar looks at the Flaws of urban planning in Pakistan
The recent spell of rains in the length and breadth of Pakistan has once again exposed the serious Flaws of urban planning in Pakistan in the urban planning in the country. The impression conveyed by the chaotic living conditions after the rains shows that the country is a quintessential example of the almost extinct town planning that has rendered its urban dwellings ghost towns and reduced their populations to slum-dwellers. The overcrowded boisterous cities are environmentally unsustainable, racked with anomie and on occasion at the brink of civil war. These cities constitute microcosm highlighting the inequality and biased planning that lie at the heart of urban town planning neglect. Pakistani urban areas present a horrible scenario of vast livable areas gone haywire that has become a nightmare for pedestrians and for all kind of commuters.
Urban planning originally was devised to transform individuals and societies into human capital and into physical spaces that generate investment and growth. This rationale gave birth to the modern city which is seen as a hub of finance and of entrepreneurial activity. Ideally a properly planned urban habitat has very little state control and instead relies on experts that make important decisions. Thus, an ideal city should have industrial and tax-free zones and should be a top recipient of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI).
The combination of capital and mutual willingness transforms the city completely whereby it witnesses its lower-income neighbourhoods pushed to the margins, while high-rises, commercial buildings and garish advertisements come to define the city’s centre. Lahore with its affluent restaurants, wide expansive malls, and electronic billboards embodies this form of planning. The current urban planning has given rise to inequality by marginalising those who already function on the fringes of society. Lahore is already too difficult to navigate on foot and with proliferation of flyovers and signal-free corridors pedestrians find it increasingly challenging to move around the city.
These flyovers also tend to bypass older and under-developed parts of the city and connect affluent segments with one another. This connection is a blatant example of trying to hide away the squalor and inequality that exists and presents a spectre of mirage of prosperity. The more than needed presence of commercial buildings and centres that generate revenue also tends to push lower-income households and commercial enterprises to the outskirts. This displacement of long rooted communities in fact gives birth to pockets of racial and ethnic minorities emerging in different parts of the city.
Large urban areas such as Karachi highlight this phenomenon. Karachi has become centre of crime and violence because of removing these communities and completely destroying the economies these communities relied on. As a consequence affluent classes take the prime land and Housing colonies belonging to the rich tend to have more green spaces and open parks, which naturally results in their areas having cleaner air and less pollution. These pockets that are off limits to all but the rich stand in sharp contrast to the highly dense and concrete spaces where the cities’ downtrodden reside.
This psychological trauma faced by Pakistani urban dwellers has made them highly irrational and prone to anger. The responsibility levels are so steep that the state finds it imperative to move in. The first step the state must take in re-planning cities is to establish housing schemes for the middle and lower classes. This, however, involves an uphill battle against landowners and speculators requiring breaking the precedent that has led to land prices and rents soaring in cities like Karachi and Lahore.
Provision of low-cost housing itself should take into account the income and size of families, as well as factors such as the number of breadwinners and disabled in the family. In Pakistan’s case, it is absolutely crucial that we assess the number of handicapped because Pakistan has too often ignored them and those too infirm to work. Another difficulty is that Pakistan’s cities increasingly resemble concrete jungles with a penchant for large housing societies eroding green spaces. Adequate urban planning will therefore place a strong emphasis on developing parks and on planting trees.
A drive to make cities green is the order of the day and the state planners should have a cap on maximum land density with the remaining area left for parks. Each housing community must have a park that is easily accessible for residents. Newly constructed houses must also adopt the model of green architecture that incorporates factors such as placing of windows and planting of trees so that houses remain cool in summer and insulated in winter.
Pakistan’s urban planners are required to rethink matters pertaining to traffic management and to public transport in the cities. As already mentioned, flyovers and signal free areas do little to assist those on foot. The government therefore must impose strict laws to ensure people respect cross walks and must also develop overhead crossing points for pedestrians. Public transport, similarly, is not solely to improve traffic congestion but also provides mobility for those who find themselves living far from the city centre and from their workplaces. TW