A few years back three women rode motorcycles to work. Now 11 do. With no mass transit system in Karachi, more and more people want to buy motorbikes as a cheap and affordable vehicle for mobility.
In the year 1990 there were 450,000 motorcycles in the city. Now the number stands at 1,350,000. In a survey conducted at bus stops of the city, 32 percent men waiting for buses wanted to own a motorbike but could not because it was too expensive. Meanwhile, 56 percent women wanted to be able to ride one.
“The future of Karachi will be disastrous if the government does not plan a subsidised mass transit system,” said renowned architect Arif Hasan on Thursday. He was speaking at the Aga Khan University Hospital auditorium where a talk ‘Karachi: the housing imperative’ was organised.
In his hour long talk he emphasised how the poor had been thrown away to the periphery of the city through policies adopted by various governments. As a result, they spend 40 percent of their income on transport and live in houses with worsening facilities.
Hasan talked in length about the Doxiadis Plan during Ayub Khan’s era where two satellite towns, Landhi-Korangi and North Karachi, were planned to house the poor. “They were situated at least 30 kilometres away from the centre of the city. This was the first time Karachi was so widely bifurcated into the rich and poor. From here began the transport problems of the city.”
Quoting a study, he said 2,000 maids travelled every day, changing three buses from the outskirts of Karachi to work in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, PECHS and Defence Housing Authority.
The residential area in Karachi makes up a total of 36 percent of the land. Of this, 74 percent is developed formally in the shape of housing schemes for 38 percent of the population. On the other hand, 22 percent of this residential land is developed informally in the shape of Katchi Abadis for housing 62 percent of the population.
Houses of 120 square yards or less are owned by 88 percent of the population. Houses of 400 to 2,000 square yards are owned by 2 percent of the population, but they occupy 22 percent of the total residential land.
Land has become expensive even in the periphery. Therefore, if in 1991 a square yard in the outskirts of Korangi cost Rs176, now it costs Rs25,000. Moreover, construction cost has risen up from Rs666 per square yard in 1991 to Rs5,000 per square yard today.
Hasan claimed that housing on the periphery had taken away women from the workplace, and in most middle-class families, it took two to run the kitchen. Moreover, the father is always away from the family, as most of his time is spent in travelling. “As a result, people who have their own cars can afford to live in the periphery because they can drive to work. The rest prefer to rent spaces closer to work. The phenomenon has also led to densification of existing localities, so that in a house where five people lived, now 15 do.”
Densification of Karachi
People who had property within the city have converted them into high-rise apartments. Hasan quoted examples of various middle- to low-income neighbourhoods where a developer approached the owner. “He tells them that the first two apartments will be yours and the other ones will be ours.”
These apartments do not have ventilation or sunlight and most are without lifts. “As a result, the elderly and children remain cooped up in their houses.” Moreover, in case of an earthquake, these buildings will crumble to pieces. “The housing units are becoming smaller and smaller to make them affordable.”
Hasan ended his presentation with slides from Dubai. In the first slide Palm Jumeirah, Burj al Arab and Burj Khalifa were shown. In the next slide were shown workers confined to cubicles where there wasn’t even space to stretch out their hands. “If we do not plan Karachi, we might become another Dubai,” Hasan concluded with a warning.