An urban challenge

January 29, 2023

Lahore is in the news again for its unchecked urban sprawl

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Given the rate at which its population is growing, Lahore will need an additional 2,000 square kilometres to accommodate everyone. — Photos by Rahat Dar


Renowned 20th century satirist, Patras Bukhari, wrote in a humorous essay, titled Lahore Ka Jughrafia (or the geography of Lahore), “It is said that Lahore once had a hudood arbaa, but for the convenience of students, the municipality cancelled it… Now, the city is expanding in all directions, and it is expanding by the day. Experts estimate that over the next 10 to 20 years, Lahore will be the name of a province, whose capital will be the Punjab.” The observation makes sense even to this day.

“Lahore’s sprawl is touching the Wagha [border] and it is unstoppable along Multan Road too,” says Faisal Naqvi, the leading lawyer, who has a keen eye on Lahore’s property development. “We must accept the fact that the city is urbanising too fast. Though, that is not to say that urbanisation is always bad.”

Lahore’s rapid urbanisation is due majorly to its growing population. In 1950, the city’s population was estimated at 500,000-600,000. At its 3.41 percent annual growth rate, the population could reach 13.54 million by the end of 2023. Lahore has a total land area of 1,700 square kilometres, and it is expanding.

Environmental lawyer Ahmed Rafay Alam summed it up in the following words at a session in the recently concluded ThinkFest: “The peri-urban districts of Lahore have given rise to mushroom growth of housing societies with low density — 50 persons per hectare.”

Given the rate at which its population is growing, both generic and considering the influx of outsiders, Lahore will need an additional 2,000 square kilometer to accommodate them all, he added. “If Lahore’s horizontal growth is to be contained, and the peri-urban is to be saved, [Lahore] ought to be developed along high-density housing models, which is its traditional footprint.”

The vertical growth of the city is imperative to high density. Alam said he “would support a mid-density model, like downtown Paris whose density is 450 people per hectare. Also, the city does not allow more than five-storey buildings.”

He is also in favour of changing the existing housing culture to check the urban sprawl.


Prof Dr Shaker Mahmood Mayo, chairman of the City and Regional Planning Department at the University of Engineering and Technology, believes that planning is key to meeting the city’s growth challenges. “Lahore will continue to grow since it is a major growth centre,” he argues. “Both old and modern Lahore face similar issues.”

He regards planning as the panacea for all ills. According to him, the Lahore Master Plan 2050 addresses the growth engine phenomenon. (Dr Mayo served on the plan committee.)

Vertical growth of the city is imperative.

Dr Mayo regards planning as the panacea for all ills. According to him, the Lahore Master Plan 2050 addresses the growth engine phenomenon.

“The Lahore Master Plan 2050 has identified 49 towns in Lahore division, which are the emerging urban centres and have the potential to become the engine of growth,” he adds. “These centres can stem the tide of immigrants, by locally offering them opportunities and lifestyle that are on par.”

The previous development plans, Dr Mayo says, were city-centric, but the latest one addresses the Lahore division.

The plan’s operation has been stayed by the Lahore High Court after a member of the public challenged it calling it detrimental to the city’s air quality.

Dr Mayo welcomes the petition. “Though litigation is a time-consuming thing, an intervention by the court might help find the best solution. Planning is not done in isolation; it’s a consultative process.”

According to the Lahore Development Authority director general, Aamir Ahmed Khan, the Master Plan 2050 has boosted green areas in societies from 7 to 20 percent as a consequence of corrective actions. Additionally, 33,000 acres of undeveloped brown areas have been designated as green areas in the master plan. The freshly added 33,000 acres are located in Lahore’s northwestern region, where the LDA has declared 27,000 acres as agricultural zones and removed them from undeveloped brown areas.

Similarly, 6,000 acres of brown ground along the Bambanwala-Ravi-Bedian Canal has been re-designated as green space.

“The essential premise of planning, however, is the people’s welfare,” he declares, adding that his department organised a public hearing on the master plan at the UET campus.

“Planning can manage the expansion of the cities; it’s about handling the development phenomena. Development is sometimes addressed by doing it, occasionally pausing or stopping it.”

He says that when a society strives for progress, the environment, social life and culture suffer as a result.

For Rafay Alam, it is time to modify the housing culture which revolves around a double-storey home on 2 to 8 kanals. “This culture has encroached upon two-thirds of Lahore to house one-third of the population,” he concludes.

Faisal Naqvi says altering the culture takes decades. In the meantime, we must embrace planned urbanisation. Dr Mayo, on the other hand, supports accepting the culture with a caveat: development comes at a cost.

The writer is a media veteran interested inpolitics, consumer rights andentrepreneurship

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