Economists view cities as engines of growth. However, empirical evidence has made it possible to argue that this vision for urban development will turn the citizens of urban centres into a secondary-level priority.
It is, first of all, important to redefine sustainable urban development – particularly in light of the crisis of urban development in Pakistan. It is equally important to understand cities as a theatre of social activity – a place where people meet. Social activities, which are essential to human nature, have highlighted the need for a revised vision of urban development that enables people to have a right to the city.
However, the inability to take actions of fundamental importance can obstruct our ability to achieve this right. Lewis Mumford argues that limitations on size, density and area are absolutely necessary for effective social intercourse. As a result, it is important that all of Pakistan’s cities undergo these demarcations as the first step towards urban development.
Furthermore, as part of the mission statement, elite-centred, conspicuous, socially unjust and environmentally-wasteful development – as evident in the case of Dubai, Abu Dhabi and many urban development programmes – must be avoided. The right to the city accentuates participatory governance, the equitable distribution of resources as well as room for socioeconomic and intellectual mobility. Let us review these themes.
First of all, under the new vision, the top-down approach of governance must be replaced by bottom-up approach. Studies from Brazil, India – particularly, Kerala and Karnataka – Indonesia and Philippines have revealed that the participation of citizens and the ownership of development is the key to sustainability. More importantly, these studies show that citizens are usually more aware of their issues and can provide localised solutions. The participation and ownership strategy should involve formulating formal citizen groups at all levels of development phases – including planning, budget allocation, revenue collection, monitoring and evaluation.
Along with other points, the guidelines for these groups should particularly include internalising the conventional externalities, such as the environmental costs in the feasibility analysis of all projects. Moreover, the projects should focus on environmental adaptation by using resource-efficient infrastructure based on renewable energy sources – especially for power, transport, food and housing.
The second most important theme of sustainable urban development with the vision of people’s right to the city includes the equitable redistribution of resources. Equitable development has three key characteristics: ensuring equal life chances; equality in opportunity and access to public services; and avoiding absolute deprivation. Currently, Pakistan’s urban development is highly inequitable.
Studies have revealed that Lahore’s development is a continuation of colonial policies of dividing the society into groups of haves and have-nots. The development policies support a class-phenomenon where the rich – the haves – extracts resources from and exploits the poor – the have-nots. A study showed that more than two-thirds of the city’s population lives in less than 10 percent of the city’s footprint.
Therefore, to put future development on the pathway of equity, a number of initiatives could be introduced. In this regard, a quarter of development land in all housing projects could be allocated to the economically weak and underprivileged members of society. Similarly, the provision of basic services to the urban poor – including the security of tenure at affordable prices, improved housing, water supply, sanitation as well as the free provision of education, health and social security within agreed timeline – must be ensured. Such initiatives could go a long way in solving Pakistan’s most basic problems.
Special attention should be paid to the water crisis and its current inequitable distribution. The district management should devise tools for water usage measurement and put a maximum limit on the per person or the per household consumption. Affluent areas should be charged more. In addition, penalties should be imposed on those who consume beyond the allocated limit.
An equitable distribution of resources would also ensure socio-economic mobility. However, for basic human mobility, better infrastructural development is needed. Studies show that a majority of Lahore’s population walk to their schools and offices. However, there is a dearth of footpaths in the city.
In a similar vein, the second place is taken by public transport users. As a result, pedestrians and those citizens who use public transport should get top preference in the infrastructure development. We should also allocate more space for people to tread through the streets. The existing public transport system should be upgraded and utilised effectively with a mission to reduce the number of private vehicles that ply the roads by half in the next five years.
Moreover, when people walk through the streets in summer, there should be an ample amount of trees to provide them shade throughout his journey. Therefore, this infrastructural mobility-based development would be centred on the increased plantation of trees. As part of intellectual and physical growth, the space for downtown activities must be provided. Communal gatherings (such as literary festival), cinemas and libraries and intellectual discussion centres (like the Pak Tea House) should be increased.
A major revision in urban planning is required across the country. While this process should be initiated from the top, as stated earlier, the key to sustainable development is participatory development. To achieve this, one has to focus on education more than anything else to inculcate the values of sustainable development among our future generations.
The writer is pursuing an MPhil in development studies at Lahore School of
Economics and works as a research associate at LUMS.