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August 23, 2015

‘Karachi needs proper planning not shiny new schemes’


August 23, 2015

Without a local government system it will be impossible to have a working mechanism for efficient governance in Karachi where the chronic lack of planning has already created colossal problems.
The city does not need grand brick-and-mortar schemes but proper planning and checks on the utilisation of the existing resources. “Until the local government is developed, it will be impossible to devise a working mechanism for governance and management of the city’s resources,” said Prof Dr Noman Ahmed, the chairman of the NED University’s department of architecture and urban planning.
“Development depends on a potent mechanism for reconciling new projects with the needs of the society, something which today’s brick-and-mortar grand schemes are quite devoid of. Grand schemes and high-sounding projects don’t deliver,” he added.
Ahmed was talking at a moot on urban development held by the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology’s media sciences department at its studio on Saturday afternoon. He highlighted the dire need of strategically planning the development of the city, however, provided that it was based on reality and not outdated master plans which no longer depicted the ground realities.
“One of the key problems is also that policymakers refuse to accept ground realities and make strategies using outdated data,” he said. “The old order can’t answer today’s problems.”

Projects without planning
The population in Karachi — one of the world’s three most populous cities besides Dhaka and Mumbai — was expanding in two ways. First, the city centres kept becoming denser and denser since the areas lacked any room for affordable accommodation while the fringes of the metropolis remained the initial settlements of millions of migrants.
Ahmed said all the previous master plans of the city had called for setting up an advisory board comprising experts for development planning

but nothing had been done in this regard.
The decisions made by the bureaucrats are devoid of any foresight. He gave the example of the transport issues in the city which was being dealt with to some extent by Qingqi rickshaws.
“The Qingqi rickshaws were an affordable and cheap means of transport for families with low incomes,” he said. “Now they have been banned but there are not enough buses for the ‘signal-free’ corridors developed in the city. The problem of transport goes much deeper than the introduction of a shiny green bus service on part of the government.”
Expanding on the lack of planning, former Sindh chief secretary and Hyderabad Development Authority director Tasneem Siddiqui said the government had stopped offering low-cost housing after the 1970s when aid from World Bank began to pour in.
He said when the government shook its hand off building houses and residential schemes, it made room for a myriad of land developers who then made as much profits as they could, thus limiting access to housing to the middle and higher income groups.
Concurring with Ahmed, Siddiqui said the city administration was being run by bureaucrats who had no idea what they were doing.
“City centres and areas around them are supposed to be the most affordable places to live in for the common man,” he said. “But here, the most expensive residential areas are around the city centre while the majority of the people who live in low-cost housing on the fringes of the city spend at least a couple of hours travelling there every day for work.”
The same goes for economic policies, said Siddiqui.
“Before industries, houses are built for the workers, but here in SITE there are 4,000 factories with no economical housing for the labour force.”

Swimming against the tide
Siddiqui also pointed out the grim social indicators for Karachi which were a direct result of the lack of planned development in the city.
According to him, the rate of population growth in Pakistan was two percent per annum but for Karachi it was double, which reflected the increasing density of people in the city.
Continuing in the same line of discussion, architect Arif Hasan, who is also the chairman of the Orangi Pilot Project and the Urban Resource Centre, said with the cost of land 10 times the average income of a common man, the household size in Karachi had increased by 10 percent when it had actually decreased all over the country.
The problem of population densification in Karachi, he said, was indeed a grave one. “In rest of the country, the rate of shared bathrooms and latrines has decreased but in Karachi it has increased.”
According to Hasan, 62 percent of the city’s population lived on only 23 percent of the residential land while only 36 percent lived in planned settlements.
“With 72 percent of the workforce out of formal sector jobs, the de facto government policy is against the common man,” he said. “They don’t have access to the market but the market capitalises on them.”
Talking on development projects, Hasan was of the view that they were brought in without any sort of judgement or analysis. “We have projects, but no planning,” he said.
He gave four broad conditions, which he said, if applied to any new scheme could make it work with and for the people of a society.
He said the project or the scheme should not damage the area’s local ecology. The second condition was that it should determine the use of land on the basis of social and environmental considerations. The third criterion should be that the project should serve the interests of the majority of people, who in Pakistan’s case, would usually be from lower and middle-income backgrounds. Lastly, the scheme should enhance the tangible and intangible culture of societies, rather than impose another one or hamper them from its practice.
Unfortunately, he said, the measures taken by the provincial government to set up authorities to support developers, form a development board, and liberalise housing schemes would further worsen problems instead of solving them by opening the flood gates of more unmitigated development.

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