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Fleeting moments

August 19, 2020

Rethinking cities

Opinion

August 19, 2020

The prime minister has announced the launch of the Rs5 trillion Ravi City project on the banks of the Ravi River. An area of 100,000 acres has been earmarked for the project that would comprise Dubai-style high-rise buildings and megastructure. Undoubtedly, housing for the ever-increasing population is badly needed. But, instead of extending the already urbanised areas, setting up new cities away from main cities could be a good option.

The construction of multi-storey apartment buildings and houses is one part of the story, providing civic amenities is another. For instance, the overpopulated city of Lahore lacks an efficient sewerage system. Civic bodies responsible for the administration of the city pay more attention to buildings above the ground than developing the sewerage network. It’s always the monsoon season that unveils their negligence when city roads are flooded and the traffic has to pass through flooded streets.

In the absence of a workable sewerage system, many residential colonies use the Lahore canal for the disposal of their sewage. When the canal is closed for desilting, slimy water continues to flow. Similarly, the Ravi has been reduced to an outlet for sewage as reportedly 2000 cusecs of waste is dumped into it on a daily basis. And no water purification plants operate in the megacity.

Also, the city faces an acute problem of shortage of drinking water. The subsoil water level has gone down drastically. At places, tube wells are drilled 600feet deep to obtain clean drinking water. Regrettably, the waste of clean drinking water remains unchecked. Car wash stations in the city consume thousands of gallons of valuable water every day. What’s the need to wash cars anyway? Every home in an opulent residential area have at least two cars. If these are washed twice a week, imagine the carelessness with which the diminishing water reserves are treated.

One of the major problems is the migration of people from rural to urban areas. The main reason for it is the lack of employment opportunities in rural areas. Job opportunities could be created if industrial cities and universities are set up away from main cities. In the US, city development was done in two phases. First, universities were established in an area. Second, towns were developed in the surrounding. With time, such habitations grew to be known as university cities. Such precedents exist in our country too.

University Town in Peshawar is the case in point. Many years ago, it was the backwaters of Peshawar, but now it is the hub of the city and has been developed into an upscale residential area. Similarly, the Ghulam Ishaq Khan Institute of Engineering Sciences and Technology, one of the leading universities of the country, was set up in 1993 in the scenic landscape near Topi in KP. Renowned nuclear scientist Dr Abdul Qadeer Khan was the moving spirit behind establishing the institute.

Topi, then, looked like a village with a few shops. It has now grown into a city. Incidentally, when traveling from Tarbela to GIK Institute, one passes by a village called Hamlet located at the foot of a hill. It reminds one of Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’. The difference between the two is that instead of Shakespearean English, the language of Hamlet near Topi is Pushto – usually spoken in a high pitch.

The prudent way to plan for the future will be to set up residential cities on barren and saline land instead of on fertile land. For instance, a vast chunk of land between Bhera and Salt Range on the motorway could be utilised for setting up a sizeable industrial city. Because of salinity, patches of land on both sides of the motorway don’t produce valuable crops. To meet the needs of an industrial city, the area has electricity, an excellent road network being located on the motorway, and water available from the nearby river – the Jhelum River. Any political leader who ventures to establish new cities either residential or industrial, or both will carve his name in history.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]