Unabated horizontal expansion and massive population growth are the leading cause of several urban challenges
ahore is the most populous city of Punjab. According to the national census of 2017, its population is around 11.3 million. The city has a sizable economy; its share in the national GDP stood at 11.8 percent in 2016-2017. Over the years, the share of the manufacturing sector in its economy has been decreasing as the services sector has been growing. As the city expands further, there has been a prominent increase in the size of the housing and construction sector.
A major river (Ravi) flows by it. This makes water bodies one of the main landscape features of the city. Whatever affects Lahore has an impact on the entire Punjab; whatever happens in the Punjab affects the whole country.There has already been much criticism of the unrestricted horizontal expansion of the city to the south and south-west over the decades. This has led to uneven land use as more and more agricultural land has been converted into housing schemes and built settlements. As the city’s boundaries get blurred, neighbouring districts of Kasur, Sheikhupura and Nankana Sahib have become part of the city’s administration and master planning. This has been adding to pressures on local management and planning authorities. The social fabric of the city is also getting stressed.
There is a clear socio-economic distinction between the people residing in the Walled City (the city’s historical centre) and those living in private housing societies. These differences result in disparity in access to basic amenities, especially housing.
Currently, there is a housing demand for 6.4 million units in the urban areas of the Punjab. This is expected to increase to 11.3 million by 2047. A recent report by the World Bank puts the housing poverty in the Punjab at 25.8 percent. The recent easing of regulations by Lahore Development Authority for building high-rises to facilitate a vertical growth trend is under intense debate. The deregulation has created new opportunities for real estate developers. The upper social classes and the overseas Pakistanis see such housing units as an investment opportunity.
Social housing does not appear to be a priority of the private sector in Lahore. The government is finding it difficult to facilitate private investment through construction subsidies and provision of land for building of affordable housing. Lack of credit history and social stigma associated with loans restrict the lower-income classes’ access to housing finance. The housing shortage and inequality are highly likely to increase if the situation continues and there are no sustainable interventions. As housing close to city centre becomes more expensive, more people will be forced to live on its periphery. This is expected to increase the city’s transport burden.
There has already been much criticism of the unrestricted horizontal expansion of city’s boundary towards the South and South-West sides in the last few decades. This has led to an uneven land use as more and more agricultural and vegetation land is converted into housing schemes or other built settlements.
Over the recent decades there has been heavy investment by the provincial government in road infrastructure. However, the wider roads, ring roads and flyovers have ended up aggravating the accessibility issues instead of resolving those. Orange Line and Metro Bus are currently the only two public transport options. No public transport for intra-city travel exists. There is no environmentally safe mass transit system for the mega city. People rely on private vehicles and are reluctant to use the commercial transport options in part on account of poor safety and surveillance systems and supporting infrastructure.
The Motor Registration Authority (MRA) of the Punjab Excise and Taxation Department (PETD) has already voiced concern over the alarming increase in the number of private vehicles in Lahore. It is feared that this will result in acute road obstructions and mobility issues over the coming years. It is already a factor in the most talked about issue in Lahore currently — smog.
The Environment Protection Department (EPD) says vehicular emissions and construction activity in the city are the primary causes of poor air quality in Lahore. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations says that the share of the transportation sector is 43 percent in air pollution in the Punjab.
Medical studies have revealed that around 135,000 people die in Pakistan every year due to air pollution. This is almost 26 percent of the annual deaths in the country. Lahore is currently ranked as the most polluted city in the world, with the Air Quality Index at 318 (50 being safe) as measured by IQAir (2022). The number has shown no improvement over the last few years and in some areas has crossed 400.
The government has been relying on short-term tools to deal with this crisis. Temporary closure of schools and public places is not a viable solution. The poor air quality is a major public health hazard. It calls for attention towards the management and control of irresponsible and unequal urban development practices in the city.
The crises faced by the city are highly interlinked and call for an immediate response from the authorities. Further negligence can make the Heart of Pakistan even more unsafe, non-inclusive and unlivable for the diverse socio-economic groups that call it their home.
The writer is pursuing a postgraduate degree in Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Sheffield