Hopes and aspirations for the city in 2024
Have you ever felt like a stranger in your hometown, a place you’ve lived all your life in? Don’t blame yourself. That’s quite a common feeling the rapidly changing landscape of Lahore would inspire in a Lahori these days. The architects of this ‘development’ call it their triumph — a new underpass that would’ve taken more than six months to shape up was built in two months flat; a flyover consumed more labour for its ‘beautification’ than did a hospital emergency block for its renovation.
This year, over 2,000 city roads were widened, but just as many green spaces shrunk. They called it remodelling. Gated societies kept popping up like wildflowers while security remained an issue for the man — or the woman — in the street.
As in previous years, the skies were kept clear of kites, but the air we breathed was toxic, smog or no smog. Well, the latter (no-smog) hasn’t been the case in many, many months now. Perhaps, it’s a collective failure. But, they blamed it on the farmers and our neighbours across the border.
As we enter 2024, we don’t seem to have exited the space we’ve been in for a long time now. In fact, it might be getting worse. Lahore is increasingly becoming unliveable, and that is to say the least. Our writers weigh in on what the New Year looks like for the city...
By Farah Zia
Director, HRCP; former editor, TNS
The city has become a burden; a caricature of its own image; its best months eaten up by smog and more.
What exactly happened to Lahore, a place that I have lived in and loved; where the bustle has turned into frenzy and the joy of meeting people has become an exhausting enterprise?
At some point, the laidback Lahoris let someone reimagine their somnolent city into a network of roads, underpasses, overhead bridges and signal-free corridors and there has been no looking-back ever since. I still recall the mango trees in the green belt on Gulberg’s Main Boulevard being cut to facilitate the widening of the road in the late 1980s. Except what was supposed to connect has served more to divide. In more recent years, following a Canal Road widening project, an iron railing was placed beside the canal that prevented pedestrians from sitting on the benches along the canal as they used to.
A bulk of this road engineering was ostensibly aimed to ease the life of motorists and private vehicles, whose drivers have instead become more impatient, angry and aggressive. We have observed that the car drivers get irritated by the motorcyclists on the road; together these two are unhappy about the odd and slow cyclists. All three want to spot no pedestrian and see her as a hindrance.
It’s a kind of narrow imagining of a city that potentially contains our collective dreams, what we have known as a city by the river, a city of gardens, a legitimate home for nostalgia, a place to sit and have a conversation and write and recite poetry.
The Ravi crossing of my childhood with the idyllic ruins of Kamran’s Baradari in view is now an unsightly bridge with countless pouncing kites amid chaos. The grand entrance of the Lawrence Gardens has been marred by a colourful jumping castle and electric cars run by a private contractor. The Walled City has been gentrified in the most vulgar ways possible.
I really don’t know what I want Lahore to look like, in the coming year and henceforth. I know the city is growing in all directions. Very soon, I too, will be moving to a suburb, a housing colony built with no thought whatsoever for a public transport (as true of the Bahrias as it is of the DHAs).
What I do want from the city is to get its moral compass back, to deliberate some ethical questions about its development.
To start with, I could pose three questions that we as residents must try and address in 2024. One, how could a city build a massive road infrastructure in the form of a Ring Road for private vehicles and not use it for public transport? Two, how can we make our public spheres more women- and transgender-friendly? Three, is smog a Lahore problem or are we the ones causing it?
By Raheem Ul Haque
Academic, author & social activist
When asked to write about the hopes and concerns for the coming year, I imagined what it would be like to be transported back in time to the Lahore I grew up in: when nights were filled with jugnoos (fireflies); the boundary walls were barely 3-4 feet tall; a variety of birds (parrots, hudhud, woodpecker and more) would be frolicking about; the 1-2 lane main roads were within a much larger green area; I would bike a few miles to my friend’s or cousin’s house to play cricket in the park; drink water from any tap when thirsty. When bored, I’d go to the terrace to fly a kite. Oh, what would I give to get that back and offer just a few days of that experience to my ‘privileged’ children who instead have so many amenities, toys and devices.
Simplistically, this change can be comprehended by mixing Ivan Illich’s term “development as planned poverty” and Edward C Banfield’s “amoral familism,” as Lahoris — and generally Pakistanis — in their race for (shortcut) accumulation of wealth, ad hoc-ism and consumerism, have stopped deliberating the meaning of life, city, community and culture.
A few developments critical to comprehend if we want to avoid a dystopian future for our children. One, as a society, we are in the middle of a holistic decline. This has led to the current poly-crisis, including an intellectual crisis. Two, this situation demands a complete rethinking of our development paradigm (at national, provincial, and local levels) and a structural approach to stem the decline.
Let me elaborate. The winter smog which led me and my wife to spend four days in the ICU with our 8-year-old asthmatic daughter last month is an outcome of our urban design and governance, where transport constitutes about 50-70 percent of air pollution. With an ever horizontally expanding city; privatised transport; low fuel standards and lack of vehicle inspection; fragmented urban governance (LDA, DHA, LMC etc); and a complete lack of political ownership of Lahore (no representative and empowered local government), the air pollution crisis may be resolved when we switch to electric vehicles, maybe in 20 years. Not before that, unless Lahore gets an empowered mayor whose sole responsibility is to the people of Lahore. Unfortunately, we have been stuck with the chief minister of a province of 120 million people, who wants to act like the super-mayor of Lahore.
But if you ask me about my longings for the New Year, one thing stands out above all. Just get me Basant. Please. I beg of you. I can live with undrinkable water, smog, the sewer called the Ravi, the 10-lane highways, the speeding Land Cruisers, the destruction of musical culture with Heera Mandi, the public display of weapons all around. I can live with it all only if I could go to the roof and fly my kite.
I promise to use a simple thread and a small kite. But, I long for that colourful sky, that meeting of family and friends, that cheerfulness and joy across religion, class and gender. I long for the Lahore that no $10 billion tourism project can bring back.
By Amel Ghani
When our government — any government — puts out a vision of this city, it seems to be one of meandering underpasses and bridges, signal-free corridors with cars zooming from one place to another. When I think of Lahore, the image is vastly different.
I want to live in a city where I can walk, plug in my ear phones, step out, put on my favourite playlist and just go buy myself some groceries for dinner. The question then is what is stopping me from doing this — the sheer state of the roads and footpaths. A footpath in this city houses everything but pedestrians and foot traffic. If I, at all, decide to take the five-minute walk to the convenience store, my walk on the actual footpath would probably be less than a minute. There are street hawkers, motorcycles parked; open gutters, garbage dumps and whatnot blocking the way. So I choose ease over walking.
Another reason is the signal-free corridors: try crossing one — even the one as narrow as MM Alam Road or Lytton Road — and your whole life will flash before your eyes the minute you try making it to the other end before a Prado runs you over.
With the current phase of development it seems as if pedestrian traffic is the last thing on anyone’s mind. We dig up more roads to make room for more cars; we cut down more trees to widen our roads; and in that entire conversation we barely notice the footpaths that have been reduced inch by inch, on places like The Mall where they did exist.
If I were to really be hopeful and let my imagination run in this smog laden city, what I’d really hope for is more car-free areas, more car free days and more areas to walk. Instead of shrinking the green area around the canal, let’s increase it and turn it into a public park, full to the brim with families, rowing boats and people being able to walk all the way from Harbanspura to Canal View, if they wish to.
By Haroon Khalid
Freelance journalist; author of Imagining Lahore, and other books
It’s almost become a cliché to say that Lahore is a historical and cultural city. How does that culture interact with our everyday experience? For 2024, that is what I wish for Lahore — to embrace its identity as the historical and cultural hub of Pakistan.
I want to see boards, interactive exhibitions and small museums scattered all across, marking the historical and cultural spaces, from Thokar Niaz Baig to Chungi Amar Sidhu, Guru Mangat and numerous other villages and hamlets that have been gulped down by the metropolis. I want artists to engage with these historical spaces and make its history come alive and interact with all its citizens.
However, this can only become possible if there is a strong local government. I want democracy to spread to our communities, mohallas and neighbourhoods. I want people to feel represented, to discover their voice, and through their voice, vouch for their culture. I wish for local poets, writers and other artists to be supported through grants and hope that we can establish awards for exceptional work. In 2024, I want the local government to fully commit to strengthening this ecosystem.
It used to be said about Lahore that there were more festivals in the city than days in the year. I want Lahore to learn from that history and revive some of those festivals and create new ones. I want Lahore to once again have more festivals than days in a year. I want Lahore to produce hundreds of books, concerts, plays. I want stand-up comedy to find its feet in the city and become a self-sustaining industry.
I wish that there’s always something to do in the city, and there is a show or performance for every taste.