Streets smart

March 2, 2014

Streets smart

The northwestern part of the city, popularly known as "Old City" or "Androon Shehr", boasts a very rich cultural and architectural heritage. Complicated, mysteriously winding streets of this part of the city have houses from olden times, usually two- or three-storey tall, with brick façades, flat roofs, richly carved wooden balconies and overarching windows. This rich architectural heritage has another uniqueness that is seen as an encroachment in modern bylaws -- the "Chhatti galis" or covered streets.

Rapid demolition and frequently illegal rebuilding taking place in the Old City has caused the architectural fabric of the historical buildings to erode and be replaced by modern, albeit inferior, constructions.

"The structure of the covered streets is akin to what you find in several parts of the world including Europe, Middle East and North America but there are certain bylaws which govern these [streets] and describe the rights of the people living on either side of the streets," says Rashid Makhdoom, an architect working on the Walled City Development project.

"In Lahore, we have these galis mostly in the old havelis, deorhees and katras which in recent times have been converted into streets," he adds. "These are at least 100 years old because the modern bylaws were introduced in the 1920s and had no room for such encroachments."

According to Asghar Hussain, a spokesman for the Sustainable Development of the Walled City of Lahore (SDWCL), "The Lahore Walled City Development Project of the Punjab government, started in collaboration with Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) and with help from the World Bank, is looking at this side of the interior city."

When these were built, the whole area belonged to one family, till with the passage of time the properties were sold and divided.

The aim, he insists, is to "preserve our rich cultural heritage and explore the benefits of the project for the residents. Besides, suggestions regarding maintenance and conservation of the Walled City are also solicited."

Hussain says the administration is removing encroachments for the convenience of the residents of the area. The covered streets which are not found in the old maps of the city call for demolition."

Javeria Qais Joiya, a lawyer and member of the Lahore Bar Council, says the people who have covered the streets with a roof for their own use have committed an illegal act as the streets are the property of the state. "This way they are impinging on the rights of other people living on the street."

Javeria is also of the view that a situation like this should be dealt with in accordance with the existing bylaws.

The chhatti galis are a valuable architectural asset but in the prevailing scenario these are creating hurdles in the routine life of the inhabitants of the area. When these were built, the whole area belonged to one family but with the passage of time and the inheritance phenomenon the properties were sold and divided which hurt the right of privacy and property as well. Many of the original owners of the places have moved to modern, freshly built colonies and towns.

This also threatens the environmental rights (to wind, light and clear sky) of the dwellers.

Sardar Asif Sial, an environmental lawyer, says that people are not very much aware of their rights. "They could be compensated against any violation of these rights if they go for it."

The covered streets, Sial adds, if not discussed with the residents of the street, are a clear violation of basic rights.

It has also been observed that the people living in covered streets are more exposed to sewerage problems than the ones in other parts of the area. "Our street goes deep and we cannot increase its level because we have it covered at the start," says Usman Akbar, a middle aged resident of Gwalmandi.

"The owners have migrated to a modern-day town and we are unable to do anything in this regard. We have to pass by the sewerage water to reach our houses whenever it rains."

Because the streets are generally dark, even during daytime, the people passing through them tend to throw litter. Nasser Ahmad, an old resident of Bazaar Hakimaan, Bhaati Gate, also speaks of pickpockets roaming these streets.

Streets smart