Rights of the city

November 17, 2019

Thinkers, planners, and experts from Pakistan and abroad brought their diverse worldviews on issues of cities and citizens, at the 10th annual conference of THAAP


THAAP recently hosted its 10th annual conference in Lahore. Its theme was Citizens and the City: Urban Dynamics in Pakistan and the Region. The event, which ran for three days, was organised in collaboration with the Institute of Art and Culture (IAC), and saw delegates from Australia, China, Germany, Switzerland, India and Pakistan. They included Prof Simon Yin Fudan, Prof Jakelin Troy, Dr Khataumal, Prof Dr Noman Ahmed, Prof Dr Samra Mohsin Khan, Dr Ali Mohsin, Raza Naeem, Salman Basharat, Ghiasuddin Pir, Intikhab Alam, and Neha Fatima. They brought in their diverse worldviews on issues of citizens and cities.

At the beginning, the chief guest, Prof Dr Tariq Rehman, who is the dean of the School of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences at BNU, asked a very pertinent question: what are the city’s rights — apart from its right to art, architecture, urban development, human rights and public and social policy.

The guest of honour, Prof Dr Mohammad Nizamuddin, the pro-rector at Superior University, Lahore, stressed on the need for acceptance of an aging population and marginalised gender spaces, which was taken up by Asad Ahmed in his research focusing on sensitisation and raising awareness on urban transphobia among the city inhabitants.

Keynote speaker Ar/Plnr Kalim Siddiqui, the chairman of Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners, and president of Commonwealth Association of Architects, highlighted the crisis of global urban sprawl and issues of migration and incompatible bylaws in major cities of Pakistan.

Issues of infrastructural development in the urban fabric were also discussed at length. The case of Mithi, Tharparker, was specifically heart-wrenching as the traditional village fabric has been disrupted by unplanned infrastructural development causing drought and food shortage and further resulting in health issues. Correlating the infrastructure with the urban fabric and safeguarding the rights of the pedestrians in this day and age of the car-crazy city was suggested as a way forward in providing the Pakistani urban population with a balanced life of affordable housing, a well-structured transportation infrastructure, and better healthcare facilities.

The concept of Smart Cities was also explained with the aim to bring the community on board.

The conference progressed with a session on bringing the city heritage to the youth by raising an awareness campaign, and observing and feeling built heritage as having multiple souls, as its use changes with time bringing in temporal, sensorial and social dimensions of a space in an urban setting.

Lahore and its multifaceted character are an apt example of the said case. The city houses multiple characters within its fold — from the organic winding streets of the Walled City to the alienated anti-pedestrian streets.

This was further explored in another dimension in the family history of the traditional bow makers of Muhallah Kaman Garan when Dr Kanwal Khalid took on a journey of exploration into the various dimensions of the family that had practised the craft and the sacrifices it had to make.

Drastic repercussions of mass displacement, carried out in order to propagate large-scale projects such as the Lyari Expressway, the social, psychological, and ecological impact on the community and the area of Lyari were also highlighted.

Rights of the citizens, the ideological and cultural history of the city that was distorted and has been substantially radicalised under the recent amendments of the current political regime in Indian Kashmir, were brought to light by Dr Abdul Haseeb Mir.

Highlighting the socio-cultural disconnect of post-colonial societies, Dr Ali Mohsin tried to redefine citizenship as to what it does for people rather than what it actually is — which should be analysed with respect to aspirations and rights of the people.

Raza Naeem’s take on how the traumatic incidents of a city affect the city’s writers by highlighting Manto and the Jallianwala Bagh massacre showcased another aspect of how politics play a role in shaping the urban fabric.

The case of Jain heritage and lack of its awareness, especially when the community played a role in the development of various cities and their social ecology, also seemed to have fallen under the same shadow of overriding mainstream political and religious narratives.

An overlooked aspect of the urban fabric is the languages of various communities, especially those of the marginalised and rural communities, leading to strife and religious tensions, as highlighted by Prof Dr Tariq Rehman in his research. Teaching them to the young was offered as a functional solution by Prof Jakelin Troy who was the only member who spoke the language of her people.

The conference concluded with the realisation brought home by Dr Humera Naz that urbanisation is not merely an increase in the proportion of urban population, but a continuing thing which encompasses all factors underlying the process of economic growth and socio-cultural change. As aptly put by Zainab Javed, when all else fails, it is our colonisation of spaces and abrupt takeover, ensured by our natural instincts of what the city can become, that results in a display of how we appropriate our urbanity to our own needs and expectations. Her research focused on the fact that we need to project our ambitions as an urban society and indulge in some sort of conversation with the urban elite, reminding them of the effectiveness of our self-determined ways of dwelling.

Lahore: THAAP 10th annual conference discusses urbanisation