The WCLA’s latest project to redo the streets and gallis of the Walled City raises some important questions
The Lahore today may be dominated by posh housing societies and upscale food chains and cafés, but its true essence still lies in the local foods and ancient buildings that are deeply rooted in the Walled City, or androon shehr in vernacular.
In a bid to boost tourism, the Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA) has lately been working to restore the streets and gallis in the city’s oldest neighbourhood, with help from international and local consultants. So far 57 streets have been redone, over a span of nine years, while work on more streets is under way.
According to Akbar Munir, the director of engineering at the WCLA, work on the project was supposed to start in 2006, but it was tweaked and broken down into four stages, and finally moved to the execution stage in 2011.
Different areas were focused upon in each of the four stages, primarily to do with “façade rehabilitation” and “infrastructure development.” Façade rehabilitation is the obvious component of restoration and includes the refurbishment of buildings, properties and roads keeping in mind their original designs so as not to take away their authenticity which bears testament to the old Lahore. The infrastructure development comprises mainly underground work such as water supply, sewerage, storm water management, telecommunications and an underground electric system. This part of the project ensures the provision of clean water and better telecommunication services for the residents. Rusted water supply and sewerage pipes have been replaced with new ones, webs of electrical wires shadowing the streets have been moved underground, and transformers have been shifted from open spaces in the streets to enclosed ones in order to reduce safety hazards. A separate line has been installed to conserve storm water collected from rainfalls which is being used in the plantation of the circular garden.
These activities have been carried out in several stages. Stage one went on from 2012 to 2015. Areas from Delhi Gate to Chowk Purani Kotwali were the focal point at this stage. Stage two focused on the rehabilitation of streets from Chowk Purani Kotwali to Rim Market, over the next three years. Stage three, which is currently on hold, is “resource development” for these areas and includes development of a water source, construction of water tanks and pump houses and laying the ductile iron primary water supply.
Munir explains that stage three is on hold “in order to complete the restoration of maximum historic buildings in stage four.” (Stage four, which was initiated last year, involves restoration of neighbourhoods and streets from Chowk Purani Kotwali to Sonehri Masjid.)
At the heart of these renovations is the preservation of historical designs. Monuments such as Shahi Hamam, Masjid Wazir Khan and Sonehri Masjid are located in the areas chosen for this redevelopment. They too have been intricately worked upon to highlight the culture they present in their designs.
Another factor that affected the pace of the project has been the struggle to get the local community on board. “How would you feel,” Munir asks, “if the tiles were removed and your house was lined with plaster?” Around 800 properties were worked on, and not every family warmed up to the idea of renovation of their places.
The areas selected in the four stages have been picked because of their drainage patterns.
The development process has been slow. When quizzed, Akbar Munir explains that one of the reasons (for the slow progress) is the “extensive research and thorough communication by Oregon International, the international consultant from South Africa, with the local authorities. They provided the framework on which the local authorities carried out the execution. Furthermore, a lot of the material used for the rehabilitation is imported. This too causes delays.”
Another factor that affected the pace of the project has been the struggle to get the local community on board. “How would you feel,” Munir asks, “if the tiles were removed and your house was lined with plaster?”
Around 800 properties were worked on, and not every family warmed up to the idea of renovation of their places. “One of the construction workers was even shot at,” reveals Munir. On the directions of the World Bank, shop owners who faced hindrances in their businesses due to construction work and whose shops were used for the placement of electrical transformers were paid compensation.
When asked as to how the residents were eventually persuaded, he says, “Our social mobilisation team held meetings with the presidents of the street residents’ associations, and respectfully asked them to help the locals ease into the WCLA’s plan.” Even though the community had been on the same page as the authorities over the years, it’s safe to say that there was some resistance when the change was brought about right in their homes.
In the final analysis, even though the WCLA has relayed its intentions to keep providing for the maintenance of the 57 streets it has completed till date, the actual efforts in this connection are yet to be seen. Considering the pace at which the work is being carried out, one can’t help but wonder how many years it would take for maintenance activities to be carried out should the need arise.
Additionally, even though the residents were generally taken into confidence while their properties were redesigned and their shops relocated, the fact remains that they were put out of their comfort zones in their own spaces for the sake of a boost in tourism. Whether or not disrupting the lives of these common people to glorify Lahore is justified, is a discussion that needs to be had.
The writer has a Bachelors’ degree in English Literature and an MS in Public Relations and Advertising. She can be reached at [email protected]