Karachi is undergoing major development — but for whose benefit?

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THE Sindh government has decided to build the 38 kilometre-long Malir Express­way connecting the M9 (read Bahria Town, DHA City and more upcoming neighbourhoods) to the city centre. Even a man on the street can recognise who benefits or is affected by the consolidation of low-density, low-rise development along our highways.

The 16.5km-long Lyari Expressway, inaugurated on Jan 28,has seen hundreds of thousands of people displaced. Many of the earmarked affectees are still struggling to receive compensation.

As the financial year comes to a close, there will be feverish efforts to propose new development projects for the next budget. Recommendations from influential persons, party henchmen and the like usually constitute this politically motivated shopping list, leaving many important projects still awaiting the decision-makers’ and bureaucracy’s attention; projects that would enable Karachi to function as an efficient and equitable metropolis.

Read: Karachi — a case study of an unsustainable city

Urban roads and highways function well when they are planned and developed through an integrated approach. An all-inclusive road repair and maintenance project is a foremost priority. Any commuter will attest to the fact that various categories of roads have been seriously damaged.

Whether connector roads in Gulistan-i-Jauhar and Gulshan-i-Iqbal in the east, or streets around Lea Market in the south, the destruction is to such an extent that even heavy vehicles sustain damage.

The city is undergoing major development, but for whose benefit?

Lack of periodic maintenance, poor design and construction quality, frequent road cutting and adjustments for other buried infrastructure, overlapping development schemes such as the on-going Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, and water and sewage spillage are some causes of the present dilapidation.

A survey of road conditions with accurate geographical and performance parameters is needed, followed by a repairs schedule according to scientific criteria. The design and specification should be optimised to make such repair work last longer. Shaheed-i-Millat Road, rehabilitated not too long ago, is functioning reasonably well due to vigilant supervision by the municipal staff.

A sizable chunk of Karachi’s population resides in new and old squatter settlements, the urban poor’s sole housing option when the state-led supply of land is almost non-existent. These locations need upgrading, a gradual process of planning and supervision. With rising urbanisation and high costs of planned and formal housing, this phenomenon is likely to intensify, even as such settlements witness new changes: the replacement of low-rise housing with informally developed high-rises in the city centre, and increasing costs of water, electricity and gas supplies.

Whereas some believe the poor enjoy free services, the reality is that they pay many times more than residents of planned neighbourhoods. But these transactions are done in an informal manner with little formal evidence. The Sindh Katchi Abadis Authority should prepare a cumulative rehabilitation programme for responding to the emerging requirements of such neglected settlements.

One reason for rampant densification of inner city, low-income settlements is poor public transport. Karachi has evolved in such a manner that high-income groups live close to the city centre or major work locations. Thus lower-income groups, left with limited options, live far away from their workplaces. A sizable part of their meagre income is spent on bus fares.

A low-paid employee living in Landhi spends half his salary on transport simply to maintain his job in the city centre, while a multinational head who resides in DHA and works in Clifton spends a fraction of his income on transport.

Such anomalies merit urgent re­­view. Intelligently worked out financial management solutions can be of relevance. Spe­cia­lised fuel outlets for public transport vehicles, fare rate adjustments, tax exemptions for public transport vehicles and cheap loans to procure buses are some options.

Raising tax on private cars so that the rich may balance the cost of their luxury with the poor must also be considered. Imposing congestion taxes in certain locations may be an answer. But taxation tools must only be applied after increasing the options, scale, level of service and number of public transport vehicles. The strategically located intra-city bus terminals must be made a hub of urban public transport through public-private partnerships given that, when the BRT and Karachi Circular Railway become functional, there will be much need to link them through connecting feeder buses.

To initiate such programming, fresh institutional arrangements may be evolved between the provincial government, local government bodies, local agencies and federal institutions. A working group may be notified comprising the representatives of these agencies, professionals and civil society organisations to oversee such initiatives.

The writer is a professor and the dean, Faculty of Architecture and Management Sciences, NED University, Karachi.

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