In the face of demolitions, very little will be left of Karachi

KARACHI: Sustainable development remains a distant dream in Pakistan, as the government fails to consider an integrated planning approach, which takes into account the aspirations of communities and the vulnerability of the natural environment.

It resorts to destroying what it considers is ‘unplanned’. Architect and planner Arif Hasan held this attitude responsible for making people homeless and jobless in Karachi. Gentrification gets promoted and all that looks “bad/ugly” gets removed; and removing is “something we are very good at”.

Karachi has grown to a great extent. “If we look at stops and terminals, they have sprung up out of necessity, not out of the planning process,” he said, and now if all these were removed, very little would be left of Karachi.

He opined that any space used by the people should be continued with the use as defined by the people themselves otherwise chaos prevails. “After Covid, we should go for reorganisation and re-planning instead of demolitions.”

These were his views as a panellist at the two-day 4th International Conference on Urban and Regional Planning (CURP) themed “Retaining city histories; an approach to integrated planning” that concluded last week.

CURP is an annual event organised by the Department of Architecture and Planning, NED University that aims to deliberate on emerging issues, evolving concepts and new body of knowledge in the field of urban and regional planning.

Papers and discussions focused on topics from Gwadar and Thar coal, to intangible and tangible existence of cultures and traditions in both the historical, built and living environments in Pakistan, as well as in Albania and Iran.

Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC) CEO Syed Abul Fazal Rizvi, who was the chief guest, gave an overview of the $630 million-2x330MW open-pit mining project in Thar Block II and its associated social projects in the block and Islamkot.

His presentation showed that the project was “100 percent compliant with International Finance Corporation and World Bank environment guidelines”.

Rizvi said the project of national importance achieved commercial operation date on July 10, 2020, three months ahead of schedule. “The real purpose of the Thar coal project was a prosperous Thar,” he claimed.

The CEO shared the vision of the Thar Foundation, which, with the support of the Sindh government was seeking to make Islamkot Taluka “UN Sustainable Development Goal Compliant by 2025”.

The goals have been prioritised as overarching, targeted, and advocacy goals. “Any intervention that we undertake in Tharparkar, we ensure that it is sustainable for 10 years,” he said, expecting the area to become self-sustainable through the utilisation of royalty on coal sales.

However, Hasan was of the view that the other voices on the project also needed to be heard. Participants were unanimous in their view that in both urban and regional planning, interventions should neither be undertaken without taking people onboard nor without considering the negative impacts on both people and the environment.

Pointing out to a lack of qualified architects and planners in the government’s planning process, NED Vice Chancellor Dr Sarosh Hashmat Lodi said there was a definite need for integrated planning and development in Pakistan. He said as an engineer, he would admit that most of the times, it was the engineers who were responsible for messing up what the architects and planners proposed, and lamented that “in Pakistan planners were not really involved in the planning process by the government”.

This, he said resulted in mistakes and long-term repercussions, which were also highlighted earlier in the keynote by Professor Sajida Haider Vandal, Vice Chancellor, Institute of Art and Culture, Lahore.

She shed light on the politics behind the inadequacy of the housing stock in urban centres, which has continued since the 1960s. Her input defined the cultural disconnect between the people and the government, which resulted in poor policies and infrastructure.

“The reason we cannot take people into account when planning is because the government is always in a hurry,” she said to explain why government interventions often failed to give desired results. “Sustainability is not possible without the participation of the people.”

She also talked about restoration of her work with Gurdwaras in Punjab with integrated site management plan approach and community engagement in heritage maintenance for sustainability.

Professor Dr Noman Ahmed, dean of the Faculty of Architecture and Management Sciences at the NED University, said there was a need to ponder the processes through which settlements developed, especially the social and economic forces that were pivotal in shaping up a city.

He appreciated the paper by Jon Calame of the Global Institute of Sustainable Prosperity, US, which addressed the current debate on confederate monuments in the US in light of the Black Lives Matter Movement.

Discussions also revolved around the differences between what the official figures showed versus what the people communicated. There was a call to develop pedagogy, and to increase communication linkages for a better built environment that benefited people, and not a select few.

A total of 11 papers were presented at the two-day event, with three scheduled technical sessions. CURP is primarily grounded on the past 10 annual seminars on urban and regional planning that in 2017 were broadened to an international conference.

Publish in The News 22 December 2020

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