Urban expansion threatens capital’s image

Increase in housing demand due to population growth has resulted in rapid development which is not sustainable

Ahsan Jehangir Khan July 30, 2021
A view of Islamabad city. PHOTO: FILE


The country’s poster child for being clean and green, Islamabad, is fast approaching a conundrum due to its seemingly never-ending expansion, uninterrupted influx of migrants, population growth, and an increase in concrete towers.

At this rate, experts predict by 2030, the capital will soon be known as a concrete city instead of a green city. Albeit there is nothing wrong with being identified as a concrete city, as many other capitals of the world are, Islamabad is already facing the brunt of population growth in the form of water shortages, security issues, rising unemployment, and inflated housing costs.

Urban planner Naveed Iftikhar is of the view that instead of expanding Islamabad’s boundary to accommodate housing societies, the growing population should be accommodated in high-rise buildings. “Expansion of new sectors near Wah Cantt, Taxila, Bara Kahu, Rawat, and Peshawar Road will cost billions of rupees to provide electricity, water, gas and roads while multi-storied buildings in developed sectors will reduce costs and provide housing and other amenities to citizens in one place,” Iftikhar told the Express Tribune.

While apartment-style living is not uncommon in the federal capital, a preference for living in houses has been observed. This preference translates into high property rates therefore demand for relocating to housing societies further away from the city centre is at an all-time high.

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Keeping this demand in mind, Capital Development Authority (CDA) officials answering a question, told the Express Tribune that every modern country and city faces these problems, but in spite of this work is in full swing on new sectors by expanding the city, as well as developing existing ones to provide the growing population with new public parks, schools, colleges and medical facilities.

Due to the pure economics of demand and supply development is inevitable. However, there are immense repercussions of this development according to Waleed Ismail, an urban designer based in Islamabad. “There is a climatic effect as the average temperature of the city has increased because hard pavement (asphalt) surfaces have increased,” he said.

Ismail, seconding Iftikhar, said that the expansion or sprawl of Islamabad needs to be put an end to as we are reducing cultivable areas to build housing societies. Commenting on the rise of water-tankers in the new sectors of Islamabad, Ismail said, “Islamabad is a landlocked area with a few water sources and decreasing groundwater so if we keep pushing the boundary and developing housing societies water scarcity is inevitable.”

Need for public transport

Both Iftikhar and Ismail agree that the CDA’s plan for more roads puts a focus on private-car owners instead of the masses making Islamabad only a private-car friendly city.

“As a nation we are spending too much on roads to connect private car users to city centres,” Ismail informed the Express Tribune. The urban designer believes that even though no one can be blamed for this pattern of development in Islamabad it would be better to explore patterns that were successful in fellow-developing countries like Mexico, India, and Bangladesh. “These countries are relying on transit-oriented development.”

The transit-oriented development model relies on developing housing and commercial options close to public mass-transit systems and originating transit nodes from high density population areas to connect people to service areas, markets, hospitals, and parks to decrease private-car ownership. Ismail believes this will counter the rising asphalt surfaces and will preserve Islamabad’s green spaces.

Islamabad’s rising population conundrum requires innovative solutions and Ismail is of the view that the city’s administration lacks competent people who specialize in identifying issues before they happen and offer sustainable solutions. “We need more innovators instead of bureaucrats,” Ismail told the Express Tribune.

With additional reporting by Zulfiqar Baig

Published in The Express Tribune, July 30th, 2021.


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