When Governor Dr Ishratul Ebad attended a ceremony on Sunday to mark the start of work on Saddar’s Shahabuddin Market parking plaza, he might have glanced right across the road at another project, whose beginnings were similarly accompanied with much fanfare but met a disappointing end: the CDGK Parking Plaza.
A parallel begs to be drawn between the two projects given the similar goals they set out to achieve just a stone’s throw away from each other. “This is a fabulous project,” the governor said about Shahabuddin Market, which is located right beside the famous Empress Market. “It will help solve the problem of traders, reduce traffic jams and provide parking space for the vehicles.” Much the same was said about the CDGK parking plaza that the governor inaugurated in July 2009. Ebad had praised then city nazim Mustafa Kamal as a prime example of good governance.
Further comparisons are in order. Shahabuddin Market, being built at a cost of over Rs1 billion, will house shops underground and at the ground floor, offices on the first and 580 car parking spots on the remaining floors of the six-storey building.
The CDGK parking plaza is bigger and better. It cost Rs650 million has 11 floors and capacity for 1,200 cars. Yet since it was inaugurated two years ago, hardly one floor has been completely filled, officials say. The highlight was that it is computerized and has 96 closed-circuit cameras.
The CDGK has said it would even have a shuttle service for parkers. It was going to charge Rs 20 as parking fee for the first three hours.
But on any given day now, just ten cars are parked here by people who are actually visiting the nearby markets. Instead, this much-feted project has been converted into something of a garage for broken-down vehicles. A senior Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) (read CDGK) official offers an explanation for the lack of interest in using this space: “People of this city are always in a rush. Driving a car or a bike up couple of floors just for parking and then walking another couple of meters to the market is just too much of a hassle for us.”
And all the while, the very problem that the CDGK parking plaza attempted to solve persists right at its doorstep. Traffic is a mess, choked frequently as the thin roads are clogged with haphazardly parked cars, pick-up vans, motorcycles, and idling rickshaws.
It is not clear why the authorities decided to take on another parking plaza project like Shahabuddin, especially when there was so much upheaval that came with it. For example, over 390 shops were bulldozed by the Karachi administration in January 2008 to make way for it. Right now, the shops have been relocated to small markets constructed by KMC in the same vicinity.
The shopkeepers who suffered are skeptics of the new project but there is some weight in their words given that the CDGK plaza was not as successful as envisioned. “I don’t know how KMC will motivate people to use the parking space,” said Muhammad Aslam, who represents the Shahabuddin shopkeepers. “It won’t be easy to convince customers to park their vehicles on the upper floors. But no one listens to us.”
The traders are in no mood to take the responsibility of ensuring that customers use the parking plaza. “We have already been having a hard time attracting buyers since the shops were shifted,” Aslam said.
The KMC’s solution is to increase the charged parking rates on the roads in a bid to push people into using the parking plaza. “It is not our fault if people are not using the parking plaza,” said a KMC official involved in the construction. “The police should have completely banned parking on the roads.”
If the CDGK parking plaza had been successful it would have been easy to commend the city for wanting to build another one, even if it replicated the effort nearby. But much of the criticism for the new project is based on the experience that a lot of buildings have gone to waste in Karachi. The chairman of the department of architecture at NED University, Dr Noman Ahmed, says that the model of the Shahabuddin Market reminds him of the KMC’s Liaquatabad supermarket project.
“I remember that Zulfikar Bhutto inaugurated that in 1970s amid much fanfare,” he told The Express Tribune. “It was the modern face of markets. But it didn’t work. The building has largely remained unused.”
In the case of Liaquatabad supermarket it was wrongly assumed that businesses would start running on the upper floors. “I fear that shady businesses in Saddar will occupy the Shahabuddin market for all the wrong reasons.”
About the failure of the CDGK parking plaza, he explained that it was incorrectly built on a road that serves as a thoroughfare, far away from the popular markets. “If you expect people to walk [from the parking plaza to the market] at least give them decent pedestrian walkways,” he remarked.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 25th, 2012.
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