Karachi may be the jewel in Sindh’s crown to the government machinery and political parties, but they are then ignoring what urban planners call secondary cities at their own peril.
Take the example of Larkana, an important political, historical and trade centre with a population of 500,000 people (figure from the 1980s). It has developed certain problems of which sewage pumping and congestion were highlighted by two researchers, assistant professors Suneela Ahmed and Masooma Mohib Shakir of NED University at its 7th urbanisation and secondary cities seminar on Saturday.
The team worked on the economic functioning of secondary cities of Pakistan and its integration with physical land use as part of collaboration with UN Habitat.
As they explained, Larkana is a flat city crossed through with railway tracks and the rice canal, which divide it into three parts. Its regional significance can be gauged by the fact that 15 roads connect to it. The city acts as what urban planners call a ‘service centre’ for surrounding areas, which are mostly farmland. One huge advantage is that its important wholesale market, located on one side of the city, is well integrated and connected to the hinterland.
Larkana is also important politically and for historic tourism as it is located 25km from Moenjodaro and the Bhutto mausoleum. It is a hometown for political leaders and attracts processions and rallies along with rural tourism, as a result. However, there has been poor tourism planning. For example, there is a lack of hotels or places for transitory visitors to stay. The inner city heritage is being eroded and there is a lack of open public recreation spaces.
As a service centre Larkana suffers from poor transportation management, encroachment and the city centre infrastructure has as a result become overburdened. It is densifying and open drainage contributes to the problem. Bus and Qinqi stands are narrowing inner city roads, encroachments have sprung up on the banks of the canal.
The government will need to focus on intercity road transportation, which is private; thus routes need to be identified and space needs to be allocated for transport. In particular, the researchers mapped and identified how crossing points at the railway and canal had in particular become congested.
Larkana is experiencing a change on its peripheries, as the map shows. As a result, farmland on the outskirts is being turned into flats. This is happening without any planning and government regulation is weak.
For any government intervention, one important characteristic needs to be factored in, urged Shakir and Ahmed. That is the extent of the ‘informal’ sector. In Larkana, more than half of commercial outlets are ‘informal’, for lack of a better word. This includes labour, such as domestic helpers, people who work in the handicrafts industry or live by small-scale agricultural or livestock rearing.
Unfortunately, the city centre has come under a lot of pressure and its old infrastructure needs attention, especially the ancient Shahi Bazar. A plus point is that it is pedestrian in character and people who work here, live here. Thus, it is a close-knit neighbourhood, distances are walkable and the residential and commercial are well integrated.
But because of this, people are taking up land on the outskirts. New buildings are replacing old ones and they are mostly ugly. The government owns a minimum of land on the periphery, and as a result, construction of generally unplanned and unregulated private housing is taking over. Katchi abadies are twice the size of Larkana’s listed housing.
The planning will be needed for the outskirts because Larkana is flat and needs to pump out sewage. It could face serious flooding if the government doesn’t do something. This also raises the question of regularisation for katchi abadies because without it they will not have access to infrastructure development such as proper sewage.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 2nd, 2012.
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