Karachi’s urban mafias may have new rival in town – the big brains at NED university’s urban planning department. Its 11 MA degree students have come up with a vision for the city to make it sustainable. Now all they need is to get the people on board.
Among other things, they propose using the Los Angeles charter city solution to tackle Karachi’s eternal local government problem. In this model, a city’s charter says how it will be run rather than looking to laws from Islamabad or the Sindh Assembly. So Karachi would be run predominantly by citizens and no change can be made without the people’s vote.
The NED students believe such solutions need to be talked about as the writ of our city government has been seriously eroded as Karachi grows. The vacuum is being filled by ‘urban mafias’.
“We hope that the work will stimulate dialogue on the urgent need to develop a planning and development vision … to resolve the grave challenges of sustainable growth in Karachi,” said project supervisor Farhan Anwar, who is a visiting faculty member and an urban sector reforms consultant. On Thursday, Anwar and the students shared their recommendations at the architecture and planning department in a dense and comprehensive presentation whose only drawback was the near death-by-powerpoint experience from over 200 slides.
For team member Sarosh Mubarak, their focus was urban planning policies and regulations with recommendations for government, civil society and professionals. Mubarak lamented that students often come up with reliable remedies but feel helpless when it came to taking them to the public. “The projects kept stalling with institutions or the experts in a few cases but there were hardly any efforts to bring them up as a topic of public discourse,” said Mubarak.
As anyone will tell you in Karachi, unresolved conflicts between key political and non-political people over the control of land, resources and services are leading to violent confrontations. There is a dog-eat-dog fight for control.
“The conflict-ridden environment has an adverse impact on urban development with ever increasing physical divisions in settlement patterns, no-go areas and gated communities,” said Anwar.
It doesn’t help that development is unequally distributed and is damaging the environment. Karachi has been taken over by a few powerful groups while the rest of its people are marginalized. They don’t get fair access to land, services, jobs and a political voice.
The proposed solutions
The NED team said that some problems can be tackled by sustainable interventions for government and planning. “The anarchism in other parts of the world is dealt with concrete negotiations while in Karachi, only half-hearted and half-baked efforts were made to arrive at a consensus,” explained Dr Noman Ahmed, the chair of NED’s architecture and planning department.
For the last ten years, Karachi has plunged itself into a self-styled anarchy.
He uses the recently approved Sindh Peoples Local Government Ordinance as an example. “Legislation is always the translation of overall objectives that a consensus intends to achieve,” he said. But this was not the case with this law as too many political forces opposed it.
Aside from government and planning, the NED students have suggestions to create more open spaces, use green housing and renewable energy and coastal zone management.
NED’s Farhan Anwar argued that the idea of self-betterment can be a trigger for citizens to participate in Karachi’s development. “A change in mind-set is required; government is not the sole provider of all, rather it ensures that what that is required should be provided to all.”
Take back Karachi
As an outcome of rapid urbanisation, citizens of Karachi have forsaken their firsthand relationships with the land. The city’s landscape is crammed with residential blocks, neighbourhoods, commercial development and infrastructure while access to quality open spaces has gradually decreased or at least their distribution across the urban space may not seem to be equitable.
Inspired by New York’s Open Space Conservation Plan of 2011, NED University’s Sidra Hussain and Muhamamd Nawaz adapted a model for Karachi to have a balanced and sustainable system of parks, natural open spaces, athletic facilities and trails, all consistent with their cultural value and historic significance.
“In Karachi of today, vacant land accounts for only 7% of the current urbanised area of 130,169 acres,” said Nawaz. They recommended that the urban spaces such as roads and watersides needs be adorned with a network of green corridors while public open spaces should be shaped into vibrant urban streetscapes. Underutilised spaces in neighbourhoods can be opened as playgrounds or part-time public spaces. For instance, a number of schoolyards can be renovated into playgrounds and then opened up to the community when schools are not in session, said Hussain.
LA’s government has:
– Elected and appointed officials (commissions, departments and agencies)
– Whether appointed or elected, all city officers can be sacked by voters
– Elections are held on a non-party basis
– It has a mayor and a council
– Much of the city government is under the authority of departments, managed by appointed officials, and staffed almost entirely by employees covered by the civil service system
Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2012.