NED’s big brains get together to fight Karachi’s urban mafias

Published: November 17, 2012
MA students develop vision for sustainable city with new urban planning and local governance. DESIGN: MAHA HAIDER

MA students develop vision for sustainable city with new urban planning and local governance. DESIGN: MAHA HAIDER


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.

The problem

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.

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Positive Pakistani
    Nov 17, 2012 - 11:34AM

    would be interested to see the detailed presentation……


  • Fahad Raza
    Nov 17, 2012 - 11:37AM

    I second the Plan


  • Nov 17, 2012 - 11:37AM

    Public improvement districts could also be set up, with authority to assess taxes on property owners to pay for improvements and better services.


  • shuja ul islam
    Nov 17, 2012 - 12:12PM

    how can we help..!!


  • Zeeshan Karachi
    Nov 17, 2012 - 12:19PM

    Karachi belongs to Karachiites not to the Waderas of Interiors Sindh or to those sitting in Islamabad and Pindi CAntt.


  • A Y
    Nov 17, 2012 - 12:34PM

    That’s some pretty good stuff, forward-thinking, out of the box project. Keep up the good work!


  • BLing BLing
    Nov 17, 2012 - 1:00PM

    Good to see the focus here shifted on finding solutions than just whining about problems. Good work, NED students.


  • Ali
    Nov 17, 2012 - 2:57PM

    @Zeeshan Karachi:
    and not to those as well who are sitting in london.


  • Sonia
    Nov 17, 2012 - 3:20PM

    skeptical about the implementation- good words though.

    its the same mayor government they are talking about- just in a different pattern. it worked in Musharraf rule and it will work if IMPLEMENTATION is proper not just haphazard- which is usually the case in Pakistan as everyone wants to LEAD- no one wants to work- been there and seen that- especially the NED clan!!!!


  • Nov 17, 2012 - 5:01PM

    “…no one wants to work- been there and seen that- especially the NED clan!!!! “

    I hope what Sonia says does not become true, but the record shows that it may get limited to a couple of reports and may never be realised. How can one devise effective methods to see to it that implementation become juridically binding for all organisation involved.


  • DevilHunterX
    Nov 17, 2012 - 11:00PM

    People are too dumb to vote. So now what?


  • Mir
    Nov 17, 2012 - 11:11PM

    Only a human cleansing of Karachi will solve its problem. The current crop is not much different than incests. If you have no skills what else do you expect a population to do?


  • s shah
    Nov 18, 2012 - 3:13AM

    @Mir: That is a shameful thing to say. One should not talk of human cleansing, even in jest. All human life is valuable, whether they have skills or not. People can be taught skills and they can change for the the better, with the Help and Guidance of Allah SWT.


  • syeda waniya riaz
    Nov 18, 2012 - 10:59PM

    I am with u Ned Students……..but how can i help??????


  • just_someone
    Nov 21, 2012 - 11:59PM

    Can I please get a link to the details of the plan, if they are available online? If not, can one of the students who was part of this effort share their work with us online? Thanks!


  • Sajida
    Nov 29, 2012 - 2:41AM

    Los Angeles Charter City??? Do they mean home rule? This is not unique to Los Angeles. In fact even counties can have home rule (that means districts in Pakistan terminology). LA is not a model to look at. There was a reason it had a secession crisis. It is also a candidate for bankruptcy.
    American cities are not a good model for Pakistan. They have biased service delivery that has been driving people to the suburbs.
    Exit, Voice, and Electoral Turnover, vol. 47, no. 2
    Pakistan needs to look at large decentralized city systems and those that have integration with their hinterlands. Karachi can also learn from Istanbul and other metropolitan municipalities of Turkey:
    Istanbul — A Megalopolis That’s Beginning to Work


  • SK5
    Nov 29, 2012 - 10:45AM

    Literally LOL


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