Last week the Sindh High Density Development Board gave the go-ahead for Chapal Skymark, a 47-story building opposite Karachi Club. The marvel of the building, senior directors at the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) told me, was that it would generate its own electricity through a new green technology called a "hydroelectric reactor" that only uses air to create power. They tossed around the name Cogar International. Apparently, this 'breakthrough technology' had so impressed the chief minister during the presentation by the architect and SBCA head, that Qaim Ali Shah asked his team to explore it for Thar. If this machine is real, its inventors have broken several laws of physics. Several posts online indicate we may just be looking at a case of the 'water kit' car.
I left the SBCA wondering how the new board had even approved such a building plan. This led to another question. How can a board (formed in 2010) decide on its own where, how and who puts up these high-rises in Karachi? Should this not ultimately be decided by Karachi's Master Plan office? Does the Chapal Skymark even fit into the Master Plan for Karachi? I was told next door in the Master Plan office that the final approval is given by the board. The Master Plan (and SBCA) just sits on the board. The subtext was that if the powers that be decide the building is going through, who is the director of the Master Plan office to oppose it.
The problem is that in 2013, the chief minister decided that he would place the Master Plan office under the control of the Sindh Building Control Authority. In fact, common sense would dictate that it should be the other way around. (The matter is in court). A master plan for a city is an evolving framework that takes into consideration all its physical, social, environmental and economic needs and future.
And so, in the third installment of this five-part series, The Express Tribune asks whether Karachi needs one entity to decide if, how and where it needs high-rise buildings-given that the government just passed the Sindh High Density Development Act. The debate was started by Lahore-based urbanist Ahmad Rafay Alam after Roland deSouza of NGO Shehri and Arif Belgaumi gave a public presentation on the law. Karachi planner and researcher Arif Hasan and Belgaumi weigh in.
Q: Rafay Alam
Lawyer, environmentalist and activist
The single town planning agency [is a] great idea, and one floated in Lahore as well — with no takers. Makes me wonder why. And this is where my thinking begins to differ.
A single building control authority for cities like Lahore and Karachi is fanciful if it doesn't take into account the immense political pressures in the housing and building sector. Of course, one of the purposes of law is to bend practice to the benefit of the public rather than elites.
The fact that there isn't a single town planning agency despite the repeated calls of experts across the country is very telling. And it shows just how irrelevant this lobby of experts is in the face of political and other pressures. Imagine being part of the process of the law but not carrying enough weight to see it passed (I ride a moral high horse here because of the passing of the Canal Heritage Park Act, 2013.)
A: Arif Hasan
Architect & planner, activist, teacher, social researcher & writer
I do not think that there can be one planning agency. Many cities face this problem both in Europe and the "developing" world. However, a coordination body is required and has been proposed several times for Karachi and in one instance (the Karachi Development Plan 2000) was accepted, at least in theory, by all the agencies. The plan never became law.
A: Arif Belgaumi
Practising architect and teaches architectural design at the Indus Valley School of Art and Architecture
There is an absence of political will that prevents successive governments from taking long term structural reforms in the interest of cities. Most of our cities are composed of autonomous administrative jurisdictions. I believe that everyone recognizes that need to fashion a singular vision for the future of our cities.
A supra-planning authority will also prioritise the needs of the public and draft laws and building regulations to direct development to their development. Unfortunately, political expediency and personal agendas prevent this from being realized. Until we separate land-ownership from land-administration in our cities, we will continue to flounder.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 29th, 2014.
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