Make or break: Is Karachi making you crazy? Try this vision on for size

A good city is one where rich and poor meet as equals in public spaces

Mahim Maher March 26, 2015
MA Jinnah Road at night in a photo symbolic of the problem: cordoned off public spaces. PHOTO COURTESY: ENRIQUE PENALOSA

KARACHI: Forget the nostalgia of the people who saw Dizzie Gillespie perform at Hotel Metropole. That Karachi is unlikely to return. What kind of Karachi do we want now? Let's talk about the future. Let's get angry.

I have been getting angry and excited in spectacular measures these days because Enrique Penalosa is in town and I have been carefully observing developments surrounding his visit. The 60-year-old urban planner and former mayor of Bogota, Colombia argues for a vision of Karachi as sexy as his Latin American lisp. He is here to help engineers design a bus system much like TransMilenio he introduced in his city, forever changing its fabric and quality of life.

On Tuesday night, Penalosa was taken to MA Jinnah Road by engineer Ashar Lodhi, who is part of the team working on a bus plan. "It has magic," Penalosa told The Express Tribune later. "Such a beautiful road." He could see that it was made for pedestrians, a mix of high- and low-end cafes, sidewalks, thella wallahs, nightlife. This public space, especially towards Merewether Tower, is blessed with heritage buildings that make it unique. Why is it not a part of a vision for Karachi?

Engineer Lodhi made the wise decision to take Penalosa to MA Jinnah Road at night because his firm, Exponent Engineering, are trying to develop a design for dedicated bus lines that will take people all the way to Bahria Town on the Super highway.

Over a week's time, Penalosa has been to other parts of Karachi where he studied how neighbourhoods are connected and their quality of life. In particular, he noted the rise of the shopping mall. "When shopping malls replace public space it means that the city is sick," he says. "This only happens in failed cities. In great cities there are no shopping malls. Colombian cities, Thai cities, Indonesian cities are failed cities. You go on a Saturday afternoon and there are few people in the street. You think they must be at home. But the people have gone to shopping malls to escape from the city that is unpleasant." There are no shopping malls in London, Paris and Madrid, which is hot like Karachi.

Enrique Penalosa at Merewether Tower, preparing for MA Jinnah Road’s bus plan. PHOTO: MAHIM MAHER/EXPRESS

Karachi also clearly demonstrated another of his theories of a vision for a city. "Mobility tends to get worse as a society gets richer," he says. "This is different from health and education [which get better as a society gets richer]. Instead transport gets worse." Why? Because of inequality. In Karachi, the rich zoom around in bullet-resistant trucks and the poor sit on the tops of buses.

"Transport is a matter of equity not technology," Penalosa says. "You can have the best transport in the planet but if the rich continue to use their cars you clearly do not have a sustainable model. Becoming richer will not necessarily make a better city."

A good city is one where rich and poor meet as equals in public spaces. And first, the Sindh government, political decision-makers and the people of Karachi need to think about what kind of city they want.

"A good city is above all a good city for walking," Penalosa says. It is where the elderly can walk, where neighbourhoods know each other. There is access to greenery, waterfronts, not highways. "Crazy dictators do highways," he adds. In Karachi there is a conflict between people and cars. "If we spend all the money on highways and not people, then clearly this is not going to work well." We make flyovers but we forget to make sidewalks.

Enrique Penalosa will be speaking more about the vision of a city at NED University's Gulshan campus off University Road at 10am at the video conference hall in the department of civil engineering on Friday, today.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2015.


abcd | 6 years ago | Reply Some very interesting observations made by Mr.Penalosa. Karachiites and the Pakistani Govt should learn from such experts. Cities are made by the people who live in them. While people are sick and tired of our corrupt leaders (@Syed&Syed an example here), we cannot blame them. The current system running this country has not proven to work as smart hardworking people are being put down while corrupt, inefficient, sycophants are being handed the keys of the system...which they use for their personal gains. Nonetheless, Mr.Penalosa, thank you for your insight. While we have become jaded and see M.A.Jinnah Road as just a road, you have reminded us how there is much more there than meets the eye. Good luck and hope your visions can make some difference in the lives of the common Karachiite.
syed & syed | 6 years ago | Reply Messers Panasola Lodhi Town Planning and Filling Pocket Company. You are working on the guide lines given to you by masters of Sind. Why can you not work on Circular and Under Ground Railway system.
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