Planning and rehabilitation: Karachi needs its katchi abadis

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Dr. Noman Ahmed, speaking on the ocassion

By Shazia Hasan

With receding state role in planning and providing low-cost housing to workers, the city has been left to private and informal sectors to use its land for business and investment, causing an imbalance between low and high density residential areas.

These views were expressed at a seminar on ‘Planning and Rehabilitation for the City’, organised by the Social Sciences Department, Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (Szabist).

Experts at the seminar looked at the civic issues in Karachi from the past to the present in the face of poor planning and mismanagement.

Dr Noman Ahmed, chairperson of the Architecture and Urban Planning Department of NED University, said there had been various attempts at planning Karachi as this major port, industrial and commercial city experienced several phases of rapid growth.

His paper ‘The Planning Dilemma’ besides throwing light on those plans also pointed out that Karachi provided 15 per cent of Pakistan’s total GDP, 25pc federal revenues, 50pc of total bank deposits and over 70pc of all the issued banking capital. And yet thanks to its image portrayed by the media that usually focused on negative things, it was seen as a troubled city, he said. In fact, he added, foreigners received cautious travel advice while visiting here. The city had an aware young population who mostly remained frustrated due to inadequate recreation, Dr Ahmed said, adding that the land and property in Karachi was mostly to invest as the city densified.

Meanwhile, the utilities did not keep pace with the development as storm drains became sewers and transport crisis worsened, he said. The administrative set-up saw the municipalities losing management strength as departments in the Sindh government were crippled by corruption, he added.

Tasneem Siddiqui, chairperson of SAIBAN, spoke about housing shortage, katchi abadis and housing projects. He said that things could have been managed at the Partition time when so many people migrated here from India, as then Karachi had a great mayor but he was bypassed when it came to city planning as was the provincial government. And the federal government that came in to run Karachi didn’t know what to do while city planning got neglected. “There are low density residential areas of Clifton, Defence and PECHS where the affluent live and then there are the densely populated areas where the low-income group resides. There is no balance between the two, which could have been avoided,” he said.

The federal government then also decided that instead of just being a port city, Karachi should also be the industrial hub of Pakistan. Thus came up the industrial areas such as the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE), Korangi, etc. And people moved from the agriculture areas to the industrial areas in search of employment. “When you set up industry, you also start a housing colony there first, like the Russains did for the Steel Mills here. But it didn’t happen [afterwards],” said Mr Siddiqui.

The government, too, wasn’t developing colonies but developing plots, which people could buy. “This plot development caters to the rich, not the poor who don’t have the resources to purchase plots. Therefore, while you have a densely populated city on one side, you also have some 200,000 plots along with 50,000 apartments lying vacant on the other.

On one side there is a huge need for housing for workers and on the other there is the private sector not interested in housing for the poor. When the state isn’t interested in doing that either you have the informal sector as the biggest supplier of housing here, he said.

“The katchi abadis are seen as breeding areas for criminals, vagabonds, pimps, etc. People want these ugly places to be bulldozed but they need them when they need low-income people as servants, as where else are they going to live?” he asked.

Arif Hasan, architect and town planner and chairperson of the Orangi Pilot Project, said there were no oases in Karachi this day due to hunger for land of the rich and need of land of the poor.

Since 1947, he said, around 72pc of the various katchi abadis coming up to house the poor had been regularised. “Earlier, housing for low-income people sprang near their places of work but now cheap land is faraway, on the city outskirts, but living on the periphery has serious problems,” Mr Hasan explained before showing images of clean Dubai with more images of their labour force sleeping in crowded rooms as there seems to be no room for them in the beautiful city where they work. The message that Karachi, too, was heading in that direction was scary.

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