Lahore without trees

Updated May 04, 2016

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IN the name of development, the government of Punjab is turning the once beautiful city of Lahore into a concrete jungle.

The point therefore bears repeating in every possible forum: development does not mean more roads and highways.

It means a process that improves the quality of life of the people, starting with the poorest and most vulnerable, including those who do not possess vehicles. More than 2,200 trees have already been felled to make way for the widening of key roads and, hence, for the growing volume of vehicles on the streets.

Now we learn that another road project meant to provide an elevated expressway from Gulberg to the Motorway will result in another 1,715 trees being felled — on top of those that have already been ‘removed’ in the euphemistic jargon of the project’s environmental impact assessment.

Development of this sort will soon leave the city bereft of its precious greenery. Indeed, those who are opposing the projects until a proper environmental plan has been developed to compensate the city for its loss of tree cover are performing an invaluable civic function.

Perhaps the government of Punjab should learn a thing or two from its counterpart in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

The PTI has made the protection and planting of trees a key part of its development agenda and has placed environmental concerns high on its list of priorities. This is not just bucolic regard for the picturesque.

The slash-and-burn model of urban development being followed by the Punjab government, with no regard for the environment or the city’s built heritage, is turning historical Lahore into a nightmare of highways.

The latter are more a barrier for movement — especially for those who don’t use automobiles. In addition, they create more traffic jams in the narrower capillaries of the city’s traffic system and lead to longer travel times for those on short hops.

These projects are not to be treated as favourite playthings; the kind of resources that the provincial government is spending on them can be better utilised to build parks, preserve heritage and provide for the transport needs of the masses in ways that do not call for chopping one’s way through the landscape with an axe.

The city authorities need to grow up and see their job through the eyes of the average city resident, rather than from the windows of their bullet-proof luxury cars.

Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2016