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Guests at the newly-restored Aram Bagh Quarter enjoy the clean open space.—Photo by writer
Guests at the newly-restored Aram Bagh Quarter enjoy the clean open space.—Photo by writer

KARACHI: White marble stairs leading to a peaceful cool patch of paved land among the traffic chaos has wooden benches, trash cans, potted plants, a man-made shade in the shape of a pipe structure and a natural one in the form of an old shady peepal tree.

The Aram Bagh Quarter, a triangular 6,633-square-foot traffic island at Pakistan Chowk, was reopened to the public on Sunday after being restored and renovated, a project which took some six months to complete.

At the helm of the social design and conceptual planning of the project is architect Marvi Mazhar. For her it has been a labour of love. She said she was only able to do it thanks to the support from the people of the area. “I am happy to be returning the Quarter back to Pakistan Chowk. We are now going to meet more residents every Sunday to discuss further matters such as maintenance, trees and plants, etc. We hope to reclaim more such zones in Karachi and give back public spaces for outdoor recreation and social well-being,” she said at the inauguration.

The project was also supported and funded through allocation of budget by Shamila Faruqui, who also graced its opening.

The director of Goethe-Institut Pakistan, Stefan Winkler, present on the occasion, told Dawn that they had German and Spanish architects and designers here for their Urban Design Research Project, who then spent time with local artisans and craftsmen to understand their art. These men they later engaged to build a red pipe structure with polyester weaving strips to provide shade from above and including a small sitting area. “People can sit there or children can enjoy climbing on it,” he said.

Sara-Duana Meyer, project consultant and curator, who said she was in Pakistan for Urbanities, an exhibition which was held in Lahore recently, said she was brought in by Marvi to help with the structure during the renovation. “So I brought in the architects and designers from German and Spain who were also on a visit here earlier. They had left but we called them back as they were quite keen to be a part of the project as well,” she said.

“The design of the place itself is minimalist, there is nothing extra, just clean open space, which is good. And it is good that they engaged the local community in restoring it,” said urban planner Farhan Anwar. “Hopefully, more people would frequent the place and appreciate what has been done for it,” he added.

Uzma Noorani, also attending the inauguration of the Quarter, said Pakistan Chowk was a landmark heritage public place in old city centre. “This place also boasted of the famous Pakistan Law House frequented by people of the likes of former federal ministers for law Khalid Anwer and Fakhruddin G. Ebrahim, and even former prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto,” she said, adding that she was glad that someone was taking an interest in the area that also had etr [perfume] shops and the famous Botal Gali nearby.

Meanwhile, although they were glad to see the change, some area residents remained wary of its future. “This is a favourite spot for beggars, drug addicts, thieves and squatters,” said Asha’ar Jamal. “My own mobile phone has been snatched from me several times around this place, so there is a major security issue here,” he said.

“I pass this place twice on my way to work every day. Over the years, other people have also tried fixing the Aram Bagh Quarter. They did, too. But soon it turned back into a place where you find shady characters and a pile of trash,” said Nasim Qureshi.

Still, Marvi remained optimistic. “We will keep on adding value to this project. We have already transformed it from a dump to a space for people, who can come and sit here and relax,” she said.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2016