Saving Islamabad

January 19, 2019

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IT is unfortunate that proper city planning in Pakistan is virtually nonexistent. With very high rates of urbanisation and city expansion, the problems range from informal or illegal settlements to clogged roads, the inefficient division of space, and encroachments on what ought to have been green areas. Part of the trouble is that many of our cities constitute centuries-old settlements, such as Lahore, and their façade has changed in a manner that, some would argue, would be challenging to control. In stark contrast, though, is Islamabad, a city built where none existed. There, at least, lay some hope that a master plan would be designed, and adhered to. The reality is, of course, a little different. A master plan for the city was indeed created in 1959-60 by the Greek architect and town planner Constantinos Apostolou Doxiadis, and it was recommended that the blueprint be revised every 20 years. But that exercise was never undertaken, so that now the capital is virtually no different from any other of Pakistan’s cities, featuring as it does unplanned settlements, severe traffic management issues, and other challenges such as water and sanitation.

It is encouraging, then, that on Thursday, a commission formed by the federal government met to discuss the first-ever revision of the city’s master plan. It was decided that 10 studies would be commissioned to effect changes between 2020 and 2040, involving the engagement of a consultant as well as sounding out stakeholders. The effort will be to explore challenges such as traffic flow, water supply, sanitation and solid waste management, etc. Held at the Capital Development Authority headquarters, the meeting was attended by representatives of environmental, habitat, architectural and urban planning organisations. A second meeting is scheduled next week in which progress on decisions taken at the first are to be discussed. This is the way forward, and it is to be hoped that the exercise does not lose steam. Islamabad can still be saved — but only with due diligence.

Published in Dawn, January 19th, 2019