KARACHI: “The city grew haphazardly, making it difficult to manage. So there was encroachment as people did their own kind of innovations to build what they needed, where they needed. But encroachments put a burden on you. It is us citizens who are paying the price for it ultimately,” said Amra Javed of non-governmental organisation Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment (CBE).

She was speaking at a workshop on ‘Walkable neighbourhoods in Karachi: opportunities and challenges’, organised by Shehri-CBE in collaboration with the Karachi Neighbourhood Improvement Project (KNIP) and the Aesthetic Community Design group at a local hotel here on Saturday.

It was in 2018 that Shehri-CBE with the support of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation started a three-year project ‘Climate Efficient Urban Mobility and Smart City Growth’ with the aim of introducing the narratives of sustainable urban mobility in Karachi and for influencing policy decisions to facilitate implementation of such practices in the city. The project is now in its final year of execution.

Need to promote walking, cycling

Farhan Anwar, urban planner and project director, said that their main focus was on promoting the shift to more non-motorised transport use such as walking and bicycling.

“Our neighbourhoods represent an urban space where a beginning can be made. In the present age of sustainable planning and smart cities, sustainable neighbourhoods form the heart of the sustainable city. The core rating criteria for determining the sustainability levels of a neighbourhood is walkability,” he explained.

PTI lawmaker stresses the need for documenting city through extensive surveying and mapping

“Sustainable neighbourhoods have a kind of ripple effect in rolling out a sustainable city. In Karachi, historically also the neighbourhood or mohalla used to serve as the core of community bonding and social capital building. Unfortunately due to the haphazard planning and commercialisation of neighbourhood spaces, this capital is dying out and there is an urgent need to assess the challenges and develop strategies for reviving inclusive neighbourhood spaces,” he said.

He also said that Karachi ranked 135th in global liveability out of a total of 149 cities of the world.

“When automobiles rule your city, the infrastructure there is also developed to facilitate it such as finishing sidewalks to make way for traffic,” he said, adding that in futuristic cities now they are going towards prioritising walking and cycling followed by developing their transit systems.

“Then the environment, too, needs to be improved to give a nice walking experience,” he said, while talking about rethinking streets, holistic planning, pedestrianizing bazaars.

“Climate change is also a major contributor to this change because motorised vehicles emit carbon, which contributes in global warming,” he said.

Architect Sumera M. Bilgrami, the founder of Aesthetic Community Design, said that they should look into creating smaller communities which did not look at the government for everything.

“Rather they take charge themselves, becoming the custodians of their areas,” she said.

More pedestrian space created under KNIP

Tariq Ahmed Rind, urban planning and design specialist with KNIP, showed how they planned and redeveloped the education and culture zone near Pakistan Chowk while focusing on creating more pedestrian space in downtown where they had educational institutions, the museum, the Arts Council, government offices, the Sindh Secretariat, etc.

He said that to create a completely pedestrianized area they had already created parking space for 400 vehicles and were working on it further to be able to accommodate parking for 1,000.

“The People’s Square, as we call it, was possible by engaging civil society, the academia along with government people,” he said.

While talking about cleaning the roads, he also mentioned overhead utilities and underground utilities. He said that many underground lines such as those of the water board are obsolete.

Taking the example of the Soldier Bazaar drain, he said that the water pipes underneath it had burst and the people in the area were getting clean water mixed with sewage.

“But many utilities here are more interested in operations instead of looking at their infrastructure, which they push towards the government,” he said.

This was followed by some very engaging presentations of case studies by the students of Habib University’s social development and policy department that was based on their academic work of developing walkability scores of selected neighbourhoods of Karachi.

Omema Akhtar, Maleeha Khan, Markhan Hussain and Imaara Zulfiqar shared their research survey and plan for the area around Disco Bakery in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Block 3.

Anzal Abbas, Amna Ashraf and Naveen Fatima shared their findings while documenting the Delawalla neighbourhood and how they suggest improving it.

Meanwhile, Yusra Humayun and Dhuha Alvi shared their plans for the Saddar neighbourhood.

In his concluding remarks, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf lawmaker Omar Omari spoke about the need for documenting the city on an urgent basis through extensive surveying and mapping so that policymakers could make informed decisions.

He also emphasized the need for engaging concerned citizens including planners, architects, engineers, sociologists in the visioning and planning process of Karachi.

“Even the projects announced in the Karachi Transformation Plan should be opened up for public debate and proposals and be dissected by key stakeholders,” he said while appreciating the work of the students.

He added that Pakistan’s youth represent its future and should be actively engaged in planning for the city.

Published in Dawn, September 20th, 2020