No space to play

25 Oct 2020


The writer is an architect.
The writer is an architect.

AFTER the development of Jahangir Park in Karachi, the physical and social environment of Saddar improved. A survey by the Urban Resource Centre shows that the residents of Saddar are happy. However, a majority of residents interviewed feel that some part of the park should have been left open so that children could play football and cricket which they now do on the streets. Unlike the conservation architects who are critical of the design, the residents are not too interested in the heritage aspects of the park. Maybe if the architects and residents had been consulted, their concerns could have been addressed in the design.

The same applies to the People’s Square designed under the World Bank Neighbourhood Improvement Project, which is surrounded by four academic institutions and the National Museum — an ideal location for a civic space.

Here, before the implementation of the design, neighbourhood children used to play cricket on weekends and holidays and at night in Ramazan. Meanwhile, within this space pigeons were regularly fed by neighbourhood residents. None of these social functions were integrated into the plan. The same children now play cricket on the narrow streets where matches cannot be held and where the police pester them. To play a match the children now go to open areas near Hawksbay and this is worrisome for their parents for security reasons.

We are rapidly depriving our younger generation of spaces to play. First, we drove them out of Polo Ground where about 40 teams played cricket over the weekend. We have driven them out of Arambagh, Old Clifton, from near the Jinnah Courts building, and from the 150-acre Bagh Ibn-i Qasim, out of which 50 acres could easily have been made available for sports. In the neighbourhood of this empty park, children also play in the streets. In addition, in most neighbourhood parks built in the last decade, sports are not permitted and in some not even a ball.

The children now play cricket on narrow streets.

It is important to understand that once in use, parks learn. For instance, Hill Park, where I have walked for 34 years, had over time divided itself into different zones. Children and families gathered around the lake, the older generation in the formal gardens to the north, the youth and couples towards the hill, and the open car parking space to the west, when not in use, is used for sports or for driving lessons. At the northeast end, a cricket ground had developed where young men held matches. A café, called the Three Coins, developed out of necessity at the southeastern corner of the park. People, after exercising or a visit, frequented it. It was removed as a result of a Supreme Court order to remove all unauthorised construction in the city. As a result, social relationships and those of different functions collapsed and the park is now trying to learn all over again.

The problem here is that the architect designs on the basis of his own understanding of what the needs of the people are. There is very little relationship between architects and people in Pakistan, and for this reason it is very important that all designs for public spaces should be exhibited at a central place where people can record their observations and make suggestions. If this could be done systematically, design would be more people-friendly and it would create a relationship of trust between people, the city and the government.

The examples given here are those of spaces that have already been lost to us. However, there are two public spaces that are in the process of development. One of these is Empress Market, and we do not know what its future is going to be. It and the area around it are an important part of Karachi’s social and physical fabric. Therefore, it is essential that what has been proposed for it is exhibited for all Karachiites to see and comment on.

The other development that is taking place is in Frere Hall. Recently, I received a copy of an email sent by residents of the area to the administrator Karachi expressing serious concerns about the developments taking place. The issues they have raised relate to the library, the replacement of soft landscape by envicrete paving, removal of seating for visitors, and the constricting of space and timings for the weekly book fair. It is essential that the residents and the detractors of the plan are made a party to the final design, the process of its implementation, and the future activities of Frere Hall.

The importance of playgrounds is well understood by the residents of Karachi. When supervising an Orangi Pilot Project sanitation scheme in 1994, I was told by an old resident “sewage is important but more important is space to play. Without it we will have a generation of heroinchis”. History, unfortunately, is proving him right.

The writer is an architect.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2020