The State of Pakistani cities
While this is the emerging global consensus on city development being at the heart of the growth process, Pakistan policy and research remains largely oblivious to it given the highly donor dependent policy process which eschews domestic thought and debate. The result is that Pakistani cities are the opposite of what conventional policy advice would be. Their key characteristics are:
- Sprawl is actively encouraged by policy. All Pakistani cities appear to have no downtowns or city centers—dense areas of mixed use concentrating residential, office, commercial and entertainment within an almost walkable district. Many cities are becoming urban sprawls at the expense of valuable agricultural land for which, at various times, expensive irrigation has been put in place.
- Sprawl development favors roads and housing estates for the rich over other activities. There is an excess demand for most forms of city activities—education, entertainment, office, retail, warehousing and even low income and middle class housing. All these activities lack purpose-oriented space and are forced to be conducted in the only kind of city space that planners have been allowing for the last few years—single family homes.
- High rise even for flats is severely discouraged and penalized. The result is that housing for low income groups, the young starting a family, and the middle class is in extreme short supply. In addition there is no cohesive, mindful construction activity in any of the cities even though this sector could sharply expand employment and growth.
- City zoning has been very unfriendly to commercial construction, public spaces, and commercial and community activity. Zoning, heavily manipulated by influential groups with vested interests, favors single family housing leaving little space for other activities. Commercialization—anything other than single family homes-- is arbitrary, cumbersome, ill-planned and expensive. As a result, zoning and real estate development appears to be a rent-seeking game.
- Government rather than commerce dominates city functioning. There is a large presence of government, especially the army, in all cities. Most prime land is government-owned, making the availability of prime land for commercial and mixed use development very difficult. For example, the Mall Road, Lahore, the main thoroughfare, is completely owned by the government almost all the way from the Provincial Assembly chambers to the Airport.