Friday, 14 February 2014

1+1+1



Ever wonder why you can't find a flat in most cities of Pakistan? With a young population and a large housing shortage, counted to be in millions, why are there no flats?

Cities are spreading into large sprawls building 2 storey houses, diligently following the planner's instruction to build 1+1 and no more. And these must be single family homes. Hence 1+1+1. 2 floors and 1 family. The Planner knows best!

When you ask them they say they are planning an open suburb which to them is the pinnacle of human achievement.

Of course no suburb is complete without wide avenues, underpasses and bypasses to allow 'cruising' lie in Route 66, James Dean and all. That is the image the Planner has in mind.

They also maintain that we are rural people and like to hug the ground and will not live in flats. Needless to say our weather too is flat unfriendly. Of course our culture is “Kothi” in a suburb.

They overlook that people in our old walled cities have for centuries lived in apartments and in buildings that were 5 or 6 stories. So is that not our culture? Did they not feel the heat in those “pre-air-conditioner” days?

Moreover, our people very proudly acquire flats in London, Dubai New York at very expensive prices to enjoy the metropolitan life style.  

As to culture, our people enjoy everything cosmopolitan from MacDonalds to movies like all other races. Could it be that the Planner is wrong?

We can all remember the lovely kothas high on a 4 or a 5 story haveli or a building where much community used to take place. Today the Planner has taken that away from us? Why?  

My friend Parvez Qureshi points to a huge construction boom that could take place if we could only change the Planner's mind. Could we make him give up 1+1+1? Let him experience some vertigo and let building go up.

If restrictions on heights could be relaxed and apartment living encouraged, there could be a building boom in the country. Let each housing unit in our cities (say a radius of 10 miles from the center) say of a 500 yards or more were to be allowed to go to 6 and in some cases to 8 or 10 floors. And these new buildings were allowed to be converted to apartments. Each housing unit could be converted to many flats allowing millions of new homes to be created. Maybe 1+1+1 could become 6+12 ie., 6 floors 12 apartments.

In the conversion each unit would spend about a couple of crore or more. If  million such conversions took place across say our big cities, we could be looking at an investment potential of Rs 20 Trillion or $ 200 billion. That could easily lead to a millions of new accommodations. How wrong is the Planner?

With a construction boom of this kind we would employ a few million additional workers. The boom would last many years and increase our annual growth rate easily by about 1% annually. In addition such activity would have large spinoff effects as other industries are woken up as a result of derived demand.  

Such a boom will also drive urban development, broaden the middle class and develop a demand for consumer goods, entertainment and other urban services. That in turn will develop a boom in futehr development of services to the new middle class, shopping malls, cinemas etc.

In this manner this could be the seed of a virtuous cycle to propel the economy into possible sustainable growth over the long term. We could be looking at high growth rates in the realm of 7 to 8 % for the for the next 10 to 15 years.  All we need is a rule change. Little people will do the rest.

It will also be an equalizing reform as it will not be only the rich who benefit. Largely the middle class will be a beneficiary. Would that the Planner could learn!

At the point the planner starts behaving like my mother scaring me away from naughtiness by saying I should be scared of ghosts an monsters.  He points to lack of sanitation, poor quality construction, congestion, safety etc to say that we should not discard 1+1+1. We need to tell him that all that will be done alongside. The boom will facilitate the change. and because of our boom. Is the Planner scared of working and learning?

The payoff to giving up the suburban 1+1+1 model is so huge, it keeps me awake at night. Surprisingly none of our economic analysts supported and nurtured by our benign aid givers see this.

This is the most important way to wake up our construction industry and with it our economy. The construction industry which write now has been smothered by the Planner is operating at way below potential.      

If only we could change the Planner's mind! But wait, who is the Planner? In most development authorities he is a grade 19 official at best with little prospects of improvement. His masters are many DMG officials who only fleetingly think of urban development as an issue. And of course there is the LMC, Cantonment etc, where I am not sure town planning is even a serious subject.  

Alas, Dear Brutus, the fault is in us, in the way we organize ourselves! If we cannot organize our cities, we cannot have this boom. Hence we will continue to look for aid and money when there is gold lying in the streets.