The Sindh government work with the World Bank on a pedestrian-friendly educational and cultural zone near Arts Council and National Museum in Saddar, Karachi could last till next year.
“A lot of utility work is underway,” said Nazir Ahmed Memon, who is the deputy project director of the Karachi Neighbourhood Improvement Project. The Sindh government started the KNIP a year ago partly with a loan from the World Bank. It will work in three neighbourhoods: Saddar, Malir and Korangi. The initial investment is worth $70m.
The Saddar downtown revitalisation plan includes a two-level underground parking plaza for about 350 cars. The surface will be a piazza where people can come and sit.
Memon was talking about the progress at a workshop on Friday organised by Shehri, an NGO that has long worked on Karachi’s urban expansion. Shehri has started a three-year project with Friedrich Naumann Stiftung Pakistan to change the way we think about our streets and mobility. Memon was invited to talk about KNIP because it is a project that will change public spaces. The challenge is to design them so that they can also be used by people with special needs like the blind or those who use wheelchairs.
“M. R. Kayani Road is being finished,” said Memon. The motivation was to try to change this part of Saddar so that people are encouraged to walk. They want to discourage car owners and shopkeepers from taking over these spaces.
The World Bank project includes repaving sidewalks and streets to support walking and non-motorized transport. The idea is to create a pedestrian network around key destinations and future bus rapid transit stations. They will remove barriers and improve street lighting among other things. A street parking management study that may take nine months is underway for Saddar.
“Karachi’s infrastructure has deteriorated so much that according to one estimate it needs $10b in the next 10 years to improve and sustain it,” Memon said.
One of the biggest challenges is to do KNIP in a way that factors in utility services.
Memon said that they did not want a situation where they revamped an area and a utility needed to dig up the road six months down the line. “One day we were working and the water board said that the lines were bad, so they changed them,” he said. The next day PTCL showed up and said that they were planning on shifting their cables in six months. K-Electric showed up. SSGC showed up. So the project has slowed down a little in order to once and for all get all the utility lines and pipes properly fixed and located.
The KNIP is just a drop in the bucket for Karachi, a sprawling city of roughly 20 million people and hundreds of neighbourhoods. The real question is how a profile of “social injustice” has been developing, said World Bank consultant Farhan Anwar at the workshop. “Elsewhere in the world, the VIPs are the most marginalised in the planning. But it is the opposite for us. People with special needs are the most marginalised.” Just ask yourself, can a blind person walk down Karachi’s streets? How do people who need wheelchairs get around?
“When we do transportation projects, they have direct link to how cities grow,” said Anwar. “If you have a car city, then you have a sprawling city. If you have a good mass transit system you will have compact cities.”
Globally, thinking is changing. The entire hierarchy is being turned upside down. People now believe in making cities for walking and cycling. Private vehicles should be discouraged. Oslo’s downtown doesn’t allow cars any more. New York is doing car-free days in Manhattan, Kuala Lumpur, Addis Ababa, Dubai… the list is growing.
In Tehran they pedestrianised areas around their metro system stops and found that the quality of city experience improved. “There is a myth that if our cars don’t reach these areas, our business will go down,” said Anwar. “But it is proven that sales go up.” The hope is now that if Saddar is properly given a pedestrian plan that works with its BRT and historic neighbourhoods, the same will happen.