Arif Hasan’s lessons from 45 years of urban planning
One day architect, provocateur, town planner Arif Hasan went to see Shafiqur Rahman Paracha, the bureaucrat who was in charge of resettling people uprooted by the building of the Lyari Expressway.
‘Did you know that as a result of the destruction 3,286 students were not able to sit their Matric and Inter exams,’ Arif Hasan asked Paracha.
‘I did not know this,’ Paracha replied. Unhon ne apna sar pakar lia. He told Arif Hasan something had to be done. Paracha’s solution: ‘Next time we go to remove encroachments, we will do it after the final exams.’
This was a retelling of their conversation that Arif Hasan shared as part of his keynote address for the Karachi Conference 2020 Online Dialogues, at IBA this December 10. His talk was titled: “What I have learnt in 45 years about urban planning of Karachi through participation, voyeurism, disillusionment, love, hope and affection.” He chose to tell the Lyari Expressway story to show us just how the bureaucracy thinks about planning this city.
Arif Hasan opened his talk with the question of how the Karachi after 1947 developed. Take a city of what was 400,000 people and suddenly add on 650,000 more, he said, referring to people migrating to Karachi. And so, for the first few years after Partition, the city’s only problem was how to accommodate these people.
“Thinking revolved around this: housing people,” he said. “It became a sort of culture.” And even after people found housing, housing people remained the way of thinking. “And in this entire process, we never attended to the needs of the city. We just kept making houses—and that too for the rich.”
When a city is not planned, other forces take over. Another long term trend explains this. Consider the way the volume of activity at Karachi’s port has grown and the effect it had on the city’s roads. Shortly after Partition, in 1951, Karachi’s port dealt with 2.8m tons of cargo and 95% came from the railways. But fast forward to 2019 and the port activity has shot up to 41.8m tons, but instead of that cargo being transported by rail, it now heads to the rest of the country (or arrives from it) 96% by road.
Arif Hasan questions what decisions were made to bring it to this despite the fact that, at one point, an inland water navigation policy was worked on extensively. This was around the time of the creation of the National Logistics Cell—coincidence? That inland water navigation or (river transport) policy was never implemented and as a result, Karachi’s roads were destroyed by heavy shipping container traffic from the port, movement rates went up and we are bearing with this till today.
Over the years, we never designed cargo terminals or bus terminals that the city needed. In fact, they sprang up where space was found. Wholesale markets were turned into warehousing. “This was the result of jugard,” he said. “This is how this city developed itself,” he said. “It is important to understand that a city is not a dead thing. It is a living thing. If you cannot give it what it needs, it will find a way to acquire it some way or the other.”
This is what our courts do not understand, he went on to say. “They think that whatever did not come about from planning, should all be demolished.” They razed poor settlements and thought they had accomplished their job.
“The law does not always deliver justice,” he said. “In fact, justice and the law are poles apart. The law does injustice, cruelty, and the biggest reason is that those who uphold the law are against the poor. Anyone who doubts this, just needs to look at what has happened in the last five years.”
“The city’s real need is not to be reduced, but to be corrected,” he said. “It needs reorganisation, instead of razing it to the ground to raise it up again.” It needs spatial reorganisation. There have been attempts, but some people but political leadership did not support it.
“Karachi does not have a land use plan. Its land use plan is speculation,” he said. According to some estimates, it has 450,000 empty plots, some which have been vacant for the last thirty years. In 2011, some SBCA officials said that 200,000 flats were under construction and over 100,000 were completed but empty. About 62% of the city’s people live in informal settlements over 30% of its land. So how can you not have a land use plan? He gave examples beyond Karachi as well, Lahore, Faisalabad, where the same story was playing out: extracting maximum value from the land without a land use plan.
Take the Ravi River Front in Lahore for 35m middle and elite people, has a budget of Rs5tr and its first phase is spread over 23,000 acres in a country, where according to one estimate there are up to 1.5m homeless people. In Sindh, the 120km Bundal and Buddo islands will be developed with Rs50b but 3,500ha of mangrove jungles will be destroyed in the process. He estimates that with the KCR, island schemes and nullah widening efforts, about 60,000 to 65,000 households will be turned out. All of this is spearheaded by the government.
Court judgments have meant that only poor people’s homes have been demolished, not the Sindh government’s encroachments, or those of the influential. Arif Hasan estimated that in the recent anti-encroachment drive, 9,000 khokhas and 20,000 shops were removed in four months causing a loss of 1.5b rupees to the street economy in Karachi.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, he gave the examples of Bani Gala and developments around the prime minister’s home which the courts regularized at the time when the Karachi Circular Railway affectees wanted their homes to also be regularized. The Grand Hyatt in Islamabad, which is in violation of its urban plan, was also regularized at the same time.
“A plan is as good as the institutions that implement it,” he said.
“Organisational culture is the most important part of an institution. You can make as many laws as you like, but organisational culture will destroy them.” He has seen this while working with the government and against it. “Decisions are made by people who know nothing of the topic,” he said. “Decisions are made at top.” There is only subservience, there is no concept of informed dissent, he said.
There can be no appropriate development without microlevel understanding. “You won’t get this from development tourism,” he said. Donors come, go around, gather information and spend money. “Internationally funded plans don’t bring development or participation.” He mentioned the Karachi Neighbourhood Improvement Project, which went into an area where kids used to play cricket and took away their space. You should have at least spoken to them, he said. Or given them another place to play. “Neoliberalism ended planning and foisted projects on us.”
IBA Dean Dr Akbar Zaidi asked Arif Hasan to elaborate on the people who inhabit this land, and how their relationships and lives are affected by a lack of planning. And he asked him to talk about the politics behind it. Arif Hasan responded with the four points: “This is asking for four basic things: A change of culture that redefines relationships between the different classes of Pakistan; The removal of conflict between behavioural patterns and traditional values; The replacement of traditional systems of governance by community and/or political systems; The search for new societal values.”
Arif Hasan was asked how the city had changed him, referring to his use of the word “disillusionment” in the title of his talk. He had said that cities were living things, and many people had lost hope for Karachi. Was it a dying city? “I am a product of the underbelly of this city irrespective of my class,” he said. “And it’s not a dying city. Not at all. My fear is that it might get well too soon, which will mean a considerable amount of chaos. Let it become well slowly.”