Karachi 2020 – a citizen’s perspective
“Any city in the world can be improved in less than 3 years. It is not a question of size or a matter of financial resources. All you need is to have a shared dream. It is all about building a good equation of co-responsibility.”
~ Jaime Lerner, Brazilian architect and urban planner
Looking at the 200 page thick Karachi 2020 Master Development Plan, one is struck by two very uneasy realizations. First that the document is not a ‘plan’ to start with, and thus would have next to negligible chance of accomplishing its intended ambitions. A plan must define what exactly is needed to be done. Who will have the responsibility and authority to do so? What would be the timeline; what resources would be required and what indicators would measure the progress of the results achieved. Not defining these basic parameters, one can only be creating a well meaning ‘wish list’ which may just as well be reprinted in 2020 to make a new master plan called Karachi 2040.
The second concern relates to an inadequate focus on the needs and conveniences of those who constitute the core of any city – its inhabitants. A city is a place where people live, work, and interact with each other and their surroundings. Humans, we are told, were not designed around cities. It is the cities that need to be designed around humans. A city needs to be people-friendly and people-centric. It does not need to be designed around creating endless opportunities for land grabbing, construction mafia, cushy contracts, elitist Country Clubs, ACACIA Golf Courses, EMAAR constructions, overnight Altaf Nagars and shady Sugarland water fronts.
Karachi can be made into a clean, peaceful, pollution free and pedestrian friendly city. This can be done by political will, legal provisions, institutional development, scientific solutions and sharing responsibility between stakeholders. It needs to shed its reputation as a city of ‘bhatta’ takers and phone snatchers. It could start by providing simple facilities to its citizens. Every road could have walkways for pedestrians (with ramps for wheel chairs) and pathways for cyclists. People should be able to walk or cycle for short distances in a comfortable and safe manner. We could learn from Paris, which in a 36 hour weekend of July 16, 2007, placed over 10,000 bikes on its streets, launching an ambitious bike sharing system that is meant to ‘lead a revolution in the way Parisians move around the city’. The program aims to help reduce pollution and keep the people of Paris physically fit.
Cars could be disallowed from the centre of the town. Dozens of ‘Park and Ride’ centres could be opened , where people could park their cars, walk down, cycle or take frequently moving comfortable CNG buses to travel within the city. A robust, people-friendly comfortable and respectable CNG public transport system needs to be developed, so as to encourage all citizens to travel by public buses and not by those obscene, fuel guzzling status icons, called Pajeros and Prados. The Karachi 2020 is also silent about the need to make Karachi a beggar free city and finding humane and innovative solutions to achieve this objective.
It seems that the 2020 children of Karachi would continue to block the streets to enjoy a game of cricket. Well maintained public parks, play grounds and public toilets must be developed as an integral part of each locality. The Karachi 2020 is silent about building a large number of clean and well maintained public toilets, perhaps assuming that this primary biological function would not be exercised in the years to come. The figures given for parks and playgrounds are also grossly inadequate.
A city needs to have its own ambulance service, beyond what may be provided by good souls like Edhi and Chippa. The city must aim for its ambulances to reach the scene of accident, say in 15 minutes, when called on a well advertised emergency number such as 999. Likewise the city fire brigade department needs to be enhanced to ensure that fire services can reach any location of the city within 5 to 10 minutes.
A city needs to have a well integrated disaster management system that can undertake rescue, recovery, and mitigation measures in situations of major disasters. The city needs to introduce solid waste separation system right from the place which generates the waste i.e. individual household. The animal slaughtering exercise could be stopped at household level, and shifted to well organised hygienic slaughter houses. Spilling blood and flesh on the streets and then claiming credit for an excellent clean up job is neither civic nor wise. The 2020 plan is silent about what percent of city power requirement would be met by alternate energy and to what extent the solar energy usage would be made compulsory for all new housings.
A citizen would want to see a tanker-free Karachi in 2020. The 12,000 water tankers doing a hundred thousand trips each day pollute the city, clog the roads, and enrich a consortium of greedy tanker owners, operators and their protectors. In the mean time, the city needs to figure out the location of its intertwined water and sewage pipelines and what it needs to do to prevent the theft and siphoning of 270 MGD of water from the bulk distribution. A plan however brilliant can be easily destroyed by mismanagement, and the water crisis is a case in point.
One hopes that the Karachi 2020 plan would transform Karachi into a model for other Pakistani cities. It would strengthen the urban development institutions. The politicians would rise above the narrow corridors of their affiliations and learn to respect scientific inputs. There would be massive participation of citizens and civic professional bodies in the entire planning and execution process. There would be an effective legal and institutional framework to coordinate all sectors to work in an integrated and cohesive manner. And finally, the 2020 plan should consider the safety of citizens as a key indicator of Karachi’s development. It may be best to begin the 2020 program by targeting peace as the first priority. Will Karachi be the first Pakistani weapon-free city by 2010.