Arif Hasan at PIIA: Karachi’s Changing Demographics and Urban Strife

images-29It is my belief that even if we get over ethnic violence and terrorism, Karachi will continue to have strife and conflict. At best, it will be like Rio de Janeiro, separated into rich and poor areas. At worst, it will be like Mexico City.

These were Arif Hasan’s opening remarks at the beginning of his presentation at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs on Karachi’s Changing Demographics and Urban Strife on 12 March 2014. Mr. Hasan is a renowned architect, urban planner, social activist, researcher, widely-published author and recipient of the Hilal-e-Imtiaz. He is the founder and Chairman of the Urban Resource Centre Karachi and Chairperson of the Orangi Pilot Project-Research & Training Institute, Karachi. Arif Hasan, in his comprehensive presentation, outlined the changing trends in Karachi’s demographic shift since Partition and presented an analysis of the societal repercussions of uneven densification of the metropolitan city.

Karachi, the largest and the most populous city of Pakistan, has had its fair share of problems since Partition. These problems include unplanned development, large-scale migration resulting in informal settlements, an astounding increase in population made worse by uneven densification, division of population along ethnic lines, housing demand and supply gap, lack of mass-scale public transport scheme, inefficient government policies, crime, and more recently, ethnic violence and terrorism. If these problems are not adequately addressed, Karachi, the 3rd largest city in the world and the 11th largest urban agglomeration could potentially transform into a boiling pot of civic strife and a breeding ground for extremism, political violence and terrorism.

One of the root causes of Karachi’s problems is uneven densification. Low density in high-income areas like Clifton and Defence (less than 100 persons per hectare) and high density in low-income areas like Lyari (more than 4,000 persons per hectare) is adding the city’s woes. However, the even more disturbing aspect of Karachi’s densification, according to Mr. Hasan, is that while the average household size has decreased in Pakistan, Karachi has seen a 10 per cent increase, from 6.7 to 7.3 between 1998 and 2011. It is imperative to note here that this change is not due to higher fertility rates but due to absence of accommodation.

Arif Hasan went into details of various attempts by previous governments to come up with a comprehensive plan for the development of the city. The first major post-partition attempt was made in 1952. A master plan for the then-capital city was prepared by MRV, a Swedish firm. The plan envisaged a federal secretariat and aimed to move the university away from the city center. However, due to student riots in the 1950s, the plan failed to be implemented. Another significant attempt was made in president Ayub Khan’s era in the form of the Greater Karachi Resettlement Plan, prepared by a Greek planner Doxiadas.

The Doxiadas plan called for the incoming refugee population to be settled outside the city area in two major satellite towns, Landhi/Korangi and New Karachi. According to Mr. Hasan, ‘this was the beginning of separation of Karachi from the multi-ethnic, multi-class sprawl to an ethnically divided class city.’ The Doxiadas plan failed after 10,000 housing units were built and the only option now left was development of the squatter settlements or katchi abadis. Later, the katchi abadis were regularized through Martial Law Order (MLO) no. 60, called the Sindh Katchi Abadis (Regularisation and Development) Order 1982, and the Sindh Katchi Abadis Act 1987. In his analysis of the repercussions of the Goth Abad scheme, Mr. Hasan said that

There has been transfer of a lot of populations from one ethnic settlement to another. It has happened in a very organized manner. Estate agents have emerged who have arranged this exchange of population. The same process of [emergence of] ethnically homogeneous population is taking place in the free areas of the Goth Abad scheme. This is a very serious issue.

According to the statistics outlined in his presentation, Karachi’s residential area is 36 per cent of its total area out of which 74 per cent is developed formally for 38 per cent of the population, whereas 22 per cent of it is developed informally for 62 per cent of the population. Mr. Hasan also enumerated the statistics pointing to an enormous housing demand-supply gap in the city. According to the Karachi Strategic Development Plan 2020, the housing demand is 80,000 housing units per year. Building permits are issued for only 30,000 units, whereas 32,000 units are built informally, while the rest is accommodated through densification of existing settlements. The negative consequences of such densification are immense and were the subject of the greater part of his address.

The issue of public transport was expanded upon greatly. The absence of a subsidized mass-transit system is one of the greatest transport problems in the city. According to Mr. Hassan, non-subsidized mass transit will not solve this problem. He provided statistics to describe the nature of this problem, According to those statistics, since 2000, there has been a decline in the number of buses from more than 15,000 to less than 10,000. There has been a 50 per cent decline in women’s seats and 100 per cent increase in fares. The time taken to commute has increased by 60 per cent. In such circumstances, motorcycles and Qingqi rickshaws have emerged as popular alternatives but in view of the safety hazards they pose, they are unsuitable to be promoted.

The issues of absence of subsidized mass transit and uneven densification appear to be interlinked. Cheap and affordable housing is available only in the peripheral areas, whereas employment opportunities are in the city center. The absence of a centralized transport system and the city’s traffic problems makes it difficult for people to travel long distances to reach their workplace. As a result, more people seek housing in the central areas of the city. This increased demand is met through densification of these areas. This, in turn, results in violations of the SBCA regulations (the Karachi Building and Town Planning Regulations 2002), formations of gangs, growth of rentals, and increasing political control over apartment complexes.

Mr. Hasan concluded his address by delineating four basic principles for evaluating future development projects:

  1. Projects have to respect the ecology and the natural environment of the area in which the city is located.
  2. Land use has to be determined on the basis of social and environmental considerations and not on the basis of land value (or potential land value) alone.
  3. Projects must give priority to the needs of the majority population which in the case of Pakistan belongs to the owner income or lower middle income classes.
  4. Projects have to respect the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of human settlements and of the communities living in them.

*Umair Khalil is a Research Officer at The Pakistan Institute of International Affairs.


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Filed under Discussion, Events, Karachi, Legislation

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