Urban planners and designers currently face a series of immense challenges. On the one hand, the world is experiencing a surge in population growth and its subsequent concentration in urban centres. On the other hand, climate change is rapidly becoming a force to be reckoned with.
These issues are both contradictory and interrelated. Solving them will have a direct impact on the economic vitality, the interdependence of citizens and the longevity of cities.
Utility networks – made up of water, waste, electricity, gas and telecommunications systems – underpin the economic, social and environmental performance of modern life. These basic necessities are the conduits through which modern cities function.
Unfortunately, few cities in Pakistan can claim to be “planned” cities, and those that can are also affected by urban sprawl, having difficulty regulating the structuring of these spaces. While all cities in Pakistan were designed against ‘master plans’, Islamabad currently seems to be the only city that continues to follow it. However, recent developments in its outskirts, particularly housing projects built in potential violation of regulations, are steering the system in the direction that other cities have taken.
Karachi is also developing without any method to madness. Various estimates put the population at between 16.1 million and 20 million people – a significant portion of the population of the country and also of the province. In 1947, when Karachi was the capital of Pakistan, its population was around 450,000 people. However, the population grew rapidly with a large influx of Muslim refugees after partition in 1947. By 1951, the city’s population had passed the one million mark. Today, the city has grown 60 times its size in 1947, and estimates suggest continued growth of around five percent a year, largely due to its strong economic base.
The biggest consequence of this mushroom growth has been the burden on civic infrastructure. In the absence of checks and balances, our urban resilience – the ability of a city to act effectively in enabling residents and workforces to withstand stresses or shocks – has been steamed to the benefit multi-storey buildings in areas that were not built to support them. In these cities which are less resilient and have weak governance systems, it is difficult for the various public services to function effectively.
Water services in major cities and urban centers in Pakistan remain fragmented and intermittent. No city currently has a 24/7 water supply. This undermines the ability of cities to sustain economic growth and meet basic needs. Unplanned construction and violations of zoning boundaries also overwhelm existing resources. The drains intended to evacuate the sewage of a house of five inhabitants are suddenly dealing with 20 members.
Water pipes remain dry because authorities have been unable to build sufficient capacity, giving way to cartels controlling the water supply. All research and studies on the current water supply situation in major cities like Karachi point to the need for effective reform of the overall system to improve sources, supply and infrastructure sustainability.
The same dilemma can be observed in the electricity sector, another fundamental necessity in the current era. Buildings on the outskirts of the city are often seen as violating approved building plans, extending upper floors into streets and usurping public spaces and even nullahs intended to extract water from urban centers to the sea. utilities are subject to scrutiny and must go through several steps under Karachi’s governance structure to acquire permissions to lay electrical wires and cables.
The author is a faculty member in the Department of Architecture and Planning at Dawood University of Engineering and Technology.