POETIC LICENCE: Low-cost cities: an innovative new concept for urban development
The concept has emerged out of an e-mail discussion on new approaches for the development of urban communities conducted by Anjuman Mimaran, a Lahore-based association of architects, town planners and other design professionals
In recent years, there has been a lot of talk in Pakistan and other developing countries about low-cost housing as an answer to the growing housing shortage. Now, a group of Pakistani architects, town planners and economists based in Lahore, Karachi, London and Boston have come up with an innovative new concept for urban development, one that envisages not just the construction of affordable housing but the creation of entire low-cost cities.
The concept is based on high-density, low-rise, low-tech development that integrates housing, employment and social infrastructure with a balanced mix of income and occupational groups. The concept includes a location strategy that results in affordable housing for all income levels, release of pressure on existing urban centres, injection of economic activity into rural areas, and sustainable “green” urban communities.
The concept has emerged out of an e-mail discussion on new approaches for the development of urban communities conducted by Anjuman Mimaran, a Lahore-based association of architects, town planners and other design professionals headed by Kamil Khan Mumtaz, one of the country’s leading architects and the author of two seminal works on Pakistani architecture: “Architecture in Pakistan” (1987) and “Modernity and Tradition” (1999).
After the idea of an e-mail discussion was floated by Anjuman Mimaran in 2000, it attracted enthusiastic responses from discussants in Pakistan and other countries, including Karachi-based architect Arif Hasan, the author of several books on human settlements and ecology, including “Understanding Karachi: Planning and Reform for the Future” (1999); Ayub Qutub, Lahore; Tariq Banuri, now based in Boston and former head of the Sustainable Policy Development Institute in Islamabad; Dr Akmal Husain, Lahore-based economist, consultant and columnist for this newspaper; Babar Khan Mumtaz, an architect, town planner and author who works for the Development Planning Unit in London; Tasneem Siddiqui, the originator of the “Khuda Ki Basti” concept and head of Sindh’s Katchi Abadis Authority; Shahid Khan, a Karachi-based architect; Raza Ali, a Lahore-based development economist; Masood Ahmad Khan, Lahore; Ayyub Malik, London; and Kamil Khan Mumtaz, the guiding spirit behind the idea.
One couldn’t hope to find a more knowledgeable and more committed group of professionals in the field of urban planning and economic development than this group. Given this fact, their idea for the creation of self-supporting urban communities deserves serious consideration from other professionals in the field, government agencies, policy makers and commercial developers.
Balochistan’s Makran coast, for example, is a region where self-supporting communities could be built, to tie in with the government’s plans for opening up the area for economic development with such infrastructure schemes as the under-construction Karachi-to-Gwadar coastal highway, WAPDA’s Hingol and Mirani dams, and the deep-water port at Gwadar being built by the Chinese.
Because the Makran coast is so thinly populated, the development of self-supporting communities there would mean bringing people in from other regions to inhabit the new towns. But then, opening up the Makran coast for economic development, on the scale envisaged by the government, would require such a population shift anyway, in order to provide the manpower needed to run the infrastructure schemes and related economic activities.
Obviously, an imported population would have to be housed somewhere, and not just housed but also provided with all the other civic facilities and support infrastructure needed by urban communities today. So why not house them in the kinds of low-cost cities proposed by the Anjuman Mimaran Urban Project?
More significantly, the concept is flexible enough, and affordable enough, to also be put into practise in those parts of the country where there is a need for urgently building more housing to relieve demographic pressures on existing urban centres. Indeed, it is in such densely populated urban centres that the need for imaginative new solutions to the problem of affordable housing is the most pressing.
In short, whether it is Punjab, Sindh, NWFP or Balochistan, the integrated approach developed by the Anjuman Mimaran discussants, which is aimed at creating self-supporting urban communities from scratch, could be the answer to Pakistan’s urban development problems in an affordable and environmentally sustainable way.
There is a huge and growing demand for housing in Pakistan. The natural population increase alone adds more than three million people a year to the country’s population. Add to this the attrition of existing housing stock, and you have a demand for three good-sized cities a year to be accommodated.
The supply side is abysmally low, particularly in the public sector. The performance of the Lahore Development Authority, for instance, over the last decade or so has practically been at a standstill. The gap has been met by private sector development: authorised schemes in the case of upper- and middle-income groups, and mostly unauthorised informal sector development in the case of lower income groups.
In purely market terms, the concept proposed by the Anjuman Mimaran Urban Project is certainly “do-able” and “sellable” as a private venture. As a government policy, the model could be adopted at the regional, provincial or national level as a strategy for the development of new towns, and adapted, as well, to the expansion or renewal of existing urban centres.
The concept of an integrated community proposed by the Mimaran Urban Project group is not a “dormitory” housing scheme but a complete community. It integrates the whole range of land uses, including residential, industrial, commercial, services, public administration, social infrastructure, recreational, etc. It also integrates the whole range of income and occupational groups.
Low-rise, low-tech, high density results in smaller urban footprints on the landscape; energy conservation and reduced costs of transport and heating/cooling; lower construction costs; lower cost of infrastructure; human-scale built environment; and more green/public open spaces.