Imagine everything is new, bright and shiny. Imagine this new is something that also keeps you out, pushes you away, and finds you abandoning the place you once called home. When the poor in society are pushed away from where they once were due to a combination of a lack in planning on their behalf, and by the over emphasis on the ‘new and shiny’ (and more importantly expensive), the resulting tradeoffs for society as a whole are an ultimate net loss. In the global city of Karachi, Pakistan, many are asking if certain development is anti-poor, while looking for any signs of intentional planning on behalf of the lower classes.
From this article highlighting the third annual Karachi Literature Festival, one of the featured talks titled ‘Megacities’ dove into the weighty issue of anti-poor urban planning initiatives. As is the case for most global major cities, the poor are pushed out of the city core when development runs roughshod in their former beat down and dreary neighborhoods, erecting in its place upscale living and high end shopping. Sadly, there is a destination on the periphery for the poor, as Karachi has the largest slum in South Asia, the town of Orangi.
Contrasted against the urban renewal efforts of the past in the United States, present development in Karachi takes on a more bullish approach towards improving the city. Nausheen Anwar, urban studies academic and moderator of the talk, described influential cites like Dubai that provide the benchmark for high end development. He points out however that it is the culture of the elite and not just the local governments that are inducing the change. It is said in the article that about 60% of Karachi’s population suffers from living in unplanned areas. It is this kind of disregard for those who are displaced that is most disturbing. If the poor are at least planned for, even in the abysmal form of high rise towers of urban renewal past, there is at the least a frame to work with involving an intentional planning strategy. The absence of any strategy is truly alarming.
Arif Hasan, town planner and historian, cites a new development along the water called Port Grand. Though not entirely opposed to Port Grand in principal, Hasan points out that established cultural activity has come to an end in the area as a result of blockades and a gated district that planners created. Intentional separation of the classes through urban design hinders public cultural interactions, further distancing the haves and have not’s.
Hasan is not unfamiliar to raising action on the behalf of the community. He led a petition and protest against the since abandoned Karachi Waterfront development, contending it would limit access to the beach area for many citizens of Karachi. The petition specifically outlines the gentrification process of the beach area. It is argued in point number four of the petition that the lower classes would “not be able to afford the cost of the expensive entertainment being proposed and will be excluded simply by the nature of developments that are to be implemented.” Hasan clearly states in the petition that the waterfront development is not wrong, but that the issue of access is at hand. It is voices like Hasan’s that are needed to help give voice to the lower class and have their concerns spoken for, and hopefully see them entering into the planning process.