Karachi’s 13m people live on 23pc of residential land, moot told

KARACHI: Participants in a meeting on urban narrative — Karachi calling — were on Sunday informed that Karachi was among the three cities of South Asian with Mumbai and Dhaka regarded as the dense cities of the world where 62 per cent (about 13 million) of its citizens lived in informal settlements on 23pc of the city’s residential land.

“Karachi is among the dense cities where urban issues are ever increasing,” said architect and planner Arif Hasan while speaking at the two-day programme organised by the IBA Literary Society at the Arts Council.

He said 36pc (about 7.5 million) of Karachiites lived in ‘planned’ settlements on 77pc of the city’s residential plots. “At present Karachi has over 250,000 vacant developed plots and over 68,000 apartments. An additional 600,000 plots are being developed and/or constructed by the formal sector. None of this new development is for low income groups.”

Mr Hasan said 71.32pc people lived on less than 100 square yard plots; 24.27pc on 100-120 sq yds; three per cent on 120-240 sq yds, and 1.47pc lived above 240 square yard plots.

He said people invariably preferred houses to apartments and would like their settlements to be upgraded. This was acceptable to the state till the early part of 2000. However, governments wished to bulldoze the settlements and create medium-size apartment blocks by providing land to developers. “The government’s reasoning is that in apartments you can get higher densities and that they give the city a ‘modern look’. Communities view is that they cannot carry out any economic activity in apartments and have problems in organising and financing collective management.”

He said individual house option could provide higher densities than permitted (1,625 persons per hectare) by the Karachi building bylaws and zoning regulations.

Regarding the world class city agenda and evictions, Mr Hasan said evictions had increased substantially. Between 1998 and 2008, 18.59 million persons had been evicted; and currently, 15 million annually.

The causes of evictions included gentrification, mega projects (mainly roads), mega events, and discrimination. “All studies show that as a result of eviction and relocation the affected population became poorer in social, political and economic terms with a negative impact on their future generations. The global slum population was 863 million in 2010 as compared to 650m in 1990.

Transport problems

He spoke at length on the city’s transport problems, saying some 35.3pc commuters spent 41 to 60 minutes on way while commuting to work; 13.3pc 18 to 19 minutes and waiting time at bus stops was five to 20 minutes. Besides, 54pc said they regularly had disputes on fares; 60pc blamed it on the footrest; 60pc claimed they had been robbed once or more during travel; 79.3pc considered the CNG cylinder within the bus as a safety hazard; 82pc believed a better transport system would increase their options for job opportunities; 86pc felt that there was a need to increase seating for women as a number of them walked long distances to save on bus fare; when they were late due to delays in catching a bus they got scolded and there were salary deductions; transport availability and not job appropriateness determined job preference and they felt insecure while travelling and regularly faced some form of sexual harassment.

“Inadequate and unreliable transport and housing locations are a major source of poverty. Despite investment in expensive mass transit projects, these cater to only 4.8pc of commuting public in Delhi, six per cent in Bangkok and 8.7pc in Karachi.”

Writer, and researcher Akhtar Balouch spoke on the communities, Jews in particular, who migrated from Karachi because of decreasing space for them after Partition.

He said the newly formed nation decided to change names of buildings and streets named after the people who participated in development of Karachi city. Same happened with the monuments and streets related to prominent people from non-Muslim communities.

He said there was a roundabout named Abraham Chowk, which was renamed Ibrahim Chowk, and later Cheel Chowk, in Lyari. “Interestingly, when the roundabout was developed by the authorities they placed a monumental ‘Shaheen’ of Allama Iqbal at the centre, which was recognised as cheel [kite] by common citizens.”

Similarly, in Ranchhore Line there was a Synagogue Street, which was ‘converted’ to Sharif Shaheed Street.

“Feeling the space in society shrinking for them, the Jews started to migrate to other countries, especially to Israel.”

He gave various references terming the community a peaceful educated and professional. He said there was a (Bani Israil Trust) Magain Shalom Synagogue, a famous building, still remembered by old residents of the area. Now, he added, the building was replaced by a shopping centre.

“The last trustee of the building was a Jew woman, Reshel Joseph, who agreed for construction of a new building with a shopping centre on its ground floor and a new Jew temple on the upper floors. However, later the upper floors were converted into residential area. We found that Reshel had been in contact with a few journalists and lawyers till 2007. According to our information, she also left the country.”

Amir Farooqi, deputy inspector general of the counterterrorism department of Sindh, spoke on the policing extremism in which he took the example of Saad Aziz, who is convicted for attacking a bus in Safoora Chowrangi and the murder of Sabeen Mahmud.

Published in Dawn, April 17th, 2017