PUF 2011 (3rd Day): “Government vision of cities: Part of Problem not Solution”

Lahore (March 4, 2011): ‘vision’ of the Pakistan Urban Forum is the very cause of some of the problems faced by cities across the world, said Kamil Khan Mumtaz, eminent architect, on Thursday.
He was speaking on Conservation and Preservation on the third day of the Pakistan Urban Forum at the Alhamra on The Mall.
He said one of the objectives of the Forum was to make the cities the engines of economic growth in the country. This, he said, was based on ‘modernist’ thinking that equated progress with economic growth.
He said though this kind of thinking had existed throughout history, it was not the dominant view before the late 18th and 19th centuries (Renaissance and Industrial Revolution in Western Europe). He said this view of development had caused more damage than good.
He said modernist thinking had enabled a small section of people to accumulate large quantities of wealth and had packaged city life as the goal of development. “But cities today are the highest pollutants of the environment and the biggest consumers of non-renewable energy,” he added.
He said development that viewed urbanization as an essential was not durable. “If rest of the world is to match the level of wealth achieved by the United States, we’ll need resources of four Earths,” he said. He said the size of cities should be limited with low-rise buildings that use simple construction techniques. The aim of progress should be for humans to achieve their potential and build a just, compassionate and egalitarian society.
He referred to a recently proposed Punjab Commercial Policy under which 50 roads in the city were to be set aside only for commercial use. He criticized the policy saying that roads were means of transport and communication and could not be developed through land-use policies.
He said no road map for progress could work while goals continued to be set in accordance within ‘modernist’ thinking of economic growth as an end in itself.
Democratic mandate needed to form sound policies
State policies failed to reflect people’s needs because decision-makers in the country lacked the democratic mandate, said architect Nayyar Ali Dadda. He said “conservation and preservation” of cities could not take place until communities were taken on board on decisions affecting them. He said the non-democratic environment was responsible for the challenges faced by the country.
Muhammad Uzair Shah, a transport specialist at Urban Unit, however, said policy-making was a job best left to experts because members of the parliament often lacked a grasp of issues such as urban planning, traffic management and sanitation. He was responding to a question about the absence of MNAs and MPAs at the Forum. He said they had to vote in favour of or against policies but that did not qualify them to participate in the policy-making process. He said since its inception in 2006, the Urban Unit had served two governments and would continue to provide solutions to the society’s problems regardless of which political party was in the government. “If they (government) do not listen to our advice this means they have no respect for experts,” he concluded.
Shah said the proposals put forth at the Forum would be discussed by the Planning and Development Board to form better policies.“These views will help us make policies that reflect the common people’s concerns,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 4th, 2011.

(Published in “Daily Express Tribune” on March 4, 2011)