Shortage of housing units is an issue faced by people both in the semi-urban and urban areas of the country but its scale is exceptionally high in big cities. The metropolitan cities offer sufficient earning opportunities to aspirants besides providing quality services in the fields of health, education, communication, etc. These cities also strive to ensure supply of safe drinking water to citizens and proper sanitation facilities.
The environment of these big cities is also conducive for business and that is why successful businessmen belonging to secondary cities do establish their front offices here.
Town planners and urban developers say the housing pressure in big cities is increasing by the day as people are constantly moving to big cities. They do this in their quest for better economic opportunities and to enjoy the quality of life that they miss in their towns and villages. The demand, thus, created, the town planners believe has pushed the prices of properties up, making them unaffordable even for the middle class. The internal displacement caused due to security reasons, natural disasters, military operations in terrorism-infested areas, ethnic strife, etc, have worsened the situation.
Ideally, the best way to combat this trend is to develop new cities, create employment opportunities for rural population where it lives and provide quality health, education, and drinking water facilities in every nook and corner of the country so that they are not compelled to leave for big cities. “But the reality is that there is no concept of developing secondary cities,” says Sadia Fazli, Registrar, Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners.
She narrates her experiences about working on projects in Larkana, Sindh and says the place is not worth calling a city. Similarly, she says, Jacobabad is another so-called city where she has worked and seen that people hardly have access to latrines. In this situation, “how can one expect rulers to suddenly wake up from their slumber and do something magical for the people,” she asks.
Fazli tells TNS that new housing societies are meant to primarily seek expatriates’ attention who find such societies safe to invest in. Even when government bodies like Pakistan Housing Authority (PHA) offer housing units to the low-income groups, the latter do not often have down-payment to deposit at that time.
So, she says, most of the times investors pay on their behalf and get the ownership of these properties. Though the allottees do get some amount from the investors, the real purpose of providing allottees affordable housing is not fulfilled. Foreign remittances coming from abroad is helping relatives of the expatriates to move from secondary cities and buy properties there.
Zeeshan Ali Khan, CEO of Zameen.com, a leading real estate website with 1.5 million monthly visits, says there is nothing wrong with urbanisation provided it progresses in a planned way.
He says “restricting development to cities compelled the rural population to move to urban areas not only in pursuit of better earning opportunities but also for a better lifestyle.” Citing India’s example, Khan says “the government of India was pushing its ‘Make in India’ slogan into rural space in order to stop the exodus from rural to urban India so that development did not remain restricted to cities alone.”
Khan tells TNS that because of a huge supply and demand gap, rural to urban migration has also resulted in an increase in congestion as the average household size increased when people from rural areas moved in with their relatives to major cities, rather than buying or renting a house of their own.
Who is responsible for this phenomenon? Khan says the state has to ensure affordable housing as the private sector mainly targets middle and upper income groups, whereas housing shortage affects the poor.
Supporters of local government think if districts have enough funds and authority to decide their matters things can improve fast. For example, if distribution of funds is linked to the performance of districts and achievement of millennium development goals, every district will struggle to excel. If that happens, people will find jobs near their homes and also enjoy access to quality service delivery by their respective district governments. So far, more than 80 per cent development funds are being spent on provincial capitals by the provincial governments.
Rafay Alam, an advocate and environmentalist with interest in urban planning, calls for building of mid-rise mixed-purpose units to cater to the growing housing needs of cities. Citing the example of Lahore, he says the density of population near its centre is between 500 to 600 people per hectare but in the peripheries it is between 20 to 25 people per hectare.
“Ideally, the density should be around 300 per hectare in the newly developed areas, and to achieve this end, 4 to 5 storey housing units shall be built with commercial space and office areas on the ground floor and first floor.” This way, he says, it will be easy to accommodate more and more people on the available land. “I think there is no sense is driving all the way to the distant commercial areas to by eggs and bottled water,” he concludes.