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The idea is to transform into citizen–focused city

A look at the Lahore Vision 2035 mega plan that is claiming headlines these days

The idea is to transform into citizen–focused city
The plan looks at the development of Lahore from five different perspectives — Transport planning, Real estate markets, Improving trade friendliness, Water, sewerage and Solid waste management and Governance. — Photo by Rahat Dar

Over the past few years, Lahore has grown significantly. Areas previously considered ‘outskirts’ or peripheries, beyond Raiwand or Bedian, are now densely populated. Not only this but major housing schemes such as Bahria Town or extensions and newer phases of DHA have surpassed these limits to cater to a growing demand.

This demand indicates that the population of Lahore is increasing drastically. One major reason for this population increase is urbanisation. Kanwal Bokharey, economic advisor with the USEFP believes “we haven’t completely understood the large scale of urbanisation and are still functioning under the pretense that a large part of Pakistan’s population is settled in rural areas.

“In the last 10 years, urbanisation has increased significantly. It is a big issue,” she adds. “The government places growth at 2.8 percent but it is greater than that.”

For development, this is a good thing. As Bokharey puts it, “Agricultural economy has to move off from farm to industry, because this is where the jobs are.” And, as industry and enterprises grow in Lahore, so does the population. A surplus that the city needs to be anticipated now so that development and infrastructure can be planned accordingly, as opposed to ad hoc planning that only leads to short-term solutions. Such temporary solutions to larger infrastructural problems have become common, as witnessed by the construction of under passes, overhead bridges and signal-free traffic roads.

Even in the last few years, ordinary residents of Lahore have seen traffic and congestion on the rise only. During rush hours, it becomes impossible for commuters to get from one place to another. Long lines and frequent traffic jams are a regular feature. The slightest aberration, such as a car stranded on the canal, can cause the traffic to choke for hours.

Lahore Vision 2035 takes into account all these problems and much more to present a plan for the development of the city over the course of the next few decades. The project is a joint initiative of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Center for Public Policy and Governance (CPPG) at Forman Christian College. The two have also brought on board the Urban Unit of Punjab.

Lahore Vision 2035 not only looks at developing affordable housing for all income groups but also addresses the long-standing concern of public transport.

The idea behind the project, as stated in the concept note, is to implement “a research based governance framework and key proposals to reform urban policy and the supporting institutional and regulatory framework governing the city of Lahore.”

The plan looks at the development of Lahore from five different perspectives — Transport planning, Real estate markets, Improving trade friendliness, Water, sewerage and Solid waste management and Governance.

Headed by Imdad Hussain, the Center for Public Policy has carried out research in all five areas after looking at the research already done and talking to experts on all fields. The purpose of public seminars is to discuss the plan with the real stake holders — the people.

The idea is to transform Lahore into a citizen–focused city. In a public seminar held on October 11, Jeffery Bakken, Provincial Director for Punjab from the USAID, stressed the need for “ownership, transparency and equality of the public” in relation to developmental projects.

He discussed the need to “bring on board the people to benefit from it.”

So far, this has been a major critique of the developmental work carried out in the city. A large number of our development projects forget to address the needs of the people. How does the signal-free Ferozepur Rd help the people living in low-economy housing in kainchi? Does it make access easier to these densely populated areas?

Lahore Vision 2035 addresses these concerns at multiple levels. It not only looks at developing affordable housing for all income groups but also addresses the long-standing concern of public transport. It also takes these concerns to a broader level by addressing the growth of trade and the infrastructure that needs to be put into place to ensure that the city is able to handle that growth. This shows the in-depth research that has gone into formulating this vision.

“Goods transport usually employs the urban poor of the city. Ban on trucks during the daytime is not enough. There should be provisions for cart pushers which still carry goods around Lahore and carry goods in narrow lanes and alleys where trucks cannot go, without polluting or using expansive fuel.” This is one solution that the project proposes.

One major aspect of the entire vision is to reform the government and manage systems. The vision proposes the formulation and strengthening of the local government. The problem it cites with the previous form of management is the lack of cohesion within various planning and developmental departments. Khalida Ahson, presenting her research at the seminar, elaborated on this problem: “Recent changes in the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) run parallel to the local government instead of enhancing its authority.”

This remains a major problem with the research and the proposed solutions. It is dependent on the devolution of power to the local government. As Reza Ali, an urban planner who has done extensive research on urbanisation, pointed out, “The challenge remains the transfer of power to the local government, people or any other institution. This has not taken place and is unlikely to do so in the future.”

The positive development, though, is that the project has taken on board various people who have worked on urbanisation and remained closely associated with planning and development. These include Mazhar Iqbal, a transport expert, Pervaiz Qureshi, Unicorn Consulting/Royal Palm and Golf Country Club, Suleiman Ghani, Senior Policy Advisor USAID Firms, and Dr Nasir Javed, Chief Executive Officer of the Urban Unit.

The final aim of the project — to achieve a coherent and well-researched development vision for the city, setting an example for other cities — remains the need of the day. This is not the first time that such a master plan has been formed.

Developmental vision for the city was established in The Master Plan of 1966, then again in 1973, and more recently in one for 2021. Very little of these plans was actually implemented over the successive changes in government.

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