“When all the children will go to the same schools where the rich children study, get treatment from the same doctors that treat the rich and get the same food as the rich eat, this city will become a happy city,” says a Grade 8 student in an essay he wrote on what a happy city meant to him. He was one of the many children who said that creating equal opportunities would pave the way for happiness.
A group of urbanists reached out to young people — Grade 8 and Architecture students from across the city — to draw and write about their concept of a happy city. So Nigraan-e-Lahore (NeL) went to the people.
Essays, short stories and poems received for the exhibition, titled ‘Shehr Saazi Aur Soch Vichaar,’ were put on display after lamination, while framed drawings, paintings and sketches lined the walls of the three floors of Gallery IV.
The exhibition that remained open to public from May 18-23 at Alhamra, The Mall, was novel in the sense that it engaged citizens to think about their city and share their thoughts with others.
A great number of school children underlined the importance of clean water, clean environment and moving factories out of residential areas which add to pollution and health woes. Someone wrote, “They cut all the trees to make the Karim Market Johar Town Interchange.”
There were writings that underlined attitudes that need to be changed like smoking in closed spaces, ignoring others around them. A child has pointed out attitude of motorists and bikers who do not consider slowing down on seeing children waiting to cross the road. A child says, “What’s the point of widening roads if we can’t cross them safely. The government should look into this issue and make it easier for us to cross the road.”
Blind children who wrote with the help of brail and their writings were then put on paper, complained they had problem on road, in public transport and in parks. Special children also sent contributions. They too said they had similar problems. Despite all the problems all of them said they love their city. They love the parks, historical places, festivals, the food, the canal, the Metro bus and want more opportunities for sports in the city.
Many writings highlighted the need to save trees to save ourselves from dust and diseases.
Lack of security and empathy with the different communities living in the city also came up in the writings which included short stories and poems as well.
In their drawings children had mostly created a happy environment. There were few longing for peace. There was one painting that showed Minar-e-Pakistan crumbling.
College students had created models and maps. One was ‘Re-envisioning Anarkali and Neela Gumbad.’ Some of the proposals were on legislation of informal activity and pedestrian empowerment, parking proposal for cycles and shelter to all earning livelihood in the market and its vicinity.
There were activities for visitors to the exhibition. There was a big city map on which people were asked to stick different coloured stickers that answered different questions. Also, there were questions posted on walls like ‘Your favourite place in the city?’ ‘What was the last park you visited?’ ‘The area you avoid going to in your city?’ and ‘What is the area of your oldest memories in your cities?’ to which people answered on small stick-on papers and put them on the wall above the questions.
Old city or the walled city holds quite a fascination for many, unanimously, still one person wished it were cleaner. Some wanted to visit Heera Mandi, others said they would rather avoid this place. Lawrence Garden and Shalamar Gardens are the ones people said they want to visit.
Some of the comments posted were: “It’s not my Lahore as it used to be. I love my Lahore. I know no place I want to avoid.” “Lahore is beautiful. Its art should be valued more.” “I am in love with noisy streets.”
Another activity was a black board inviting people to make public their wish for their city — “In Lahore I wish…” It drew people in hordes. The wishes were; more bicycles, greenery and peace for girls to roam on bicycles, parks for girls, better public transport, more public parks, water parks without membership, amusement parks, restoration of the 42 historical parks of Lahore, more literary gatherings, schools that encourage critical thinking and no child out of school, books become more common than insta pics, no more hierarchy, disco clubs, development projects are carried out with more planning and above all people wished for sincerity, love, peace and life without fear.
Nigraan-e-Lahore has certainly succeeded in encouraging public participation and invoking a sense of ownership among citizens in the shaping of the city. Hope the city sees more such activities in future.