Karachi's Bahria Town Private City is Bigger Than San Francisco

Karachi's Bahria Town being built on the outskirts of Pakistan's financial capital is among the world's largest privately developed and managed cities.  It is spread over an area of a little over 70 square miles, larger than the 49 square miles area of San Francisco. When completed, Bahria Town will house over a million people, more than the entire population of San Francisco.

Bahria Town Karachi

The city comes complete with private roads, community parks, mosques, schools, colleges, universities, hospitals, libraries, business parks, restaurants, recreation facilities, sports grounds, shopping malls etc. It has been the subject of litigation by local  villagers who claim that their land was unlawfully taken away from them to build this new city. Pakistan Supreme Court recently reviewed their cases and forced a settlement worth Rs. 406 billion to be paid by Bahria Town developer named Malik Riaz Hussain.
Karachi: Bahria Town Square

Bahria Town and other similar private cities and gated communities are popular with Pakistan's rising middle class. They are looking to escape the chaos of the nation's burgeoning cities unable to cope with the massive and uncontrolled waves of urbanization. The issues facing Pakistani cities range from lack of basic services to rising urban crime.
Karachi: Bahria Town Housing

The private city promises to “turn the vision of modern Pakistan into a reality”, with private and secure supplies of water, gas and electricity, garbage collection as well as private security and well maintained wide tree-lined roads.
Karachi: Bahria Town Nature Recreation Area

In a recent article published by India's Scroll.in, Samira Shackle argues that "the reason a privatized city is so much quicker and easier to build is not down to the inherent superiority of the free market, but because it removes power from people and communities and centralizes it into the hands of one person or corporation". "This is the same dynamic at play in China, for example, where the nominally communist government has been able to build vast new towns and cities from scratch because it doesn’t have to worry about eminent domain or democratic accountability", Shackle explains.

As of 2016, the real estate developers had built over 250 gated communities across Pakistan. Hundreds more are being developed in response to rising demand from upwardly mobile Pakistanis.

Eden Housing Gated Community in Lahore, Pakistan

These communities cater to insatiable demand for world-class and well-appointed housing with modern infrastructure including well-built wide roads and reliable supply of water and electricity. Additionally, they offer various state-of-the-art amenities such as schools, hospitals, mosques, restaurants, theaters, shopping malls and parks located within secure communities, according to a report by Adrian Bishop, editor of Opp.Today.

Gated communities are being offered at multiple price points and payment plans that suit not just the rich but the middle class buyers as well. They offer condos (flats), townhouses and single-family homes on lot sizes ranging from 125 square yards to  2000 square yards. These communities are fueling a construction boom in Pakistan.

Defense Housing Authority (DHA), Bahria Town (Malik Riaz), Eden Housing (Aleem Khan), Emaar Properties (of UAE) and Ghurair-Giga (of UAE) are among the biggest developers of gated communities in Pakistan.

Bahria Town Islamabad

In addition to major Pakistani cities of Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, new gated communities are being developed in second and third tier cities as well. Recently, Bahria Town announced its newest development of a gated community in Nawabshah, a city of just over a million residents in southern Sindh province.

Here's an excerpt of a 2013 AFP report on Bahria Town gated community in Islamabad:

Cars glide softly over the smooth tarmac carpeting the gentle hills of Pakistan’s largest gated community, past immaculate green verges dotted with statues of cattle — which, unlike their real counterparts elsewhere in the country, pose no threat to traffic. 

There’s a horse riding centre, a golf course, a posh cinema, an immaculately air-conditioned café and a mini zoo with “the only black panther in Pakistan”, whose growling excites young couples taking a walk. 

Elsewhere 20 metre models of the Eiffel Tower and Nelson’s Column — complete with lions — watch over this vision of suburbia which seems a world away from the rest of Pakistan’s seething, traffic-choked and crumbling cities.
Here's an AFP report on Bahria Town Islamabad: 

 Here's a video of aerial views of Bahria Town Karachi:
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Comment by Riaz Haq on June 11, 2023 at 12:45pm



Arif Hasan | Dhuha Alvi | Anum Mufti Published November 27, 2022

It is necessary to understand the scale of these real estate projects. Bahria Town (186.15 square kilometres) is more than three times the size of Manhattan (59 square kilometres), and DHA City is 47 square kilometres. Other gated communities are also large in size when compared to similar real estate in other cities of the world. They vary between 60 acres (for ARY Laguna DHA City) and 3,000 acres (ASF City). Many others, such as Commander City, Gulmohar City, Seven Wonders City, Karim Palm City, are between 100 and 300 acres.

In addition, there are over 550,000 housing units that are new or under construction in over 150 gated communities. Further, there are more than 120 buildings of between 20 and 50 floors being constructed in the city centre.

Most of the larger housing estates are located on the M-9 Motorway to Hyderabad and on the link roads of the city. Most of the people currently living in villages along the Motorway have been evicted through police-backed coercion by the developers or their ‘barras’ [elders] have been bought out, to sell the land of their communities.

The people still living in villages along the Motorway are of the opinion that they, too, will be forced out. They are of the opinion that, if they manage to stay, the K-4 scheme will provide water to these gated communities and not to them or the lower income settlements in the area.

As far as the disposal of sewage is concerned, the area contains a large number of hill torrent tracks which will be used as disposal points, creating immense environmental degradation — not only for the city of Karachi, but also for its larger ecological region. Judging from the past, these fears are justified.

With ingenuity, investment and will (all three missing in the real estate sector in Karachi), the water and sanitation problem can be overcome locally. However, an increase of vehicular traffic from these settlements to work areas or for other social and economic purposes will result in further congestion of already congested entrance and exit points to the city and will cause serious air pollution in an age of climate change.

An estimated 100,000 vehicles will enter and exit these housing estates per day, provided they get fully occupied — which seems unlikely for at least 15 years.


The other question is about who is going to live in these homes? Estate agents believe that, eventually, most of the residents will come from the middle class areas of Karachi, which were previously double-storeyed and can now have high density multi-storey construction on them. A trend that has been observed is that such properties are now being sold at a very high price and their returns are being invested in the purchase of a number of housing units (one for each child) in the new housing estates.

In addition, it is also being said that a large number of purchases are being made by residents of other Sindh towns and also from the province’s rural areas. However, many of the existing schemes are undeveloped or empty and their land and housing units — approximately 400,000 of them — are being held for speculation. It is surprising that, in spite of the availability of land, one finds almost no tree plantation in the completed or under-construction schemes.

Previously, land on the city periphery has been utilised for the development of katchi abadis. However, today, it is increasingly being used for the development of elite and middle class housing, and its price is beyond the affordability of low-income communities. Also, it is too far from work areas, increasing travel time and making the cost of commuting unaffordable.

But Karachi’s informal housing market has found solutions for low-income housing which are nearer to the city and somewhat more affordable.

Comment by Riaz Haq on June 11, 2023 at 12:46pm



Arif Hasan | Dhuha Alvi | Anum Mufti Published November 27, 2022

But Karachi’s informal housing market has found solutions for low-income housing which are nearer to the city and somewhat more affordable.


At many locations along the coast, land is being reclaimed for low-income housing. Early in the morning, government and other trucks carrying garbage, debris and other forms of solid waste move into the coastal mangrove marshes and mudflats, and start depositing their contents on them.

Informally, hired government tractors level out the garbage and, in some cases, government-owned bulldozers compact it. The “developers” say that this work is a joint venture between them and government officials, without whose support their “project” would not be possible.

Large areas of the city, such as Sultanabad, parts of Keamari, Shireen Jinnah Colony and coastal villages have been colonised in this manner. The land is sold even before it has been reclaimed. A piece of paper is given to the prospective owner with a telephone number of the developer, the size of the plot, and the payment that has been made for it.

Once the plot is “ready”, the owner moves in and starts construction. He spends a lot of money on filling his plot with garbage, earth or debris, and compacting it to whatever extent he can, so that he can build a home. In most cases, because of insufficient compaction, the plot sinks and is filled with water during the rains. So, very often, it has to be refilled and re-compacted.

This is one of the cheapest ways of acquiring a residential piece of land in Karachi. It is interesting to note that, despite the rains and the intrusion of the sea into the nullahs and creeks of the city, no action has been taken by the government to prevent the reclamation of land from the mangroves and mudflats.

Instead, over 6,000 households have been made homeless due to the bulldozing of homes along the Gujjar, Orangi and Mahmoodabad nullahs, with the assumption that such bulldozing will prevent flooding of the city — something that the last rains proved was not a valid assumption.

Apart from the serious physical damage this process does to the city, its environmental repercussions, as mentioned before, are even more serious. The shift from developing katchi abadis on lands belonging to goths on the city’s northern and western periphery to coastal areas has a number of reasons behind it.

After the expansion of the city, the goth lands have become far away from places of work, recreation and social facilities. Access to them is time-consuming and transportation is expensive. In addition, the land along the coast is also not much more expensive but it involves considerable expense at raising its level through earth-filling and compaction. However, due to its proximity to the city and an immediate informal piece of paper establishing ownership, the “owner” is willing to bear the extra cost.

The solid waste being used for the reclamation of land from the sea also has a story behind it.

Its management has been handed over to a Chinese company, which is supposed to pick it up from all homes, parks and markets. As a result, the cost of managing solid waste has gone up considerably but still, the old manner of lifting and disposal has not radically changed. What happens is that the company sublets the collection and disposal of garbage to a subcontractor, often a political person of importance in the district, and signs an agreement with them. The company pays this person for this job on the basis of that agreement.

In theory, the garbage is to be picked up and taken to a designated garbage transfer station (GTS), where the recyclable material is removed and sent to the recycling units in the city. The residue is sent to the landfill site or informally sold for reclaiming land and filling under-construction plots.


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