Work started today to build a 21st Century eco-friendly model city about 50 km north east of downtown Karachi, Pakistan.
Named DHA City Karachi or DCK, the project has been planned by Doxiadis and Osmani Associates along with Professor Spiro Pollalis as its chief planner on an 11,640 acre rural site. Constantine Doxiadis (1914-1975) was a Greek architect and urban planner who planned Pakistan's capital Islamabad and several Karachi communities, including Korangi, Landhi and New Karachi, in 1960s. Pollalis, also of Greek ancestry, is a professor of design, technology and management at the Harvard Design School in Cambridge, Mass.
The DCK masterplan envisions a self-contained sustainable city with 50,000 residential and commercial lots, healthcare and education facilities, theme parks, a convention center, informal and formal sports and recreational facilities and resorts, retail and restaurants, along with all necessary community facilities such as theaters and civic centers.
At the heart of the new city lies the City Gateway and Downtown district that house the Central Business, Culture & Arts, Education, Central Market and Mixed-use Sub Districts. Careful consideration has been given to the distribution of land uses within this area in order to provide a vital economic and cultural heart that will support the city as it grows.
The downtown district will be defined by an automobile-free pedestrian zone with tree-lined walking paths, landscaping, water features, and piazza’s. The idea is to encourage pedestrian movement to improve the quality of life for the downtown employees, visitors and residents. An efficient public transportation system will help support this.
Based on the latest research done under Zofnass Program for Sustainable Infrastructure at Harvard University's Graduate School of Design, sustainable design principles have been implemented across the entire community. A strategy has been used to maintain the ecological integrity of the site through the preservation and incorporation of prominent natural features that are integrated as creeks, green fingers and wind corridors, according to e-architect.com.
There's great emphasis on energy, waste and water management throughout the plan. There will be passive cooling and shades to reduce the need for air-conditioning in summers, extensive use of renewable energy from wind, solar and biomass, and energy-efficient LED lighting. There will be storm water collection through natural drains into lakes, and the community bylaws will require waste recycling as well as the use of grey water to irrigate drought-resistant native plants and shrubs.
DCK is an ambitious but necessary effort to promote eco-friendly and sustainable urban development as Pakistan undergoes rapid urbanization. But the past experience has shown that the actual implementation of such a plan will be quite challenging without the cooperation of its residents.
An even bigger challenge is the uncontrolled expansion of big cities like Karachi which are drawing more and more rural migrants every day without building appropriate new low-cost legal housing and infrastructure for them. The result is the mushroom growth of illegal settlements created by unscrupulous land-grabbing politicians and their cronies who profit from it. In the absence of official urban planning to settle migrant laborers, a burgeoning informal industry has emerged to fill the vacuum to build what are described as "Self-service Levittowns" by an American journalist Steve Inskeep in his 2011 book about Karachi titled "Instant City". With the active connivance of corrupt local police and other government officials and protected by politicians, the so-called "land mafias" grab and sell large swathes of vacant government land, subdivide it into plots, build shoddy roads and pilfered service connections for gas, water and electricity.
Here's how Inskeep describes one such illegal settlement in areas opened up and made accessible by a new expressway called "Northern Bypass":
"My driver steered the car to a section known as Tasier Town, which stood within a couple of miles of the new highway. It was in the farther northeastern reaches of the city, a bit farther than Doxoiadis's "ruined" old suburb in North Karachi. We stopped in a settled area to ask directions, and were pointed down a two-lane road. A market appeared to the right. A wide expanse of land stretched off to the left. Someone had posted a little sign on a little roadside building there, 2007 order from the High Court of Sindh directing that nothing should be built on that property. Behind it, on the vacant land, we saw homes under construction.....The local Home Depot was called a thalla, and Wahab, the boss of it, was thallawala. Like his workers-a so many newcomers to Karachi-he was a Pashtun from Pakistan's war-torn far northwest. On his lot, he sold most of the basic materials to make a simple house. Concrete blocks and roofing materials were cheap. Human beings were even cheaper. Wahab's laborers lived under a thatched roof near the concrete mixer.
Wahab said that there were certain expenses. Police sometimes came by and declared themselves to be shocked-shocked-that illegal construction was underway. The cops could not possibly overlook such an obvious violation unless they were paid.......I said goodbye to Wahab and went back into the illegal development, along narrow and straight dirt lane. Little ridges of dirt marked out the future home lots on either side. I chatted with several men who were laying PVC pipe in a trench, building a sewer line that would dump into the seasonal stream....Who was paying the men to dig the sewers? "A rich man", was all one said."
While Defense Housing Association (DHA) is known for developing upscale communities in major cities, Pakistani military governments have also taken low-cost initiatives to house the poor beginning with the urban planning and development of Landhi, Korangi and New Karachi in 1960s. Unfortunately, there has been little interest on a similar scale by the civilian governments to follow through on their promises of roti, kapra aur makan (food, clothing and shelter) for the poor.
Even though boosting legal housing construction in planned communities offers tremendous potential to stimulate and grow the formal economy, it is not being taken seriously today. It's much more lucrative for the politicians and bureaucrats to continue the current system of illegal settlements.
While critics jump at every opportunity to lambaste the Pakistani military for its various business enterprises, they pay no attention to the fact that Pakistan's economy has also been managed significantly better under military rule. It's not just the venality of the politicians, but also their gross incompetence that gets in the way. One need only look at the differences between Cantonments and civilian communities in South Asia to get a sense of who provides more competent governance.
Prof Anatol Lieven in his book "Pakistan: A Hard Country", describes Pakistan Army as follows:
"For the military, the image of paradise is the cantonment, with its clean, swept, neatly signposted streets dotted with antique, gleaming artillery pieces, and shaded trees....In the poorer parts of Pakistan, the contrast with civilian institutions-including those of government-is that between developed and the barely developed worlds....In the military headquarters, every staff officer has a computer. In the government offices, most ministers do not (and in many cases would not know how to use it if they did). "
British legacy of competence lives on in the Indian military as well. Here's a similar excerpt from a piece by Indian journalist Vir Sanghvi describing Indian military:
".... the (Indian) army sometimes appears to live in a state within a state. Visit a cantonment and you will be struck by the contrast with the civilian part of the town or city where it is located. The roads will be broad and well-maintained, the buildings will be freshly painted, the surroundings will be clean, and an air of good manners and civility will prevail. Visit an army town (Wellington, for instance) and the contrast will be even more striking. The order and cleanliness of the cantonments serves as a contrast to the chaos and filth of modern India."
I welcome the DCK plan with the hope that the green city will serve as a model for the 21st century and inspire private-sector developers to build similar project in the future.
Here's a video describing the project: