By Fareeha Qayoom
Why do cities grow? Or shrink? Why do people migrate to mega-cities from small towns and villages? Why do regular cities grow into mega-cities? Is it due to natural causes – population growth (Shah Jee’s pat answer!) or because of domestic migrants? Can mid-sized cities grow into mega-cities? Are we in Pakistan developing mid-sized cities with amenities of megacities? What about smaller cities and villages – what’s the status on their development?
Are we meeting the urbanization challenges? What’s the development status of real estate in small towns and cities? Is anyone (public or private sector) developing real estate – housing, work spaces and industrial spaces in smaller towns and cities? What about towns that have agricultural products as their economy’s mainstay? Are they still sustainable with onslaught of urbanization? What about mid-sized cities in comparison? Is the government creating new cities around job opportunities or educational facilities? (Hey, not so fast… there you go thinking the government is doing its job – don’t forget Gwadar. It’s a new city. It’s a port. So the government is creating new cities around job opportunities – yeah, yeah! Valuemag reviewed its progress in our last cover-story…it doesn’t really shed any positive light on our government’s track record. Besides, Gwadar is facing many challenges including trade competition from Karachi port and Chabahar port, Iran. Is it really going to provide sustainable economy for the residents? Besides, Balochi leaders don’t really want all this progress anyway. Don’t forget the political posturing that they are a deprived province and they would rather stay that way or else they want to administer the port themselves…hmmm). Where was I? Oh Yes! What about food for these mega-cities? Are these cities spending loads of cash to import fruits, cereals and vegetables from far-away villages? Is the government upgrading the facilities of mid-sized cities like Gujranwala, Sialkot, Faisalabad or Multan for example in comparison to Lahore?
What is so hot about our so-called ‘mega-cities’ (Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar and Quetta) anyway? Can these cities compete with world rankings of top cities? When I asked Sohaib, our star reporter/writer to investigate these questions, he was confident that he will be able to get his hands on the necessary research and data from his government contacts as easy as 1, 2, 3… I commissioned this story back in October ’08 – it took him literally three and half months to admit defeat. There is no data. Social scientists are not doing any research. We don’t even have the basic figures that describe our demographics…
What makes a particular city special? It’s the job opportunities vs. the costs of housing, transport, food, clothing, household goods, educational facilities and entertainment. When you review the attractiveness of one city over the other, you need to look at the quality of housing and education, political stability and the variety of sporting amenities, cafés and restaurants too. Lahore is special because it continues to enjoy a better standard of living vs. any other city in the Punjab. Same is the case with Karachi, Islamabad, Quetta and Peshawar. So, does the government think only the residents of these cities are entitled to city amenities? What’s the role of private sector in urban development of less developed cities, towns and villages? What about the environmental concerns? According to one study, “almost 50 percent of the world’s population lives in cities, increasing to 60 percent by 2030. As a result of this, urban emissions will be an increasing driver of global warming. At the same time, urban areas, particularly in coastal regions in the developing world, are vulnerable to climate change and its impacts. In turn, these impacts induce energy-intensive adaptations such as air conditioning, pumped drainage or desalination. The mitigation of these impacts and sustainable options for adaptation in vulnerable cities require integrated strategies involving key stakeholders.”
According to Mike Batty, “the question of course remains: how big a city can get? It appears that as we get richer and as our technologies relating to movement get more efficient and we are able to travel longer distances, cities can get bigger but they are still limited by the capacity to travel during the working day.
However if the working day is thrown into question and we begin to organize ourselves more flexibly in terms of the use of our time, then this will force up the limits on city size. It is well known that by the end of this century that the proportion of the world’s population living in cities will have increased from 45 percent now to some 80 percent. The world’s biggest city at any point in the last 100 years has grown inexorably: in 1900 it was London with 6.4 million; in 1950 it was New York with 12.4 million; in 2000 it was Tokyo with 34.1 million and the forecasts for the next 100 years show that the cities of the developing world will overtake those of the developed. New technologies will determine how big cities can grow as well as how high they will grow in terms of skyscrapers. In 1900, the highest building in the world was in Philadelphia some 167 meters in height; in 1950, it was 381 meters in New York City; and in 2000, it was 452 meters in Kuala Lumpur. The tradeoff between space developed, energy used, and the amount of travel required to enable effective and workable communications will determine both the desirability and sustainability of cities. These questions of course are changing as we get better methods of measurement and as we understand the ways in which energy and information underpin the functioning of the modern city.”
This article was originally published in the print edition of Valuemag, April 2009, issue 9, under the section ‘From the editor’s desk – April 2009’