A study of the unique characteristics of Lahore’s settlements and the kind of environment they create
The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) aim to make developing cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. These overarching concepts fail to comprehend and incorporate the ground realities that shape cities as experienced and lived-in by the people. To go beyond this ‘jargon’, there needs to be an in-depth study of the unique characteristics of Lahore’s settlements and the kind of environment they create. Hence, this article is not merely a reflection of the city through the paradigm of the SDGs, but also speaks of the issues that may not have been taken into account in the design process of the aforementioned goals.
Examples from places like Youhanabad, Charrar Pind, Bahria Town, and Green Cap Society, make it evident that stratification of society based on religion and economic and social gentrification resulting into ghettoisation of lower-income groups are manifestations of larger issues in city planning.
What about diversity?
A glance at Youhanabad, home to Christian majority of lower-income background, directs one’s attention to an issue that is often swept under the rug, as it has to do with the general intolerance towards religious minorities. The 2015 church bombings in Youhanabad are among the many examples that highlight the vulnerability of religious minorities based in low-income areas.
This, coupled with issues related to provision of housing for low-income communities in Pakistan, exacerbates the problem that the residents of Youhanabad are dealing with on a regular basis. Not only is Youhanabad physically far removed from the core of the city — General Hospital, located at a distance of approximately 10 kilometres, is its nearest facility, and already overburdened — it also lacks basic infrastructure and amenities. Provision of power, gas, and water is limited. Besides, there is a severe shortage of open and green spaces which forces the residents to go to the nearby Nishtar Colony and sometimes even Gulshan e Iqbal Park, which is quite far off, for recreational purposes.
The diminishing social quality of these sub-par public spaces has forced parents to keep their children indoors, as streets are unsafe — there is an obvious lack of vigilance. All this impacts their relationship with their neighbours as well, since their interaction with one another becomes limited. In remembrance of those lost in the deadly attacks, the community has stuck together but it’s been kind of isolated, with little sense of belonging to the city.
This points to a bigger problem with Lahore’s planning process: Why are minorities not allowed to assert/exert their identity outside of their communities?
A lack of adequate infrastructure seems to be the primary reason. If, as in the case of mosques, spaces for religious minorities are also considered an integral part of community planning, the state can help to integrate these factions into the larger system. It is evident through examples of communities in North America and Western Europe that societies that are religiously and ethnically diverse do exist peacefully. This is made possible through robust policies that safeguard their rights.
Another possible solution can be placing one religious centre close to the other, in order to curb potential attackers from damaging what they would consider their ‘holy’ place. Hence, small interventions on the planning level might provide alternative ways for minorities to integrate and thrive in a megapolis like Lahore.
Make way for the big guys!
Gentrification, a process by which the indigenous quality of settlements is replaced by aspirations for ‘modernity’ and progress, is visible in the Lahore of today. Not only does this compel local community members to sell their land for profit in the hopes of upward mobility, but it also creates a shift in community dynamics. As a result, even those who may have wished to retain their homes will eventually find the community losing qualities that made it their ‘home’ in the first place.
They may also be forced to move out, as happened in the case of Nouman*, a resident of Green Cap Society, a predominantly low-income group area that has been a victim of gentrification. Having inherited the land from his parents, Nouman, a gardener at a prestigious college in Lahore, has been based in Green Cap Society all his life. However, the influx of the richer crowd into the community is making him feel estranged. His wife complains of not having anyone to talk to, as all her neighbours are of a ‘higher’ status and make her feel like an outcast. He wants to move his family to a neighbourhood where he can once again experience fellow-feeling.
It is evident that gentrification of spaces doesn’t only create statistical problems of where to relocate the lower income group, but also affects the quality of living. Cities can never be inclusive if, in the process of development, their citizens lose their sense of belonging. And this loss cannot be addressed by setting goals for inclusivity alone. It requires a shift in the ways by which development is defined, and further contextualised for the city of Lahore. Adequate policy frameworks that safeguard the public interest of local settlements and communities, as well as comprehensive design strategies aimed at encouraging interaction between people of diverse income groups without marginalising the vulnerable are some of the ways through which issues faced by the residents of, for instance, Green Cap Society may be addressed.
Providing spaces like a communal kitchen can create jobs for the low-income in the community, simultaneously creating an environment where the community is encouraged to engage with their neighbours.
Walls — what are they good for?
Migration from rural population to cities due to rapid population growth has led to an alarming need for housing for the lower tier of society that is unable to afford it.
Worse still, housing is seen as a privilege and not as a right. Furthermore, with no restriction or limitation regarding where and how housing societies must be constructed, one can see an ad-hoc growth pattern. A large number of housing schemes have sprouted all over the country, yet none of these cater to the required income level. Hence, small settlements for the lower income group are taken over by the rich resulting in ghettoisation, and making the poor isolated and vulnerable in urban areas. Settlements like Jeevan Hana in Garden Town, Jaliana in Bahria Town, and Charrar Pind in DHA are prime examples of this phenomenon. Despite being located in the city centre, having proper infrastructural facilities, social amenities, and services such as electricity, water supply, and gas, these villages are deprived of the right of being respectful living places in the city. There is little or no communal life for their residents, due to a lack of social interaction or integration with the surrounding communities. This social gap is leading to massive social stratification.
Take the example of Jaliana Pind in Bahria Town, Lahore. The community was pushed back and separated from the rest of the upper-class society by a boundary wall. Till this day, the settlement exists without a proper entry gate. Residents are not even allowed to enter Bahria without an Identification Card. This instils a feeling among the people of being strangers in their own space, and brews resentment amongst the Jaliana community.
It has also led to an increased level of criminal activity within the area as these people are scrutinised by the authorities. Coupled with their already inadequate sources of income, it apparently leaves the people with no other choice to earn a livelihood. The people’s quality of life is being degraded to the extent that they are forced to move as far back as Hadiara drain, with no proper disposal system and chemical effluents polluting the air. On one side, factories are coming up towards Jaliana Pind, and on the other, Bahria Town Housing is slowly extending its boundaries (rather illegally) towards it.
Us and Them
Following the rapid urbanisation of Lahore, the fabled “City of gardens” has been greatly depleted of its agricultural land, all in the name of development. Fields are acquired at cheap rates, and sold at ten-fold the prices after being built on informal settlements to obliterate the genus loci of the space and construct a standardised community catering to the rich. However, while most of the people sell their land for money, some are resolute in their fight to protect what is theirs.
Some of these people are the inhabitants of Charrar Pind, the so-called outsiders who now have been quarantined in a land-locked island in the midst of development of DHA which is spreading on the eastern side of Lahore without any regard for the city’s urban growth boundary, enveloping informal settlements along the way.
Charrar Pind is now a land enclosed by walls high enough to segregate the inhabitants of the historic settlement where once culture thrived based on social cohesion, without a major income difference, in comparison to its counterpart, a newly developed and affluent neighbourhood. Those who were once the owners and caretakers of the land which DHA presently occupies are now being sidelined and manipulated by the privileged class. Each narrow slit that connects the two variants is adorned by numerous surveillance cameras, often pointing directly into the settlement. Security guards in blue uniforms sit at every gate, check each individual that leaves the compound, and keep their eyes out.
The question arises as to what purpose do the walls and the security arrangements serve? What/who are they afraid of?
It is interesting to note how the younger and newer residents of Charrar Pind view the gates and security guards in a positive light. To them, DHA has provided them with security and safety and is associated with the affluent. Development is a bonus.
Similarly, the way DHA has played on the naivety of these people is reminiscent of those who colonised us in the past at the cost of cultural and social values. The residents believe that the governments are to blame since they have failed to provide affordable housing and security to the citizens, through economic or social means, and given liberty to corporations to take over this responsibility. They do not realise that the public benefit corporations like DHA are only providing for those people who in return make them hefty profits. Charrar Pind residents are not considered ‘worthy’ of investing their time on or supplying opportunities to in terms of employment, adequate services, or basic amenities.
The outsiders, unable to earn a living in the dystopian bubble, are forced to work odd jobs, as independent employees in the DHA houses are exposed to mistreatment/scrutiny and accept below minimum wages. As time progresses and the population grows, coupled with inflation, the living standards of the inhabitants are degraded, so they are bound to resort to crimes like selling drugs. Hence, the crime rate will increase in DHA, and in turn cause the security to become even tighter. This strictness of security combined with the working conditions has formed an unbreakable cycle. This is the power of the wall that symbolises and promotes social disparity and inequity. As the city expands so does the creation of such walls, because the corporations can’t afford a loss by letting low-income areas lower the land value. At the same time, the government is too busy dealing with political play and institutional inadequacy to notice the repercussions of schemes like the expansion of DHA. Accordingly, communities like Charrar Pind, being the weaker part of society, suffer.
Is “Inclusive, Safe, Resilient and Sustainable” only a dream?
A few conclusions emerge from the issues highlighted above. First of all, it can be definitively concluded that the SDGs do not include all the factors that translate into the process of building cities. There needs to be a thorough understanding of the structures, hierarchies, and orders within the context of a particular city (in this case, Lahore) to form a better understanding of how cities work and whether they are livable or not. Understanding how the city treats its minorities and lower- and higher-income groups is crucial to understanding why our cities become places of social and economic injustices. Priority of land over people, sidelining the poor for bigger corporations, and disregarding minority groups are some of the manifestations of the larger problems that exist in policy-making and city planning.