No to the Lyari Expressway

The immense humanitarian disaster (physical, social and economic) that is being created as a result of the building of the Lyari Expressway has been covered by the press. Urban planning considerations for and against the Expressway have also been discussed for many years. Appeals for transparency regarding the project design and for public consultations regarding its concept have also been made by citizens, NGOs, CBOs and professionals. These have been ignored by the government. However, since the decision of the military government to build the Expressway was taken, the authorities have given a number of justifications for its construction. These justifications need to be considered rationally.

What has been said by the authorities, time and again, is that they wish to remove and stop the future encroachments in the river bed since they can be washed away during floods. The concern of the authorities as such is for human life and property and is commendable. However, the Expressway is not removing people only from the river bed. More than fifty per cent of the affectees of the Expressway are those whose houses and businesses come in the Expressway alignment and who live above the flood line. In any case for shifting people from the river bed, an Expressway is not required. All that is required is to shift the population living below the flood line. This population is engaged for the most part in the garbage sorting and recycling business which is also located along the corridor. Discussions with them indicate that they would be happy to shift along with the businesses to the Northern Bypass or to land fill sites, provided water and electricity is available. To prevent further encroachment, all that is required after that is the channelisation of the river and the building of retaining walls along its banks.

The other reason that has been given is that the building of the Expressway will provide “unhampered and quick access to port traffic”. But then, the Northern Bypass is being built for this purpose and after its construction, what need is there for the Expressway? Is it necessary to duplicate this function? It does not make sense. It makes even less sense since many cities who built expressways through the city for through traffic, have long since diverted such traffic onto bypasses since the expressways were creating air and noise pollution. It must be remembered that the Lyari Expressway is being built through the most heavily congested areas of Karachi. To understand what heavy traffic can do, one simply needs to talk to people living on Khayaban-e-Roomi. Since those areas of Clifton were opened to heavy traffic, people no longer sit and play cards on the roundabouts, trees have shrivelled and residents complain of resperatory problems and related diseases. The Defence Housing Authority, for very sound environmental reasons, has not permitted the Southern Bypass to be built through it.

The third reason given for the building of the Expressway is that it will reduce traffic congestion on city roads. Any one living in Karachi knows that the congestion on city roads can be more effectively reduced by other less costly and less destructive means. Karachi’s main corridors are broken and cannot be used for more than half their width; they have no footpaths so people are forced to walk on the roads; they are encroached upon by buses and trucks since there are no bus terminals, depots and cargo handling terminals; there are roads linking the corridors that were planned twenty years ago and have still not been built; there are traffic management issues which traffic engineering projects if implemented can solve; and above all there is the issue of traffic management. These comparatively small projects will bring far greater benefit to the city since they will not only ease traffic flow but will also benefit the pedestrian population and tens, if not hundreds, of Karachi neighbourhoods. The Lyari Expressway will not bring any of these benefits. It is a mega project which includes the construction of sixteen bridges and four inter-change flyovers in a length of sixteen kilometres while the rest of the city infrastructure lies in shambles. One can equate its building with a household that requires bread but opts for buying a Mercedes and as a result continues to starve. It smacks of the same vulgarity.

The fourth reason given for the building of the Expressway is that it will beautify the city and “sea water will get treated sewage water”. Presentations of the Expressway project have shown transparencies in which boats are floating on the river and other recreation facilities. This is a fantasy. The Lyari river is actually a sewage channel. In addition, a box trunk is being built in its bed with a massive ADB loan to channelise the sewage to the Mauripur Treatment Plant. After this is completed, theoretically, the river will be dry. But then, it is possible that the planners are not aware of this. Also, the river banks will be unapproachable since the designs show the Expressway to be protected. Even if it is not protected, pedestrians do not cross expressways. And then, expressways and recreation do not go together and there are many other ways of beautifying cities. In addition, in the opinion of many architects the expressway is a disaster in aesthetic terms. It’s a roller of coaster supported on high walls when it flies over the existing bridges. Under passes would have been cheaper and less obtrusive. Usually for projects of this sort and aesthetic committee comprising of experts is appointed to review the project. In this case however, no such committee has been appointed.

The building of the Lyari Expressway should be seen in the larger context of the city in general and of the Lyari Corridor in particular. On either side of the Lyari Corridor between M.A. Jinnah Road in the south and Estate Avenue in the north, are the most congested areas of the city. Densities are as high as four thousand persons per hectare. There are no open spaces and collectively this area has no lung. In addition, this area contains the city’s wholesale markets and environmentally polluting industry, both formal and informal. It also contains warehousing and storage for the markets and industrial activity. Residents of these old Karachi settlements have constantly asked the government to shift the warehousing and industry out of their areas so that their environmental conditions can improve. Market operators also wish to leave (but have no option) since managing cargo handling and transportation in the narrow lanes of the old city is becoming increasingly difficult, if not impossible. The Lyari Expressway solves none of these problems of the inner city or of the neighbourhoods it passes through. On the contrary its building is congesting these neighbourhoods even more. This is because the businesses and homes that are being demolished are being relocated within the old neighbourhoods thus densifying and degrading them further.

If the military government wishes to do Karachi a favour, it should stop the construction of the Lyari Expressway. It should build the Northern Bypass and transfer the Dhan Mandi, Chemical Market and garbage sorting and recycling industry to the Northern Bypass. Naturally, the godowns, transport, related businesses and labour working in them will also want to shift. This shifting, if well planned, will improve the functioning of these activities, benefit the relocated residents and can be self-financing. The spaces vacated by these activities in the inner city can then be converted into badly needed amenities. Karachi will change. Traffic congestion will be eased and Karachi’s oldest areas will be rehabilitated.

At the same time, retaining walls should be built along the river and the river should be channelised. A lot of land will be recovered as a result. This land can be converted into a green space, a badly needed lung for a neglected and degraded inner city, a part of which is where Karachi began as a city and which contains the decaying remnants of its glorious architectural heritage.

The Lyari Expressway is a typical example of insensitive planning where a grandiose project is developed ignoring larger contextual realities; where physical results are more important than people and the environment; and where the megalomania of politicians and the fantasy of planners is satisfied. Karachi has had many such projects but they have not benefited the people or the city and many of them remain incomplete. It is high time we realised that planning is all about consensus building, and about people, their homes and employment, and that the vast majority of Karachi’s population consists of pedestrians, commuters who use public transport and who work and live in the informal sector which is the back bone of the city’s economy. We need to plan to benefit them. That should be our priority. And if we cannot do this then we will simply further fragment an already fragmented city.

One Comment

  1. behtrteen

    Posted January 2, 2018 at 3:17 pm | PermalinkReply

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