Note of the Establishment of Urban Development Centre, Sindh

This note is being written with reference to the draft Scheme PC-1 for the establishment of the UDC and the meeting convened on the subject by the Chief Economist Sindh on 23rd September 2008. Since I think the subject is important, I am putting down my views (which I expressed at the meeting) in writing.

  1. The Centre (as it is proposed in the PC-1) will be a top heavy, highly expensive to establish and run institution with a strong academic bias. It will certainly highlight and develop data on important indicators in urban Sindh. A lot of such data already exists. However, this data will not be of much use in the absence of a larger understanding of micro level issues and their relationship to macro level planning. As such, I do not think that it will lead to improving the economic and hence the physical and social environment of Sindh’s urban centres.
  2. Before we even begin to address Sindh urban issues, a scientific diagnosis without pre-conceived solutions and the nature and form of institutions to address them is required. Much of this diagnosis is already available and can be extracted from numerous reports, journalistic writings, NGO and government programmes and projects and books and can be added to through further investigation.
  3. My views on Sindh’s urban crisis, for whatever they are worth, are given below. I have come to these conclusions as a result of the research work I have done over the years (which is summarised in a number of books), visits to a number of towns (on the invitations of their nazims); through editing, contributing to and compiling the IUCN’s report on Sindh: State of Environment and Development; working with a number of NGOs including the OPP and URC and teaching architecture and development. These views are briefly expressed below and if required I can expand on them in detail.
  4. Sindh’s urban centres are in economic decline. Arresting this decline is essential for physical and social improvement and rehabilitation. The reasons for the decline are:
    1. Industries are closing down or shifting to the Punjab and the UAE. The reasons for this are high energy (often erratic supply) and labour costs; manpower inefficiency; absence of bridge financing; lack of security; cheaper Chinese products; lack of skills for managing new technologies and corruption and ad-hoc political patronage. These issues can be addressed only if their causes can be removed and for that the causes have to be understood.
    2. There is no support to local commerce which is the backbone of the economy of Sindh’s urban centres. As a matter of fact everything possible is done to make things difficult for it. To make local commerce flourish
    3. Space, security and infrastructure has to be provided to the informal sector industries, hawkers and shopkeeper’s associations (of which there are thousands) and the functioning of the middleman economy and its relationship to physical development has to be understood;
    4. Access of small producers to the various mandis has to be guaranteed and the location of the mandis has to be developed in relation to issues related to labour housing, congestion and social and environmental considerations. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened so far resulting in severe economic decline, environmental degradation and labour displacement;
    5. Location of transport and cargo terminals has to be related to economic and social benefits and not just physical conditions. No serious work has been done on this micro level issue and as a result most terminals and their related warehousing is informal in spite of considerable state involvements in this sector.
    6. Most informal and middleman economic activity functions either through loans with high rates of interest (often over 10 per cent a month) or by the paying of bhatta.
    7. A system of consultations needs to be put in place to understand (at the local level) constraints the sector faces and how they can be removed. Also all research has to be conducted in a manner through which staff can be trained and the informal sector and communities linked to the process.
    8. The old hereditary caste system is dead and even where it is alive it does not have the skills required to deal with the new technologies that have become essential for economic development. The shagirdi system faces the same problems. As a result, people from other provinces are taking jobs as managers and workers in the services sector, in health institutions, in the building industry, and especially in banking and IT. To address this very serious issue institutions of intermediate and technical education that are affordable are required. The polytechnics developed in Ayub’s time and the vocational schools in Bhutto’s time have not multiplied and those that exist have deteriorated. Universities and professional colleges are not an alternative to these institutions. Without them an empowered lower middle class cannot develop.
    9. Land and housing are an essential part of economic development and security. There is a need to understand how these are being provided and by whom? What is facilitating this process and what is constraining it? There is a need for a housing programme rather than a programme for building houses which is what is being developed currently. Issues of targeting, controlling speculation and the nature of subsidies required will all emerge as a result of this understanding. A lot of work on this issue has been done but does not feed into official planning.
  5. The smaller towns of Sindh are loosing their political importance because of which sustained economic growth cannot take place. This loss of political importance is because educated youth are moving out in the absence of jobs, business opportunities and for a search for “new lifestyles”. Other reasons for moving out are environmental degradation, absence of women’s education and after women have been educated, problems of getting them a job in a difficult social environment.
  6. Physical development issues are related to ecology, infrastructure, heritage and landuse. For this the capacity and capability of the TMA needs to be enhanced. It is no use enhancing the capacity and capability of the TMA with highly qualified engineering and planning staff alone. Without technicians who have skills in mapping, physical and quantity surveying, documentation, account keeping, managerial and operational issues and processes of social consultation, these highly qualified staff cannot be effectively utilised. The issue is how do you create this intermediate and technical expertise? Also, how do you create the necessary vision of participatory research and consultation in these institutions? There are ideas that can be discussed.
  7. Land and landuse is a difficult subject. However, before even tackling it the administrators and professionals have to develop an understanding of issues related to tenure and land ownership, land conversion, value, speculation, actors and their relationships and the conflict of all these with government programmes and plans. I have found such an understanding missing when I have interacted with training groups at NIPA or during my research work. In addition, there is considerable difference in these issues between different urban settlements depending on location, culture and political and clan groupings.
  8. Another important issue to address is related to building byelaws and zoning regulations. At present these are anti-pedestrian, anti-street, anti-dissolved space and anti-mixed landuse. In short, anti-everything that the lower and lower-middle income groups require as an environment. Again, there are issues related to density that need to be readdressed if land is to be conserved for ecological reasons.
  9. We live in an age of projects as opposed to planning. It is difficult to fight against this paradigm. To make projects viable and socially and environmentally responsive we need to develop principles on the basis of which to judge them. On my part, I have developed some principles and expressed them through various papers and articles. I can share these.
  10. Sindh is in the process of a major social revolution. This has to be supported and consolidated. Without that Sindh’s economy will not improve in the near future and because of that its physical and social environment will suffer. For the consolidation of this revolution new societal values are required. These can only be inculcated through a system of education and the development of a school curriculum and media policy that responds to the changing social and cultural milieu. It is possible to do this.
  11. Rural-urban migration and rural-rural migration is becoming increasingly important for economic and social well being and in many cases for survival. How can this be contained or facilitated? This is an important issue and I will be happy to share my reports and findings on it. Also, it has important and long range effect on the soc-economic conditions in the rural areas which have already undergone a revolution in most districts.
  12. The development of intermediate and technical skills has been highlighted by me and the need to develop para-professionals. However, it has to be pointed out that we are a very backward province. Our capital city of 16 million does not have courses in urban design, city planning, landscape architecture, transport engineering, city management and conservation. We have a number of individuals who have through pioneering efforts acquired these skills but after a generation of pioneers you need academic qualifications.
  13. I am sure there are other views, apart from what I have expressed above. Maybe a more detailed discussion than the one we had on 23rd September 2008 is required before the Sindh government decides on the nature of the Urban Development Centre. However, one thing is definite; before taking a decision a diagnosis of the problem and a study of all that exist as diagnosis needs to be carried out. Also, that economic, physical and social sector issues cannot be separated in a search for the improvement of Sindh urban centres.

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