The Informal City


In 1996 at the second Habitat conference, the nations of the world committed themselves to six important things. These were: adequate shelter for all without discrimination; sustainable human settlements (socially and economically equitable and integrated); agenda for enablement (decentralising authority and resources, promoting access to information); gender equality; financing shelter and human settlements; and, assessing progress (support to UNCHS). However, it must be said that this agenda is not the agenda of Asian governments who are now committed to neo-liberal economistic policies.

Even if that were not true, given all that has been said in this paper above, the Habitat agenda cannot be implemented unless the process of the formal and informal cities to become one on equitable terms is initiated. It is often said that if effective local government is created, and its capacity and capability is increased, and if devolution of power takes place, then appropriate planning will be possible and that will bring the two cities together. However, in the opinion of this author, devolution of power without a change in the mind set of the planners and the methodology of planning, will not bring about any major changes in the formal-informal relationship and nor will it necessarily result in a change in land policies and project identification and development priorities. For this to happen a number of important steps will be required.

To bring about the change that can ultimately integrate the two cities, four important steps need to be taken before or along with any devolution of power. These steps are: One, a space for interaction between government agencies, interest groups (formal and informal) and communities must be created, nurtured and institutionalised over a period of time. This means that citizens and interest groups have to be supported by scientific research and the media so as to interact effectively with government agencies and deeply entrenched vested interests in the development, consultancy and real estate business. Two, all plans at city, sector and/or neighbourhood level must be publicised at the conceptual stage and objections and suggestions should be invited especially from formal and informal interest groups, professional and academic institutions, and from the beneficiaries and victims of the plans. Only after this process, should detail work on the plans be undertaken. Three, steering committees for various policy decisions, plans and implementation processes must be created. These steering committees must have a representation of NGOs, relevant formal and informal interest groups (for example, for transport related plans, representatives of the formal and informal transporters must be on the committee) and professional expertise in them. In addition, these committees must have executive power. And four, all public sector institutions must prepare and make public a list of their real estate holdings, its current and proposed land-use and market value. Such real estate holdings should by law only be used for the benefit of the city and its poorer sections of the population and not as a commodity or for the development of commercial complexes. In addition, no land-use change should be permitted without proper public hearings and again decisions on them should only be taken by committees of interest groups, NGOs, concerned professionals and representatives of communities which are likely to be effected.

In this manner, the emphasis on increasing the capacity and capability of government agencies will be replaced by an emphasis on transparency and accountability. As it is the old agenda of increasing capacity and capability has failed miserably in spite of huge investments in it. This is because the assumptions in government planning, especially when dealing with the informal city, were not based on reality and an understanding of how this city functions (now of course the two cities are closely interconnected). In addition, the emphasis has also been on getting the sector and poor communities to support these government plans rather than the government plans supporting the good practices of the informal sector and regulating the bad ones sympathetically.

However, to make the four point agenda outlined above successful, and to bring the two cities closer on equitable terms, it is necessary to understand how the informal city functions, who its actors are and what are the relationships between these actors and between the informal sector and the formal institutions? Unless NGOs, interest groups and concerned professionals are armed by such a research, they will not be able to play their role which is crucial to the success of such an agenda.

For the agenda to be successful, it is also necessary, that professionals and administrators, who understand both the formal and informal processes and are sympathetic of the former, should take over as city planners and bureaucrats. This can only happen if academic institutions that train professionals and administrators change their curriculum and anchor it in the larger social reality of the city and in its political context. Where changes in curriculum have taken place, changes in policy and implementation procedures have shown signs of developing within a decade. Such changes also result in the development of people and environmental friendly consultants and planners.

Appendix – 1

Profile of Urban Resource Centre, Karachi

The Urban Resource Centre (URC) was set up in 1989. Its general body and executive committee consists of urban planning related professionals, representatives of NGOs and grassroot community organisations and teachers at professional colleges and universities in Karachi.

The objectives of the URC are to create a space for interaction between CBOs, NGOs, professionals, private (formal and informal) sector interest groups, academic institutions and government agencies so as to increase awareness and make planning more responsive to social and environmental issues. To make this possible, the Centre carries out research on all major urban development projects and problems in Karachi and then holds forums in which the government planners and the beneficiaries (usually the rich) and the victims (usually the poor) of these plans are invited. This interaction has generated debate and discussion in the press and brought about substantial changes in how problems and planning are viewed by government agencies and different stakeholders. The URC also holds forums in which poor communities interact with each other and identify their problems and how they can be solved. The URC then puts these communities in contact with relevant NGOs and professionals who can be of assistance to them. The URC’s work is published through reports and a monthly publication entitled ”Facts and Figures” which gives details with statistics of what has transpired in Karachi during the last month.

As a result of URC’s work, the Karachi Mass Transit Project was modified considerably because of pressure from citizen’s groups and was made more environmental and cost friendly. Also, due to the information and alternatives supplied to communities living on the Lyari River corridor, the Lyari Expressway, which was going to uproot 125,000 people was abandoned. The Expressway project has been replaced by the northern bye-pass for which the URC pressed. In addition, some communities have begun to build their own sewage systems, and/or to monitor government work in their localities effectively, because the URC put them in contact with the OPP and resource individuals.

The URC also has a training programme for young people in low income settlements so that they can actively assist their communities through technical and managerial support.

One Comment

  1. you are legend bro. your research proved the only way to get my thesis done. i am from UET lahore. thanks again bro. i cant leave this site without thanking you.

    Posted December 8, 2019 at 3:02 am | PermalinkReply

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