The World Class City Concept and its Repercussions on Urban Planning for Cities in the Asia Pacific Region

Pakistan is also a poor country but it has a comparatively strong civil society, nascent environmental laws and tribunals and a populist political culture born out of repeated struggles for the restoration of democracy. In 2007, the Prime Minister of Pakistan agreed to sell two islands off the Karachi coast to a Dubai based company against an investment of US$ 43 billion. In addition, he agreed to providing about 33,000 hectares of coastal land to another Dubai based company for a US$ 500 billion project with an initial investment of US$ 150 billion. Another project of US$ 1,500 million, aimed at privatising 14 kilometres of beach has also been proposed and part of it has been initiated. In agreeing to sell the land and beaches the Prime Minister bypassed existing laws and procedures. In addition, the projects (which were exclusively for upmarket condominiums, 5 star hotels and marinas) were to adversely affect the livelihood of 200,000 fishermen, evict about 36 villages and prevent lower and lower middle groups access to the beach. At present, over 300 thousand persons visit the beaches over the weekend. Beach development projects have also tried to force lower income groups (and those who serve them) off the beach by preventing informal eating places and activities on the beach and replacing them with expensive formal food stalls.1

Civil society organisations in Karachi formed a network to oppose the beach development and island sale projects. The network included fishermen’s organisations, community organisations from low income settlements, schools, NGOs, academia, prominent citizens (including ex-judges of the Supreme Court) and the print media. The sale was also opposed by a number of senior bureaucrats. As a result, the sale of the islands has been put on hold, the Limitless project cancelled and the US$ 1,500 million project considerably modified. Earlier, through the same process networks, backed by organisations that work with low income groups, had objected to the 1994 Karachi Mass Transit Project as a result of which modifications were made to it.2 A US$ 100 million Asian Development Bank (ADB) loan was also cancelled for a waste water management project when an NGO, working with communities in informal settlements presented and lobbied through a network for a US$ 20 million alternative.3 Professional bodies representing architects and planners were conspicuous by their absence in these processes although a number of architects did take part individually in the movements.

A similar process to that in Karachi has been followed in Bombay. The Maharastra state government, of which Bombay is the capital, put out an advertisement for an “expression of interest” for the redevelopment of Dharavi, an inner city informal settlement. The developer was to survey the settlement, carry out the urban design exercise and relocate and/or provide housing for the displaced population. Dharavi’s population is over half a million and its informal businesses and industry serve the formal ones and generate the rupee equivalent of well over US$ 500 million a year. In spite of this, the advertisement called Dharavi a pocket and asked the investor whether the prospect “turns you on”.4

The people and businesses in Dharavi were not consulted regarding this advertisement and had no knowledge of it. Also, for such a huge undertaking an EIA was required under Indian Law which was not carried out. What made the issue even more serious was that the developer was being asked to carry out the survey. Already there were major differences between government and NGOs surveys of Dharavi. Government listed 55,000 houses but no businesses whereas NGO surveys listed 81,000 structures and 120,000 businesses and households.5

A network consisting of the National Slum Dwellers Federation (NSDF) (a national level organisation of 500,000 households), NGOs working with low income groups such as SPARC, concerned citizens and organisations formed specially for opposing the government plan, was formed. International academics, artists, researchers and NGOs also expressed their concern. Meanwhile, the President of the NSDF offered a partnership to the state government for the development of Dharavi and also threatened agitation if the government plan went through. As a result of this movement, negotiations took place and an NGO, Mashal, has won the bid for carrying out a survey of Dharavi with the support of NSDF and Society Promotion for Area Resource Centres (SPARC).6

All successful movements against insensitive projects have a number of things in common. One, the existence of a large network or organisation of poor communities; two, the existence of organisations that support these communities with information and managerial and technical guidance but do not control or direct them; three, research on social, technical and planning issues that question the project in an informal manner and present alternatives; four, support from concerned and prominent citizens, professional bodies, academia and media; five, no one group owns the network and its successes as theirs. Another aspect that has emerged from a number of case studies is that violence or threat of it, unfortunately, is the only form of dissent that is acknowledged and accommodated by officialdom.7

The bleak picture above has to be supplemented with hope. This is provided by the Baan Mankong nation wide slum upgrading project of the Community Development Institute (CODI). It is a Thai government project. Under the project communities (organised through a process of savings and credit) identify and acquire land for their housing and house building or upgrading through a government system of subsidies and loans through revolving funds. To prevent speculation the strategy of collective rather than individual ownership has been adopted. A search is also on to find ways to develop new social systems on the basis of the relationship established in the process of the savings process and that of land acquisition. Local governments, professionals, universities and NGOs are involved with poor communities in the CODI process. Between January 2003 and March 2008, over 1,100 communities (53,976 households) in 226 Thai cities had benefited from the programme.8

An Alternative to the World Class City Concept?

What is the alternative to the World Class city concept? An inclusive city based on the principles of justice and equity? A pedestrian and commuter friendly city? By what process do you develop a vision? And then there are a number of sub issues. After developing a vision how do you promote it? Or will it be born out the processes that challenge (successfully and unsuccessfully) the projects promoted by the neo-liberal urban development paradigm? Maybe we need to discuss this but in the meantime what should one do?

In the case of Karachi, I see projects replacing planning for the foreseeable future. I have tried to promote some principles on the basis of which projects should be judged and/or modified. These are: one, projects should not damage the ecology of the region in which the city is located. Two, projects should as a priority seek to serve the interests of the majority who in the case of our cities are lower and lower middle income groups. Three, projects should decide landuse on the basis of social and environmental considerations and not on the basis of land values alone. And four, projects should protect the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of the communities that live in them. This would in my opinion produce better projects. But you cannot effectively follow these principles if you do not have affection and respect for the natural environment and for the people who form the majority in your cities.

However, the question is whether the megalomania and opportunism of politicians and planners will accept a new and more humane paradigm that curtails their profits and decommoditises land? I do not think they will unless they are pressurised by city wide networks armed by alternative research and an alternative vision. The key to bringing about a change lies in the nature of professional education, I often think that it might help if graduating architects, planners and engineers should take an oath similar to those of doctors and if they do not follow the terms of the oath, their names should be removed from the list of practising professionals. In 1983, after evaluating the environmental damage that some of my work had done, I promised in an article.9I will not do projects that will irrepairably damage the ecology and environment of the area in which they are located; I will not do projects that increase poverty, dislocate people and destroy the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of communities that live in the city; I will not do projects that destroy multi-class public space and violate building byelaws and zoning regulations; and I will always object to insensitive projects that do all this, provided I can offer viable alternatives.” I have tried to keep that promise and I think I have succeeded.

  1. See “The Partitioning of Clifton Beach” in Arif Hasan; Planning and Development Options for Karachi; Sheher Saaz, Islamabad, 2009. See also, website of Fisherfolk Forum
  2. Urban Resource Centre website:
  3. Orangi Pilot Project website:
  4. Society Promotion for Area Resource Centres (SPARC) website:
  5. Sheela Patel and Jockin Arputham; Plans for Dharavi: Negotiating a Reconciliation Between a State-Driven Market Redevelopment and Residents’ Aspiration; Environment & Urbanization, Volume 20(1), 2008
  6. Ibid
  7. This has been observed by the author in at least three cases in Karachi and the struggle of the tenant farmers in the Punjab. This has also been mentioned to the author by Sheela Patel of SPARC for Bombay and by Prof. Yves Cabannes for cases in Latin America.
  8. See CODI website:
  9. Arif Hasan; No to Socially and Environmentally Development Projects; The Review, 1983

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