Value Extraction from Land and Real Estate in Karachi

Other important developments have taken place in the first decade of the 21st century. Anila Naeem, a graduate of the Dawood College did a PhD in Conservation at the Brooks University, Oxford. She returned to teach at the Department of Architecture and Planning at the NED University in Karachi. The NED University’s Conservation Cell also became the consultant to the Sindh Culture Department and a member of the Technical Committee. As a result, a larger documentation and categorisation of Karachi’s built-heritage has been undertaken. The owners of listed buildings have often gone to court against such listings. The Technical Committee has offered them alternatives to demolishing the building. These alternatives aim at providing the owners the same economic benefits that pulling down and reconstructing the building can offer. A number of such projects have been implemented (along with conservation related advice to owners of public and corporate sector listed buildings) but they do not aim at changing the land-use of the area. However, the buildings that undergo the adaptive reuse design process attract the attention of corporate sector institutions and higher end users. For example, the Sindh Zamindar Hotel, a 1920’s building in what is now a down market area was redesigned as a down market retail shopping centre (Arif Hasan Website). Once the facade was rehabilitated, a number of banks contacted the owner who was unhappy that he had not foreseen this for if he had he would have had the building redesigned differently. There are indications that if these heritage buildings are beautifully conserved, even for down market activities, they will eventually help in changing the land-use to a higher end market.     

Students’ projects and proposals of the Conservation Cell at the NED University have not really proposed “gentrification” in the conventional sense of the term. They have only made proposals for protecting and conserving existing neighbourhoods where heritage is still intact and communities still exist. However, a debate on shifting wholesaling and warehousing from the inner city to the city bypasses is ongoing. Given Karachi’s political violence and the role of real estate development and battles for turf between conflicting interest groups in the inner city, this is not likely to happen in the near future.

Karachi has an active and rapidly expanding theatre, film, fashion, media and art scene. Most of this is located in the elite and middle income areas or near the administrative centre of the city. Abandoned warehouses in the industrial areas on the periphery of the city are increasingly used for this purpose. Talk of shifting this to the inner city now often takes place in academic and art circles. However, for reasons given above, this is unlikely to materialise. But the desire to preserve and use old buildings for cultural purposes is strong and has been promoted by the small but increasingly vocal conservation lobby and a number of organisations have emerged to promote concepts related to heritage (Seeds Website). As a result, a number of old listed colonial buildings in the Cantonment and elite areas have been conserved and are being reused as museums, schools and expensive restaurants.    

A major boost to promoting development at the cost of relocating and evicting communities took place in 1999 when Gen. Musharraf dismissed the democratically elected government in Pakistan and became the country’s chief executive. He appointed a Chief Vice Executive of the Citibank as Finance Minister who in 2004 was appointed Prime Minister. He also appointed a very senior economist of the World Bank as the Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan whose additional job was that of chairperson of the National Commission for Government Reforms. Another important World Bank person was appointed as the Minister for Finance, Planning and Development in Sindh province. In 2002, he was made federal minister for Privatisation and Investment.

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