The Conflict between the Carbon-free and the Neo-liberal City

Presentation for the Future of Cities Conference, Chatham House, London,

To achieve a low carbon or a carbon-free city, it is necessary to reduce green house gases. It is well-established that this can be done by

– An increase in urban density
– Building and energy efficiency
– Transport demand and management
– Cleaner energy generation

A major constraint to reducing green house gases is the Asian neo-liberal city model, also known as the World Class City model. This model has been promoted in a big way by international financial institutions, academia (especially in the North) and national planning agencies and politicians. In turn, it promotes a number of trends.

1. Highways, signal-free roads, flyovers, underpasses, difficult to use pedestrian bridges: in short, pro-automobile planning.

Can transport and traffic management projects be made to take precedence over road related projects?

Difficult, given the power of the automobile and road lobbies.

2. The automobile and banking sector nexus

  • In the financial year 2006-07, 506 vehicles per day were registered in Karachi; 1,250 in Delhi; and 1,700 in Bangkok. The majority were financed by loans from bank and/or leasing companies. In Karachi, these loans amounted to an equivalent of US$ 1.8 billion.
  • The development of mass transit transport systems have made no difference to the registration of vehicles. As a matter of fact they have increased as a result of loans.

    Can bank loans for automobiles be diverted to mass transit systems or for social housing?


  • 74 per cent of persons interviewed at different Karachi bus stops wanted to purchase a motorbike. Already 11 per cent of all households has one or more.

    Is a green motorcycle “mass transit” an alternative?

    It is becoming a reality but it is not green.

3. The persecution of non-mechanical modes of transport

  • They have either been eliminated completely or limited to certain neighbourhoods and routes (Karachi, Delhi, Phnom Penh, Hochimincity, Bombay)
  • The Dhaka rickshaws are under constant pressure of being banned.

    Can infrastructure design for the promotion and integration or non-mechanised modes of transport be agreed upon and initiated?

    Very difficult given the present mindset of politicians, planners and their financers.

4. Projects over planning

  • Global capital is looking for a home.
  • Real estate is by far the most lucrative option and the coastal regions are the most attractive investment for the elite and for tourism. Global capital targets this market.
  • 26 kilometres of Karachi coastline was identified for privatisation and elite housing and facilities. It was stopped by a civil society movement.
  • Seven Cambodian islands and almost half of Cambodia has been sold between 2006 and 2008.

    Can principles for judging projects for their sustainability be introduced and applied to all development?

    It can be successfully done if civil society, interest group and academia support it collectively. Such principles have been made a part of the Pakistan Federal Government Task Force on Urbanization.

5. Increasing low density sprawl

  • A new and powerful elite want luxurious living and large plots. This is increasing sprawl.
  • Corporate sector demands, road projects , events and real estate investments are increasingly evicting the poor and relocating them on the city fringes, increasing unemployment, transport costs, travel time and pollution.

    The acquiring of land for these projects is made possible by the Land Acquisition Act. Under the Act, land can only be acquired for public good.

    There is a need to redefine public good. The Pakistan Federal Government Task Force on Urbanization has recommended the doing away of the Land Acquisition Act for housing projects.

6. Cleaner energy generation

Studies show that markets are willing to invest in alternative energy systems such as solar. However, they are not willing to meet the requirement of feeding this generation into the national grid. This is because they do not trust their governments or the electric supply companies.

Rules, regulations and procedures for overcoming ambiguities/anomalies relating to alternative energy development should be resolved.

7. Architecture and planning

Architecture and planning promote environments that are not energy efficient. For example, the corporate sector image requires large glass facades to buildings and architects, give in to these demands, increasing energy use and costs considerably.

Can graduating and practicing architects/planners take an oath prescribed by their institutions to support sustainable cities, failing which their names should be struck off the register of practitioners?

The idea has been promoted in Pakistan but has not met with a positive response.

8. Byelaws and zoning regulations

They are anti-pedestrian, anti-street, anti-mixed landuse and anti-dissolved space.

Can they be made to change?

Yes. If they are promoted by civil society and academia and if developers can benefit from them. The Pakistan Federal Government Task Force on Urbanization has made a number of recommendations to this end.

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