[Tehreem Husain on Huffingtonpost] Cities are the hotbeds of culture, ideas, commerce, science and social development. The UN has estimated that half of humanity-almost 3.5 million people live in cities today. This is projected to further go up, almost 60% of the population is expected to live in cities by 2030. Interestingly, about 95% of the urban expansion in the decades to come will take place in the developing world. This makes the sustainable growth of cities an agenda of increasing importance especially in the context of developing countries. This is one of the reasons why amongst the 17sustainable development goals set by the UN, goal eleven pertains to the sustainable development of cities, including investment in public transport, creating green public spaces, and improving urban planning and management in a way that is both participatory and inclusive. The targets of the goal also ensure strengthening efforts to protect and safeguard world’s cultural and natural heritage.
Cities and Challenges
Cities in developing countries face explosive urbanisation pressures resulting from internal migration as well as a higher pace of population growth relative to cities in developed economies. Forbes reported in 2013 that seven of the largest megacities; defined as areas of continuous urban development of over 10 million people; are located in Asia. Amongst them, the largest is Tokyo-Yokohama area home to 37 million inhabitants followed by Jakarta, Seoul, Delhi, Shanghai and Manila. Karachi, Pakistan is also amongst the megacities of the world and has led the population growth rally amongst the mega urban centres, with a reported population growth of 80% from 2000 to 2010.
Due to population pressures on scarce resources, cities often host concentrations of extreme poverty. In developing countries cities faced with an absence or lack of effective governance coupled with their cosmopolitan nature hosting a diversity of population, cities also often witness crime and violence. This makes it all the more imperative for effective urban planning which protects cultural centres of heritage, creates other high-quality public spaces, improves natural and built environment and enhances local economies. These steps ensure inclusive and participatory development of urban spaces.
Recent cases of Urban Interventions and Local Economies
Urban interventions that protect and strengthen cultural and heritage spaces either by the private sector or by government initiatives must be celebrated as they contribute towards achieving the sustainable development goals of 2030 set by the UN. Recently, an urban intervention in the city of Karachi, Pakistan has rehabilitated a landmark heritage site known as Pakistan Chowk. An open public space covering an area of 6633 square feet, the chowk is surrounded by pre-partition buildings and was once known as the educational heart of Karachi. In its glorious days, it also promoted tourist activities and housed the busiest taxi and Victoria stand in the city. Over the years, the chowk fell to complete decay and became a dark space for drug addicts.
Rehabilitation efforts led by architect and heritage consultant Marvi Mazhar were aimed at making the public space sustainable and attractive for local stakeholders. The rehabilitation efforts involved massive cleaning of the area, planting trees, installing 32 benches with plaques of notable residents of the city, placing a history board signifying its heritage value and artistic installation by German design team Zoohaus. Post-intervention the chowk hosts art classes by the Pakistan Watercolor Society every Sunday and is one of the destinations by the Super Savari Express - a local tourism company.
Another interesting study of urban intervention is of the Greek town of Kalavyrta which was recently appointed as the capital of a new large municipality. Interventions centred around three broad principles; urban planning, public utility networks and architecture. Modification of building restrictions, traffic arrangements, pedestrianizations and overall development of its historical centre were some of the steps taken to ensure an inclusive and safe space as well as to improve its built environment and contribute towards participatory development.
Inclusive, safe and sustainable cities
City population is on the march. With world growth being heavily contributed by the Asian tigers India and China home to some of the largest mega cities of the world, the focus should be on developing cities which are sustainable, safe and inclusive. Development where everyone experiences shared prosperity is a goal that governments both at the local and national level should strive for.