Ahmed Amin Malik
Lahore is a city of many charms and boasts of a history that puts it in a league of its own and all that is not very surprising given the fact that this city has served as a regional capital to some of the mightiest dynasties that ruled our planet, from the Mughal era to modern times. Add to this, the charisma of Sufi Saints whose shrines are visited by thousands since early eleventh Century and over a millennium old civilization that took birth at the very banks of the then life-exuding Ravi River. However, with all this clamor, heritage and wealth, it’s so grieving to witness the current state of affairs of the city; courtesy some amazingly poor urban planning and a total lack of respect for the cultural capital of Pakistan.
Since independence, the city has witnessed a phenomenal growth in its population and the mismanagement of that has led to a myriad of problems for the modern Lahore city. The green meadows gave way to mini gardens, followed by their shrinkage into patches and finally, into mortar and bricks with a very gradual but consistent downfall that has been witnessed by many citizens who forlorn demise of their beloved city of gardens into a dinosaur. The irony is that much of this environmental degradation occurred within last two decades in a time when talk of environment, emissions and sustainability has been rampant in social and public sectors. The city is plummeting with everyone watching it go down and the majority of people are busy ducking their heads into sand despite knowing quite well the catastrophe that the rapidly degrading city environment brings with it.
Unfortunately, it just isn’t about the environmental cost, the expansion of Lahore has been haphazard, random and ad-hoc, to summarize it in three words. A whole plethora of brand new residential colonies have been sprouting up everywhere with the overall urban map turning itself into one-of-its-kind mess. The city now extends from Manga Mandi and Raiwind to Jallo and from Shadra to Barki, just a few miles shy of Pakistan-India International Border. It is pertinent to mention here that the famous BRB Canal, once considered a secondary line of defense in event fo a war with India and the very place where valiant Major Raja Aziz Bhatti Shaheed embraced martyrdom, is today bordering an upscale housing society with obvious urban expansion being made across and beyond it; into the artillery range of Indian guns. Such a messy and unplanned expansion is extremely surprising given the huge swathes of land that Pakistan possess along its length and breadth, much of which stays uncultivated or is being leased out to other brotherly states who are grasping their value and promise in upcoming times of food insecurity and increasing population density.
Apart from lackadaisical spread and declining plantation levels, mismanagement of the Gamma City’s ever-increasing population has led the major arteries to being increasingly clogged down with heavy traffic, increasing crime rate, overcrowded hospitals, poor mass transit system and resultantly, dangerously rising mercury levels with overall city aura drowning into a chaos and pollution. Nonetheless, mass local inward migration of population continues unabated, in quest of opportunities, as people from downtrodden areas look towards Lahore for realizing dreams and getting their lives on track. This mass influx, coupled with rising mismanagement paints a rather bleak picture of the World’s 32nd most populous city’s future.
Of late, the government, public companies and a number of responsible not for profit organizations have taken steps to better the outlook of the city including construction of flyovers, signal free corridors, introduction of low emission vehicles and limited plantation activities but the scale of such endeavors has been petite given the dinosaur that Lahore is turning into. The current circumstances call for an emergency launch of a comprehensive, deliberated and organized roadmap for restoration of the city and an immediate end to its wayward expansion that threatens any reclaiming efforts, being made or to be made. The government owes this to the city, given its potential: an impressive US$ 102 Billion GDP, second only to Karachi, the city of lights that has a tale of its own to tell.
Developing specifics for a full scale solution to Lahore’s decline is a job best left to experts but it is exceedingly important to reduce the inward migration if not reverse the same and this can only be achieved by populating new cities or upgrading existing small towns with state-of-the-art infrastructure, industry, security and urban planning so that the pressure may be released from our mega-cities and simultaneously, new population centers take birth; giving a very healthy boost to economy as well putting Pakistan on a road to easily maintainable, administrable and vibrant small and medium sized, exquisitely planned cities for our future generations.
An auditor by profession, the author is engaged in public accounting and auditing services for past five years with a profound interest in aviation, movies and travelling but writes with passion from the cultural capital of Pakistan to voice his concerns on public interest topics.