A Different Sort of City
Sunday, June 14, 2015
Most people will be surprised to know that urban planners can influence people’s socializing habits and their choice of friends and acquaintances within a city. They can plan cities in ways that can increase ethnic tensions and they can organize cities in a way that can help people live harmoniously.
People are social animals and human beings are inclined to meet and befriend people if the right conditions are present. And vice versa: if the correct obstacles are present (whether by design or by accident) we become less inclined to meet people. The latter can lead to dangerous cases of the ‘other’ and can strengthen existing biases of people. One example of this was in the 1970s and 1980s when low income housing and urban projects in American cities reinforced segregation because black communities would not be found in predominantly white neighbourhoods. In this essay I will highlight three things that are essential for cities to connect people: transport systems, parks and squares.
The railway infrastructure connecting Pakistani cities is rapidly declining and the one within cities is almost non-existent. Pakistan needs an overhaul in its intra city and inter-city transport network. Within our cities we need to have an organized and spread out system where someone can easily travel around the city without taking any cars. If Pakistan does not have the funds to start such a project, it should ask China for help in investing in a joint venture. The Chinese are themselves building a bullet train system that is to surpass even America’s rail infrastructure; their input will be extremely useful. It would be nice if any urban development that does take place has a Pakistani signature on it. Perhaps our trains can imitate Pakistan’s famous bus art in this respect.
While transport systems are vital to help people connect, so are their destinations. Parks are essential for socialization in a city. They improve family life, and the health of parents and their children. A good park must be secluded from the city’s noisy and smokey streets. It must be welcoming. It must also be placed at a location which allows people from different neighbourhoods to access it equally. Children, regardless of whether they are from rich or poor families, should have the luxury of playing and enjoying themselves in parks with friends.
Another very important piece that most of our cities are missing are squares or meeting places in the heart of the city, where people can just linger and where pigeons can be fed to their hearts content. London has its Trafalgar Square, Turkey has its Taksim Square and we all now know of Egypt’s Tahrir Square made famous because of the revolution it spawned. Such meeting spaces are important because they help people meet and socialize. Various interest groups, social organizations and civil society can gather there. This can further promote our democratic culture and strengthen civil society groups. In Karachi the only venue that serves this kind of endeavour is the Karachi Arts Council which has over the years has generously given its space to numerous social and progressive causes and campaigns.
Today young people will often be heard complaining of boredom in the city. There is nothing to do except eat and for most young people the only way to meet new friends is through school or tuitions. A city square would provide a creative outlet for the youth to engage in. Artists could come and display their work, musicians could perform their raags to people passing by, and circus performers could enthral the on looking audience. These city squares must of course be easily accessible by bus or train, but it would be best if we can have as few cars as possible. Nothing ruins the soul of a city more than cars and traffic jams, and the noise that accompanies them. City squares can also pay tribute to our heritage of mushairas (poetry recitals). Once while interviewing gentleman about former East Pakistan for an internship, he told me that there was a large tree in Dhaka where every evening poets would gather to recite their poetry. I do not know whether this place still exists in Dhaka but a similar sort of arrangement could be organized for our major cities that are devoid of both trees and culture.
posted by S A J Shirazi @ 9:30 AM,
- At August 4, 2011 at 11:42 AM, jalalHB said...
Yes I agree with the writer. There used to be a Pak Tea House in Lahore - now no more
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