Unplanned Urbanization in the Twin Cities

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Category: Blogging

The expansion in urban areas as more and more people shift to cities from rural vicinities is what’s referred to as urbanization. One would be a little shallow to categorize the process of urbanization as good or bad in itself because where it causes health hazards, it also moves your society toward economic development. The real problem lies in the process being unplanned. According to the World Bank, around 90% of the urban expansion in the developing world is done through unplanned settlements and occurs near hazard-prone areas. Without a proper scheme in place for infrastructure development, a myriad of problems can rise, which will actually prove counterproductive to the real motives of urbanization.

The socio-economic repercussions:

Some of the most significant issues arising from unplanned urbanization are unsanitary living conditions, spreading disease, pollution, traffic congestion, and waterlogging. The considerable factor here is that, sooner or later, unplanned urbanization makes the gap between the rich and the poor evident due to the difference in living conditions becoming highly visible, leading to various social conflicts. And this is a pattern in all cities in the world, whether they belong to superpowers or third-world countries. In Pakistan, specifically in the twin cities, unplanned urbanization has been a problem since the city started developing a mere two or three decades ago. In a country that ranks eighth for being affected by extreme weather events and is highly disaster-prone, unplanned urbanization can greatly cause damaging effects. It is precisely due to this region that when climate change strikes, disastrous impacts are felt across the country, as made evident by the recent floods in Pakistan. The situation is not confined to the twin cities only; the rest of the country is also succumbing to it. But the issue is that one of the twin cities is the country's capital, and if urban growth cannot be strategically managed here, the rest of the country can let go of any hope they had left.

What Urban Expansion has brought about?

Unplanned urbanization has led to the creation of temporary settlements in the twin cities, usually referred to as ‘katchi abadies’, where the underprivileged citizens of the two cities typically reside. These settlements have not been developed through proper urban plans and tend to be hit hardest by disaster occurrences in the twin cities. Research revealed that if an earthquake of the same magnitude as that of 2005 (7.6 Richter) hit the twin cities again, those living in unplanned settlements could succumb to building collapses and landslides. These unplanned expansions have led to the creation of narrow streets, which make it hard for rescue vehicles to move through in times of crisis, and the improper sewage system allows floods to occur in some of the poshest areas of the cities. The living conditions in these settlements are also as far from ideal as they could get: improper sanitation, lack of clean water, unavailable electricity, and the list goes on and on. Combine all these issues together, and you get what you may call the breeding ground of communicable diseases and new viruses.

Impacts on daily life:

The lack of proper planning often leads to traffic congestion and jams on some of the city's busiest roads, with people spending hours stuck on them. And this is us talking about one of the least populated cities in the country, one shudders to think what would be the case in areas like Lahore or Karachi, which are infamous for their horrible traffic. The lack of proper sewage has led to unapproved garbage dumps at various locations in the city, which in addition to being a public health hazard, also impact the city’s aesthetics. Research has also taken place on specific issues such as dengue and has shown poor urbanization to directly cause the spread of such communicable diseases. As discussed above, this unplanned urbanization has also led to increased crime and civil unrest within the twin cities. Rising discontent among the low-income groups is causing frustration toward the city’s elites, leading to rapidly growing crime rates in Islamabad. Unfortunately, this unplanned growth has made it even harder to adhere to the same standard of living across the city. The delivery of services has become more challenging, with resource constraints becoming even more evident. The issues caused by the unplanned growth are majorly contributing to climate change, which is causing disasters that push the city’s development back by years. The whole process has become a deathly cycle that our cities cannot seem to escape from now.

What lies ahead?

Pakistan does have multiple governmental departments in place for dealing with urbanization, but a lack of coordination amongst them, paired up with an ineffective governmental mechanism, these departments have become highly unproductive. In a nutshell, these situations are putting the entire urban infrastructure of the country at risk of economic, social, and environmental concerns. The sad truth is that this is not how it has to be. Around 80% of the world’s GDP is generated in cities, and with sustainable ideas for their growth and management, the economic impact can be significantly beneficial, especially for the developing world. The United Nations has multiple frameworks in place that are pushing for a more sustainable world, such as: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate change, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the New Urban Agenda. By doing as little as researching on these methodologies and framing our policies in accordance with them, we can bring a major change to the urban status of the twin cities. Sustainable policy models are the ultimate need of the hour, without which we can let our cities continue to derail to an irrecoverable place.

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