Category Archives: Urban

Enrique Penalosa and the civilised city


Monday, September 15, 2008
by Ahmad Rafay Alam

Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of the Colombian capital of Bogota, will be visiting Pakistan under the auspices of the Clinton Climate Initiative this week. He will be addressing gatherings of senior government officials, policymakers and civil society in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad.

Mr Penalosa is most famous for rejecting, as mayor of Bogota, a proposal by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to construct a multibillion-dollar rapid mass-transit system and instead introducing a series of people-friendly urban-planning interventions. This was a marked shift from what is accepted as “development.” Mr Penalosa is of the view that this change in priorities is necessary for cities to remain competitive in today’s world.
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‘Asian cities struggling against urbanisation’

SINGAPORE: Asian cities need help to cope with an unprecedented period of urbanisation, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) said on Wednesday, stressing the future prosperity of Asian cities is at stake.

Providing adequate water supplies and infrastructure are among the key issues facing urban planners and policymakers, ADB President Haruhiko Kuroda said, adding that few Asian cities have successfully dealt with sudden expansion.

Unprecedented: “Asia’s rapid urbanisation is unprecedented,” Kuroda said in a speech to the World Cities Summit in Singapore, explaining that around 1.1 billion Asians are expected to migrate to cities in search of economic stability over the next 20 years.

“Improving the livelihood and quality of life for so many city dwellers is an urban management task of a magnitude never before attempted by humanity.

“Clearly, Asian cities need assistance in coping with the physical impact of past and current urban growth.”

The Tokyo-Yokohoma area and Shanghai are rare urban success stories in Asia, Kuroda said.

“Unfortunately such successes are not the norm but the exception,” he said.

In most parts of Asia, investment in infrastructure has failed to keep up with economic growth, and where there are new investments, the benefits have not been distributed equally”.

Aside from the need to invest in infrastructure, the region needs technical assistance, which is critical for sustaining growth, he said.

To this end, the ADB has launched a water financing initiative that aims to provide 200 million Asians with access to safe drinking water, said Kuroda. A book launched on the sidelines of the summit indicates the region suffers from an “infrastructure deficit” as governments run into difficulty raising the funds needed. “The revenue sources of local governments are usually insufficient to meet the large, long-term finance needs of infrastructure,” the ADB said in the book “Managing Asian Cities.”

“Their infrastructure investment has often come through grants or loans from central governments but these governments also face resource limitations.

“The result is an infrastructure deficit.”

The ADB estimates the region’s infrastructure funding requirements at 60 billion US dollars annually, part of which will need to be financed by Asia’s capital markets. afp

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Cities of South and South-East Asia – Sustainable Urban Future?

The leading Pakistani urban planner and commentator Arif Hasan (of Urban Resource Centre) wrote this think-piece in June 2007 as a Discussion Document for UN Event on “Sustainable Urban Future: Urbanization in an Era of Globalization and Environmental Change” – New York, July 09 – 10, 2007

The Reality

International capital is desperately looking for a home. Cities of South and South-East Asia are attractive destinations since they have a weak regulatory framework and have undergone structural adjustment. Here, this investment, is increasingly determining not only the shape of the city but also social and economic relations[1].

New terms, such as “world class cities”, “investment friendly infrastructure”, “foreign direct investment” or ”FDI” as it is called, have entered the development vocabulary. All politicians and official planners in the Asian cities I know are using these terms and it is largely because of them that the whole approach to planning has undergone a change. Local governments are obsessed by making cities “beautiful” to visitors and investors. This means building flyovers and elevated expressways as opposed to traffic management and planning; high-rise apartments as opposed to upgraded settlements; malls as opposed to traditional markets (which are being removed); removing poverty from the centre of the city to the periphery to improve the image of the city so as to promote DFI; catering to tourism rather than supporting local commerce; seeking the support of the international corporate sector (developers, banks, suppliers of technologies and the IFIs) for the above.

The above agenda is an expensive one. For this, sizeable loans have been negotiated with the IFIs on a scale unthinkable before[2]. Projects designed and funded through previous loans have not met their objectives and there is evidence to show that they will again not meet their objectives. Many of the projects are being floated on a BOT process. Projects have replaced planning. This is especially true of transport related projects[3]. In addition, there has never been more liquidity in banks and leasing companies. However, due to the freedom that these loan giving institutions have today, this liquidity is used to provide short-term high interest loans which do not bring any benefit to the city or to the majority of its residents[4]. Continue reading

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Filed under capitalism, Development, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Urban

Karachi Calling – Urban notes from NPR

 “Does Karachi need a golf course for God sakes? … This is madness. I don’t have drinking water and I’m going to be watering the turf?”Amber Alibhai, general secretary of the public interest group Shehri, spends her days fighting with the city of Karachi about new development.

[Photo below – Junaid Bahadur Khan for NPR]

Amber Alibhai stands in her Karachi office.

Essay: Karachi Calling!

Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep writes about the contradictions of Karachi. As many as half of the Pakistani city’s 15 million or so residents live in squatter homes, even as foreign firms pour money into luxury developments.
The Urban Frontier: About the Series

This year, according to the U.N., half the world’s population lives in cities and the proportion will only increase. Morning Edition begins an occasional examination of the world’s cities with a series of profiles from Karachi, Pakistan’s economic powerhouse.


Morning Edition, June 4, 2008 · Karachi, one of the world’s most crowded cities, is debating its future. And those political debates keep returning to one subject: real estate. Developers are flocking to the Pakistani city, which has been profiled this week on Morning Edition as part of a series called “The Urban Frontier” about the world’s expanding cities.

Foreign developers are drawn to Karachi for at least two reasons. The first is demand. Pakistan may be a poor country, but many of it citizens are well off and developers believe they will pay a lot of money for expensive waterfront condos.

The second factor is a ready supply of investment capital in the Persian Gulf. To Dubai developers, for example, Karachi seems like a great investment.

A video from a Dubai development company features plans for a new city beside the old, with a new harbor, new parks and a nearly 2,000-foot tower that commemorates the year of Pakistan’s independence.

When the company brought its proposal to Pakistan, there was a meeting in the capital city of Islamabad. Word leaked out to Amber Alibhai, a public interest lawyer who is general secretary of an environmentalist group called Shehri. Continue reading

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Innovative slum dwellers ignored in redevelopment plan

“Dharavi, one of Asia’s largest slums, is known for its remarkable entrepreneurial spirit and flourishing economy. Its annual turnover is estimated at anywhere between $700 million and $1 billion. For all its drawbacks, in a city where rents are among the highest in the world, Dharavi offers a roof over heads for a rent as low as $4 per month. The Dharavi Redevelopment Project was first conceived in 1995. It took the government eight years to give the go-ahead and in June last year it invited bids to execute the $2.3 billion project.
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Filed under India, Inequality, Poverty, South Asia, Urban

In pursuit of a better Dhaka

“Dhaka’s population has grown from 7 million in 1991 to 11 million today. Clearly the city is not prepared for this, compelling many people to live in the open, covered only by bamboo, sacking, polythene or cardboard. Such unprecedented urban growth is placing a strain on municipal management and, as ever, the burden falls heaviest on the poor. Local governments especially are proving ill equipped to cope with the additional demands for land, housing, food, services and infrastructure, and have difficulty with the environmental and social costs of rapid urbanization.It is now accepted by most international agencies and professionals that urbanization is inevitable, and a precondition to economic and social development. It is now acknowledged that for all their problems, urban areas are the primary engines of economic growth, as well as social and technical innovation. The evidence shows that cities generate a disproportionately higher ratio of central government revenues and economic activity relative to their population levels. The challenge is therefore to evolve appropriate and sustainable ways of managing the urbanization process, rather than seeking to prevent it.”

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Filed under Bangladesh, Poverty, Urban

Managing urban growth in South Asia

by Shreekant Gupta

The year 2008 marks a watershed in human history when, for the first time, more than half of humanity of about 3.3 billion people will come to live in towns and cities. This fact is particularly salient for South Asia, home to over 1.6 billion people or a quarter of humanity, of which a third live in urban areas. As the world becomes increasingly urban, the centre of gravity of this process is moving to South Asia which will account for five of the world’s 10 biggest cities within seven years time, namely, Delhi, Dhaka, Karachi, Kolkata and Mumbai.  By the same year, 2015, a total of about 700 million South Asians will live in towns and cities, a colossal number by any yardstick. 

At the same time, South Asia is witnessing rapid economic growth and transformation, and its towns and cities are at the heart of this process. Growth is taking place in dynamic sectors such as manufacturing, information technology, high-end service industries, trade, retail, and banking, insurance and finance, all of which are urban-centric. By the year 2011, the urban share in India’s national income is expected to go up to 65 percent even though only slightly more than 30 percent of the population will be urban by then. In Pakistan and Bangladesh, the hypertrophic cities of Karachi and Dhaka respectively dominate the economy. The mega-city of Karachi, for instance, not only accounts for about a tenth of the total population of the country’s 165million people but it also generates 60 to 70 percent of national revenue and over 40 percent of the value added in manufacturing. 

While the Indian success story is well known (it is at present the second fastest growing economy in the world), that of Pakistan is less well so. Despite the political turbulence, its economy too has been doing quite well. On 24 January 2008, The Economist newspaper spoke highly of the latter’s economic growth (ranging at over 7 percent annually) and said it had the best performing stock-market in Asia: Pakistani companies had high dividends on average – 4 percent – and a low price/earnings valuation – under 15 times.  Sri Lanka too had (and still has) the potential to become an Asian Tiger, if only the ruinous civil war would stop.  Continue reading


Filed under Bangladesh, Growth, India, Pakistan, South Asia, Urban