Urban development check: can Karachi build castles on dung heaps?

KARACHI: “We think we’re going to build castles on top of dung heaps? Karachi is a katchi-abadi city, a city of squatters, slums,” said Roland deSouza, an engineer and speaker at a seminar by the urban activist group SHEHRI-CBE.

On Thursday about 75 engineers, architects, city planners, students and journalists gathered at the Institute of Engineers Pakistan to ponder the implications of pending changes to the Sindh High Density Development Board Act 2010, passed last June by the Sindh Assembly. An advisory committee, appointed by the Karachi Building Control Authority and compose of architects and infrastructure personnel, opposed the Act.

Although high density refers to the number of people per square feet, high-density development is often shorthand for vertical development, or high-rises. The law gave the government permission to designate “high-density development” areas anywhere in Sindh. Architects and planners criticised the law for being vague and ignoring the problems that could result from indiscriminately placing commercial, highly trafficked buildings in residential areas.

Now lawmakers are attempting to clarify the Act with a set of rules and procedures which have not yet been voted into law. The rules would give the government permission to build anywhere in the city, with no height or size restrictions, no zoning boundaries and no sort of institutional approval process. Perhaps the government hopes to save time and avoid expensive bureaucracy. According to architect Husnain Lotia, a speaker and member of the advisory committee, President Zardari envisions Karachi as the next Dubai, with 100-storey buildings that would ignite the city’s depressed economy.

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