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Cities/Urban / 31.01.2019

By Anjum Altaf The more I read about sustainability the more I am puzzled by what it reveals and what it hides. At one level, this is a new buzzword in the global discourse that all sorts of shysters are milking for what it is worth while distracting the gullible into futile avenues and dubious career paths. Take the endless refrain about sustainable cities. Every day one reads a scare-laden screed about how our major cities are unsustainable. But what exactly does that mean? Lahore has been around for many centuries -- Al-Biruni referred to it in the 11th Century and Xuangzang identified it in 630 CE. Delhi is even older -- its history goes back to 50 BCE. Despite their survival through all sorts of calamities and troubled times, we are being told that they are not sustainable anymore. What exactly has changed? Many of the writers...

Cities/Urban / 08.08.2018

By Anjum Altaf What is to be done when we believe strongly that the present in which we live falls very much short of what it ought to be? Clearly, we don’t need to prove that that is indeed the case --  widespread poverty, hunger, marginalization, discrimination, and exploitation stare us in the face every day. While almost everyone, especially in countries like ours, agrees on the discontents of the present, there is a very clear split when it comes to thinking of what is to be done. There is a segment of the population that believes the solution lies in going back to a past in which all these problems did not exist. And there is a segment that believes that such a return is not possible simply because one cannot step into the same river twice -- too many things have changed to allow a...

Cities/Urban / 08.07.2018

By Anjum Altaf Urban productivity is determined by a number of variables, including population size and urban sprawl. With effective infrastructure investment, cities can enable more workers to access available jobs, creating integrated labour markets and increasing urban productivity.   From an economic perspective, the concept of a metropolitan area is related to the existence of an integrated labour market. If the labour market extends beyond the municipal boundaries of a city, it becomes part of a metropolitan labour market. Metropolitan labour markets are important because output per worker increases with the size of the labour market; increased population density leads to a higher number of economic interactions per unit of area. However, the population size of a city is only one determinant of its productivity. The other critical determinant is urban sprawl, which takes into account how far jobs and residences are located, and the speed of transport, which influences...

Cities/Urban / 30.11.2015

By Anjum Altaf I ‘wrote’ a poem, The City, which appeared on 3 Quarks Daily on Monday, 30 November, 2015. The poem is reproduced below followed by comments on its genesis, connections with Faiz Ahmed Faiz, and some reflections on translating poetry. The City Look My city bedecks itself in fetters The carefree walk The careless talk No more The head held high The feet unbound No more No more I trust Light from dark Wine from blood Joy from mourning Flowers in my city Wilt into the dust After the Paris attacks, Brussels went into a lock-down that continued for a number of days. Faiz’s poem Yahan se Sheher ko Dekho (Look at the City from Here) came to mind and seemed to speak to the situation. But how could one convey the sense of the poem in English? This brought forth the dilemma of translating poetry. Personally, I am skeptical it can be done especially if it were intended for an audience unfamiliar...

Cities/Urban / 21.11.2015

By Anjum Altaf Let me explain. Imagine a number of you are in a boat out at sea and a hole opens up in the bottom. If everyone waits for another to do something, everyone will drown. Someone will have to do something for a chance of survival. Right? Now extend the metaphor to your community or your country where a number of big holes have opened up in the bottom. And there is no one plugging the holes. In fact, there are a lot of people enlarging them instead. All of you are intelligent. What do you see as the likely outcome? The point I am making is the following. Most societies have their share of activists motivated by all sorts of reasons. Their presence makes it possible for the majority to go on with their day to day engagements confident that even if they do nothing the...

Cities/Urban / 24.09.2015

By Ahmed Kamran Among other many finer things of a city’s life that Karachi has lost over time, the greatest loss has been the disappearance of its book stores – the windows of Karachi’s reading and thinking abilities. These are now long shut and closed. Many of the good book stores, about 18, were located in Saddar, a kind of a cultural capital of Karachi. Starting from the well-known Thomas & Thomas Book Store on the Preedy Street, next to Irani Cafe George, there were many book shops on the Elphinstone Street (now Zaibunisa Street). There was Kitab Mehal (Book Palace) inside one of the market on Elphinstone Street, known for stocking good Urdu books. Kitab Mehal was owned by a fine gentleman with good literary taste who probably had a book store by the same name near Jama Masjid in old Delhi, before Pakistan was...

Cities/Urban / 16.09.2015

By Ahmed Kamran In spite of a sudden influx of immigrants pouring into the city in large numbers in the wake of partition of India, Karachi’s social and cultural life remained progressive and liberal in its outlook. The influx of new population, mostly coming from other urban centres of British India, the city life quickly adjusted to the thriving commercial and business activities of the city, regaining its cultural life. Founding of the new country with its capital at Karachi brought in large number of Muhajir Intelligentsia – well trained civil servants, skillful traders, successful businessmen from Bombay, Calcutta, Delhi, and Kanpur, teachers, lawyers, doctors, engineers, clerks and office workers, well known progressive and some radical poets, writers, journalists, and intellectuals from all over India. These people were already steeped in urban culture of British India and were long ago freed from the traditional static bonds...

Cities/Urban / 04.09.2015

By Anjum Altaf Anyone wanting to understand urbanization needs to get past two major misunderstandings. First, urbanization is not about individual cities – neither solving their problems nor enhancing their potential for growth. The end result of urbanization is indeed an increase in the population of cities but the term itself refers to the movement of people from rural to urban locations. But which urban locations do (or should) people move to? That is a more important question.  What are the choices that exist and what determines the attractiveness of one location over another? Should public policy attempt to influence the spatial distribution of population by altering the attractiveness of different types of locations? Second, the pattern of urbanization is not predetermined. People move primarily to seek work and therefore any change in the distribution of employment opportunities should alter the pattern of migration. Different industrial or economic policies...

Cities/Urban / 07.07.2015

By Ahmed Kamran Yeh laash-e be-kafan Asad-e khasta jaan ki hai Haq maghfarat kare ajab azad mard tha! (Ghalib) If Karachi could be likened to a man, with a little liberty taken from Ghalib, this couplet could be a very appropriate epitaph for the tombstone of Karachi, the city that was! This is a series of some musings on the social and cultural aspects of the history of Karachi; how the city’s life was developed and transformed over time. It focuses on the period of 1960s and 1970s when I was young and had many dreams. What was the Karachi that my generation had inherited and what it is today? These writings have a clear ring of nostalgia. Paul Getty said, ‘Nostalgia often leads to idle speculation’. Indeed, nostalgia is distractive, breeds inaction, and, often, depression. But like some sweet-bitter memory of childhood or a sad song or...

Cities/Urban / 02.03.2015

By Anjum Altaf The discussion of megacities has drifted into a combination of oh-my-god and pie-in-the-sky narratives displacing potentially sensible and useful analyses. As an example of the first, consider how often one hears that Karachi had a population of 11 million in 1998 and is twice that now – as if that was enough to clinch the argument that we have a mega-problem on our hands. My response is: So what? I am not particularly bothered if the population rises to 30 million. What matters, and this is the real question we should be asking, is whether Karachi is well managed and whether its management is improving or deteriorating over time. Suppose the answer is that Karachi is not well managed. If so, does that have anything to do with its size? As a test, I would ask the proponents of the size-is-the-problem argument to go live in...