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...

Democracy/Governance / 21.01.2018

By Anjum Altaf It should be obvious that alternative ways of drawing constituency boundaries can significantly influence electoral outcomes. An historical example can make the point: the 2003 redistricting (the term used in the U.S.) in Texas, spanning the 2002 and 2004 elections, changed the composition of its delegation to the U.S. Congress from 15 Republicans and 17 Democrats to 21 Republicans and 11 Democrats (1). It is no wonder that redistricting is a hot issue in the U.S. whose fairness has been the subject of repeated Supreme Court reviews. There the deliberate manipulation of boundaries to influence electoral outcomes, termed gerrymandering, is along two lines - favouring one party over another, as in the case mentioned above, or attempting to reduce the representation of racial minorities (2). In this context it is surprising to find no analysis of past practise in Pakistan nor much interest now that...

Cities/Urban / 16.11.2010

By Anjum Altaf What’s happening in Karachi is obvious for all to see. Why it’s happening is less obvious and, for that reason, the cause of much speculation. Karachi’s ills are complex in nature and beyond the stage of simple prescriptions. This article looks at only one dimension of the problem: Why and how have conflicts in the city taken an increasingly religious form? For that, it is necessary to look at events that took place many years ago outside the city itself. It is often the case that the present cannot be explained fully without recourse to seemingly unrelated events that occurred in other places in the past. An article I came across recently highlights an important link between the small town and the big city that is relevant to explaining the nature of the ongoing conflict in Karachi. The article (The Mulla and the State: Dynamics...

Cities/Urban / 15.11.2010

By Anjum Altaf City size is back in fashion as a variable of interest and this time bigness is being viewed as an advantage. This is quite a change from the perspective that prevailed for years when countries, specially developing ones, were decidedly anti-urban and wished to retard migration to prevent cities from increasing in size. Size was seen as a handicap and served as an excuse to explain away the problems of big cities. How should we see Karachi in this new perspective? Of course, well-managed big cities have been around for a long time – Tokyo, New York and London are obvious examples. But somehow it was felt that such success could not be replicated in developing countries.The blame was always placed at the door of mismanagement though it was never adequately explained why such mismanagement was so endemic to developing countries and why the...

Cities/Urban / 26.01.2010

By Anjum Altaf In two earlier posts I had made the point that there are evidence-based methods to resolve the conflict over the proposed construction of an expressway along the Lahore Canal to reduce traffic congestion. In this post I suggest two specific approaches to achieve this objective. Before proceeding to the concrete suggestions one should note that the judiciary, having intervened in the controversy, has given both sides time to resolve the dispute through mutual discussions. I feel this approach would prove inconclusive because this is not the kind of market transaction that is conducive to negotiations that are aimed at striking a deal, e.g., an agreement to sacrifice a number of trees that lies somewhere in the middle of the range mentioned by the two sides. In fact, this kind of a negotiated solution might be worse than either alternative – as second-best solutions often are...

Cities/Urban / 22.01.2010

By Anjum Altaf The proposal to transform the greenbelt along the Lahore canal into an expressway in order to relieve the congestion of traffic has predictably divided citizens into two camps. The environmentalists bemoan the damage to nature while the developmentalists consider it the price for progress. Both sides rely on highly emotive sentiments and there seems no prospect of either convincing the other based on refutable evidence or logical argumentation. This outcome would be understandable in the Age of Faith but seems strikingly bizarre in the Age of Reason. In the previous post I proposed one way to resolve this dilemma. In this post, I use the work of Jane Jacobs, perhaps the wisest urban scholar of the twentieth century, to further advance an analytical approach to the issue.The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jacobs, published as far back as 1961, has rightly...

Cities/Urban / 20.01.2010

By Anjum Altaf This is an essay about Lahore but it could be about any city in South Asia because it deals with an issue that is common to them all – traffic congestion. How do we propose to deal with traffic congestion that is growing all the time, what do we hope to achieve, what is the price we are willing to pay, and how do we know what we are doing makes sense? The controversy in Lahore centers round the fate of a branch of the Bambawala-Ravi-Bedian (BRB) Canal (a 37 mile long waterway built by the Mughals and upgraded by the British in 1861) that runs through the city and is more than a cultural heritage for the citizens. The Lahore Canal is a unique linear park that serves as one of the few public green belts and the only free swimming pool for the majority of...

Democracy/Governance / 24.05.2009

Every five years there is an election in India and we interpret the results to conclude what we think the majority of Indians want. But what happens between two elections? How do we know where the majority of Indians stand on the various issues that crop up between elections? Let us take an issue like the relationship of India with any of its neighboring countries that might become salient because of some random incident. What determines the policy response of the Indian government to such an incident? If we are not Indian and are outside India, all we have to go by is the English language media. How representative is this of the voice of the majority of Indians who are rural?
Development / 18.01.2009

What is the problem some might ask – Isn’t Ahmedabad still among the most dynamic cities in India growing economically at double-digit rates? True enough, but there is something special about Ahmedabad; and the city is also changing in ways that warrant watching by those who are interested in the long term. One person who has wondered about these changes is Professor Vrajlal Sapovadia who teaches in Ahmedabad and who has studied the impact of communal conflict on the life of the city. The first fact Professor Sapovadia points out is that there are over 3000 urban locations in India but half the deaths in communal riots have occurred in just 8 cities that account for 18 percent of the India’s urban population and 6 percent of its total population. Of these 8 cities, Ahmedabad is among the main contributors. Given that Ahmedabad is the home of Gandhiji,...

Development / 16.01.2009

We turn our attention closer to home and discuss if Ahmedabad is a successful city. If one looks at the pronouncements of international development agencies there is little to doubt. Ahmedabad is one of the most dynamic cities in India with 5 percent of the national population but 14 percent of its export, an average annual growth rate of 9 percent and industrial growth rate of 15 percent. Every few months there are presentations about the city and visiting delegations extol the multiplication of municipal revenues and the successful launch of municipal bonds. Rating agencies swoon and investors salivate over the prospects. And yet, within a few miles of the forums where such presentations are made one can also listen to civil rights groups showing photographs and statistics and narrating stories that can churn the stomach and make one sick with despair. One can read announcements from...