29 June 2008

Lahore from the Sky (Part 3)

Yet more photos you don't get to see everyday

This is the third and final installment of the photographs I took from a charter flight a few days ago.

The photo above is, I apologize, left over from the last blog entry. There, I tried to group together some photos that best brought Lahore's urban residential template into focus. The photos above is another example. Taken from above LUMS, you can see Phase V behind it and more DHA as far as the eye can see. Phase V has already been plotted out and people have not only begun construction, some have actually moved in. Within the next couple of years, the entire area behind LUMS in the photo above will be full of houses using cars, air-conditioners, drinking water and consuming other utilities in a non-sustainable and environmentally unfriendly manner.

That said, this photo is a good place to start this third edition of the Lahore from the Sky blog entry. We will be returning to DHA towards the end of today's entry.

Here's a good photo taken of GOR-I from over the Race Course Park. From here, you can clearly see the monstrous new Chief Minister's Secretariat building. I've written about this monstrosity before, and you can find a copy of my article here. The photo above also indicates where the park I write about is.

Here's another photo. You know, just below and to the left of the new CM Secretariat is the old Chief Minster's Official Residence. Below that is the GOR-I abadi. I had no idea it was so close to the boundary wall of the CM Secretariat. I'm sure there's a joke or a euphemism in this photo somewhere, I just can't seem think of it.

From the photo above you can make out the Governor's Mansion and the Lawrence and Montgomery Halls. Below the PC is the same GOR-I basti that you can make out in the pictures above. I've written about how I find this basti a bit of an urban planning conundrum. Think about it.

If you get a headache (or worse) while you're staying at the PC, do you know where the nearest pharmacy is? Okay, so what if the Concierge doesn't have Paracetamol, or what if you need something the hotel doctor doesn't stock? The nearest pharmacy is well over a 15 minute walk away.

What intrigues me about this is why the basti behind the PC hasn't responded to the market need. Why isn't this area (and it's comparatively cheaper land prices) a collection of small cafe's galleries and other things tourists and visitors need (like pharmacies). There must be something terribly wrong with our property development paradigm if this isn't happening. On the other hand, someone told me there weren't any cafe's behind the PC because Mr. Hashwani wouldn't want anyone making Rs. 115/- for every order of Coca Cola. Fair point.

The photo above and two below are when we flow over the Upper Mall area. I got some good photographs of the Mall Road between Zafar Ali Road and the Canal.

Below is a shot taken from the same position as above, but facing the other way. You're now looking from the Mall roughly northwards towards the Cantonment. On the top right of you photo, you can see the village and Tomb of Mian Mir. I'm fascinated about how old villages like Mian Mir, Ichra and Mozang were absorbed by the the growth of the city.

Mian Mir has played it's part in the history of this part of the city. Below is a portion of a 1927 survey map of the area. Raza posted some interesting information about the present site of the Gymkhana Club and its relationship with the Mian Mir area. Read more about it here.

We also managed to fly over the Tomb of Hazrat Mian Mir. You can see his shrine (below) and the pavilion attached to the complex (above).

Here's a picture of the pavilion from another angle, just to give you an idea of the size of the place.

Below are some photos of Charrar village in DHA. I consider these some of the most interesting photos I got. First, get your bearings. I've taken a snap from Google Earth that show you Charrar smack in the middle of High End DHA.

This is what the village looks like from the sky. From what I understand, the village came to surrounded gradually, with the development of new phases. By the time Phase IV came around, the village was totally surrounded. Like I said, I'm interested in how villages integrate themselves with the growing city. Charrar hasn't been very lucky. Read here (promises) and here (reality) why.

I happened to be on a commercial flight a few days later and, by chance, I managed to get another shot of Charrar after take off from Lahore airport.

Why does Charrar hold such fascination for me? Well, the gradual "criminlization" of the Charrar people (many in DHA, including the DHA administration, see the villagers as a nuisance) sets up a poor precedent for how urban growth accommodates pre-existing villages. That's not all, Lahore is set to expand even further in the coming years. Below is a snap from a satellite image of Lahore (the entire image can be seen here). You can make out DHA Phases 5 and 6 on the top and other housing societies to the left. But what will happen to the people of the villages that are now threatened by Lahore's development and expansion? Our urban planners and the DHA need to think long and hard about what the right thing to do is.

Anyone who wants to see the above image in all its glory can click here.

I've heard that DHA hasn't acquired the land for these villages because of the labor available there. I hope this isn't the case (and I will try and confirm it through my own sources and let you know), because it would be unfair to acquire a village's agricultural lands (as was done, for instance, in Charrar), use the village's labor and then create a high end residential accomodation scheme next to thousands of destitute former farmers.

The photo below is looking over and into the foundation of the upcoming Sheikh Zayed Center, the tallest building in South Asia. We were heading in to land and were on our approach run to the Walton airstrip. Note the cranes on the top left corner are completely submerged in the foundation. More interesting is how close the flight path to the runway is to the upcoming structure.

The pilots told us that there is some pressure to close the air club down. This pressure comes from the Air Force, which wants to use the land around the flying club for it's residential housing schemes. And on the other hand, the Sheikh Zayed Center is a joint venture between the Abu Dhabi Emaar construction company and the Government of Pakistan. Below is a clip I took from Google earth . It shows just how close to the flight path the construction is.

I wrote a piece on Walton airport much after this flight. You can find it here.

26 June 2008

Lahore from the Sky (Part 2)

A Lahore you don't get to see everyday

The great advantage of chartering a flight (I recommend this to everyone, by the way, as one of the most entertaining way to spend an afternoon) is that you can treat it like a taxi.

After having flown over the older parts of town, I could sense that the pilots were falling to routine and were just covering a well worn "tourist" route. I asked them to fly over newer parts of Lahore.

I've written on Lahore's urban sprawl, but it really stands out from the sky. Now's a chance to show everyone what it looks like.

Above is the view from over Iqbal Town looking roughly eastwards. Note that residential housing dominates the photograph. To compare how Lahore has grown, I've cropped a portion of a 1927 Map of Lahore that I have.

In 1927, the only telling landmark is the line (on the top left of the map and heading downwards) demarcating Ferozepur Road. The area that is now Iqbal Town, or village Bhekewal, was mostly fields. There was no Punjab University on the Canal at the time. In fact, the land forming the University north of the Canal was used, it seems, as a rifle range.

Our houses are increadibly energy inefficient. From construction materials like cement and steel, which are energy inensive to produce, to energy consumption during use (like electricity, other utilities and automobiles) our houses consume massive amounts of energy. According to Economic Survey 2006-2007 (I know a new one has been published; I just haven't got round to reading it yet), the Household Sector consumes nearly 44% of all electricity produced.

Feast your eyes on prime examples of our energy guzzling urban development template:

Model Town is an old residential development dating to the early 1920s. It was an early example of the Garden City movement in this part of the world (the Garden City Movement is alive and well in 21st Century Pakistan - but that's another story). As a cooperative society, it was also one of the few instances where George Jacob Holyoak's revolutionary ideas on cooperation actually worked. Faisal Town is also relatively new (70s and 80s, from what I can gather).

We soon flew over parts of Johar Town and the many private housing schemes that are cropping up there.

For a better idea of all the housing societies coming up (as can be seen from the photos, most of these haven't been fully built up but will be in the next decade or so), click here (warning, large satellite image of Lahore).

Note the difference in density between Cantonment and non-Cantonment land (roughly, right and left of Zarar Shaeed Road). Below is another example (although the photo is really poor quality).

I can't get over the difference in density. Note the area along the railway lines and along Guru Mangat Road. This is civilan/Railway land. But note the almost deserted look of the land in Cantonment. People say there is a housing shortage fuelled by a lack of available land. Is this so? Or do we need to change our definition of what available land is.

Below is a look of how the Cantonment looked in 1927 (hint: enjoy the street names).

24 June 2008

Lahore from the Sky (Part 1)

Recently, I had the opportunity of chartering a flight over Lahore. It's quite an experience. There are a couple of flying clubs over at the Walton Airport, and for the right price they'll take you on a tour of the city. I recommend these to anyone as one of best ways of spending an afternoon.

I managed to get some pictures using my camera phone. The cockpit glass was scratched and so some of the pictures are less than perfect. Still, these photographs offer a unique view of Lahore.

Above it the view over Wahdat Road looking north towards Ferozepur Road. Punjab University is on the bottom left and you can see the Canal stretch from the top left of the picture across the screen. Ichra is to the top left.

The next few photographs were taken as we flew over the Badshahi Mosque and Minar-e-Pakistan area. I've taken some "touristy" shots, but there's lots to learn about the city. Note the density of the Walled City and the Qilla Lachman Singh area on the bottom part of the picture.

As we swung around to go over the mosque and fort again, we flew over the Karim Park area. I got a good photo.

I have a map of Lahore prepared by the Surveyor General of India in 1927. I've cut out the portion of this map showing the area I've photographed (and indicated where the new urban localities have come up). The differences are startling, especially since it's not been 100 years since this map was published.

As we flew over the mosque again, I got a good photo of the entire Mosque/Gurdwara/Minto Park/Fort/Minar-e-Pakistan area.

The great things about the charter flight is that we were able to tell the pilots where exactly to go. Since we were in the area, we decided to cross over the Ravi and fly over the Shahdara area. I got a few photos of Jehangir's Tomb and Asaf Khan's Tomb.

You can read more about the Tomb here.

In the next two photos, the layout of the Mughal garden can be appreciated.

Kaman's Baradari is visible at the top left of the photo. A better image can be seen here.

We then flew back over the Ravi. I managed to get an important photograph of "North" Lahore. This is the area to the north of the Railway lines and bound by the Bund Road. This is unregulated, forgotten, poor and dirty Lahore.

When I look at densely populated unregulated development like this I can't but ask myself what forces operate to dampen the market forces. There has never been any redevelopment of this area. The only development Lahore has known is the conversion of agricultural land to residential purposes. Older commercial areas then slowly turn onto industrial areas. Our urban planners must look towards redevelopment as the basic land management tool.

We then flew over other parts of the city, starting with the administrative heart of Lahore.

We then flew over Chauburji and the Miani Sahib graveyard (which our pilot insisted on telling us was the "largest graveyard in Asia," whatever that means. Note that the ruin that remains of Chauburji was one of the corners of the walls of the garden of the Mughal princess Zebunissa, the daughter of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb.

Chauburji is located close to Mozang Chungi (the old toll station for where you paid before entering Lahore from Ferozepur Road). In fact, Mozang was a village considered, at one time, to be outside the city. The 1927 map by the Surveyor General shows what this area looked like less than 100 years ago.

If Mozang was a village on the outskirts of Lahore, wouldn't that make Princess Zebunissa's garden an early version of a Farm House?

23 June 2008

Hubris of the Centaurus

In Greek mythology the centaurus were barbarous beasts said to be half-horse and half-human. One centaurus, Chiron, was extremely wise and is said to have tutored Hercules and Jason (of the Argonauts). According to legend, Hercules inflicted an accidental wound upon his mentor that left the beast living but in great pain. Chiron begged and pleaded for the gods to end his suffering until finally, taking pity, Zeus mercifully let the beast die and gave him a place in the stars. Indeed, Centaurus the Centaur is considered the most magnificent of the southern constellations.

More recently, the spectre of a new centaurus has raised itself in the heart of our capital. Located on the corner of Jinnah and Faisal Avenues (for those who live in Islambad, it’s the huge hole in the ground at the western end of Blue Area), this centaurus is in the form of a property development envisioning high-rise luxury apartments, a business center and a shopping mall as well as “7-star star hotel.” Spread over 6.59 acres of prime real estate, the land for The Centaurus project is said to be the most expensive ever purchased in the history of Pakistan. And somehow, a photo of this mythical beast even graces the front page of the Economic Survey 2006-2007 published by the Finance Division of the Government of Pakistan.

Citizens of Islamabad, already in a state of alarm over the never-ending development projects being simultaneously undertaken in the city, are right to be concerned about this new development project. Some, no doubt in the wake of tragic earthquake of October 2005, are worried about the structural safety of such a high-rise construction in an area classified as Earthquake Zone IV. Some are worried that the traffic generated by this project will choke the main traffic arteries and some of the secondary and tertiary roads. Still more are worried about the effect this project will have on Islamabad’s water table. Others are concerned that the city’s infrastructure will not be able to cope with the demands of such a development. Some nearby residents are even concerned about the knock-on effect such a project will have on their neighborhoods and their homes. Clearly, an urban development project of this scale has adverse environmental effects.

Yet the manner in which the developers of this project, the Pak-Gulf Construction (Pvt) Ltd (PGCL), has carried out its responsibility to comply with our environmental protection laws leaves much to be desired. As if that weren’t enough, the Environment Protection Agency’s handling of this matter – on the eve of the 10th anniversary of the passing of the Pakistan Environmental Act, 1997 – is a stark reminder of the dismal enforcement record of our frontline environment protector and regulator. It’s as if the PEPA mandatory procedures didn’t exist or, if it did, didn’t matter. All this points to a grave misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of such a law and the procedures it lays out for anything that may harm the environment.

Conscientious citizens, led by Qazi Isa Daudpota, Helga Ahmed and others, wrote to Mr. Asif Shuja Khan, the Director-General of the EPA, making him aware of the serious environmental concerns raised by such a development as well as the fact that construction of The Centaurus began without the submission of an EIA and before a public hearing could be held (both punishable violations of the mandatory provisions of PEPA). For its part, the environmental regulator responded by issuing toothless reminders to the PGCL to comply with the law. The developers, in turn, engaged the services of Hagler Bailly which churned out an EIA report giving the project the green light it had been paid to do.

Some of the EIA report’s contents are quite revealing. For instance, it records that the CDA, in its agreement with PGCL, “shall at its own cost be responsible for providing all basic services such as electricity, gas, water, sewerage, drainage at the site of the Plot no later than the approval or deemed approval of the Plans or the Revised or Revised Plans as the case may be.” Such a concession may be a measure of the investor-friendly stance our government, but isn’t expecting the people of Islamabad to subsidize the infrastructure for the development a tall order? – which is what will happen when the CDA offsets the cost of providing The Centaurus utility infrastructure against the revenues it receives in the forms of fees and taxes.

While the EIA report considers The Centaurus an environmentally friendly prospect (and no doubt the EPA will approve the project – Qazi Isa Daudpota et al will continue to give it the scrutiny it deserves), the disclosures it makes raise questions about the decision making process that led to such a project being allowed in Islamabad in the first place. Indeed, there’s much to question about a mind that thinks a “7-star hotel” (whatever that is?) is a viable business proposition in a city which has seen a military operation and two bomb blasts in the last two months alone. Obviously, these minds are not familiar with the Ryugyong hotel in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Some say it was with stars in their eyes (other suspect it was one of those Cold-War type reactions to news that a South Korean firm had just constructed the Westin Stamford Hotel in Singapore) that the North Korean Government decided to build the world’s largest and tallest hotel. Construction began in 1987 at an estimated cost of $750 million, or 2% of the country’s GDP (for comparison, 2% of the US GDP would be about $220 billion). Indeed, the Ryugyong hotel undertaking was a massive undertaking for such a poor country.

When the basic cement structure was erected, the building measured in at nearly 1,110 feet and boasted 3.9 million square feet of floor space. The scale of the North Korean government’s mistaken belief in its ability to fill it can be estimated by the fact that, while the hotel was built with more than 3,000 rooms, at the time it was constructed only several hundred tourists visited the country. Yet so great was their belief in the hotel that – just as the cover of the last Economic Survey published by the Government of Pakistan carried an artist’s rendition of The Centaurus – it issued postage stamps with the hotel printed on them before the structure was complete.

Tragically, construction was halted in 1992. The North Korean Government (with stars in its eyes) just ran out of money. The structure has never been certified safe for habitation and not even the windows have been installed. Attempts to draw investment to complete the project have not worked either (the North Korean government even announced it would allow developers to use the building as “casinos, nightclubs or Japanese lounges . . .” if they agreed to complete it. To no avail: the skeleton of the structure casts its shadow over all of Pyongyang. It can literally be seen from every corner of the city and is a constant decaying reminder to the hubris that built it. Even the postage stamps have been declared invalid.

The Centaurus project also bristles with a contagious hubris of its own. Perhaps it will cloud the view from the site to the slums off F-7. So far, it has managed to convince the powers that be that it is a step in some imaginary right direction. One can only pray that this centaurus becomes all it promises to be, for if it isn’t, it will sit there, fouling the skyline of Islamabad and waiting for a Zeus to put it out of its misery.