17 November 2009

Davos Question 2008 - Urban traffic and congestion

The solution to traffic: cycles!!!

Edward Burtynsky photographs the landscape of oil

The IBM ad after this short TED video is very interesting. It shows the effects of a congestion charge on automobiles.

16 November 2009

Say a Prayer for Lahore

From The News, 13 November 2009 (http://www.thenews.com.pk/editorial_detail.asp?id=208278)

The only thing as incredulous as the recent announcement by the Government of Punjab -- it announced its intention to construct a highway through the heart of Lahore -- was the recent statement of the CEO of Fashion Pakistan Week that their glorified display of clothes was a "gesture of defiance towards the Taliban."

Our fashion industry is as much of an industry as the Holy Roman empire was holy, Roman or an empire. Our designers are talented without doubt; but to suggest that parading scantily clad men and women down a runway behind the bunkers and barricades of a five-star hotel in Karachi is an act of defiance is, well, really stretching the limits to which the "security situation" can make a fool out of us. The foreign media took to the sound bite like a starving man to a steak and now, once again, Pakistan is portrayed as two-dimensional: a country teeming with brave designers, fighting Islamic militancy. My friend and critic Faiza S.

Khan said it perfectly in her column at openthemagazine.com:

"One designer lamentably laid claim to being 'a very brave woman' for displaying her clothes on a catwalk at a five-star hotel in a country where women have been known to be murdered, maimed, mutilated and on occasion buried alive, where girls' schools are routinely attacked and where, even at the best of times, women's rights, outside of a tiny income bracket, are limited at best. Another designer called it an act of defiance in the face of the Taliban, glossing over the fact that fashion shows do, in fact, take place with some regularity in Pakistan, and if one must intellectualise this, then it could more honestly be described as a display of affluence in the face of a nation torn apart by the gaping chasm between rich and poor. Why the foreign media can't ask Pakistani designers questions about their work and why they, in turn, yield to the temptation, like Miss Universe, of providing a sound bite on world peace is beyond me."

Over the weekend, the Chief Minister of Punjab announced that he was allocating Rs3.15 billion for a project to widen Lahore's Canal Road.

The decision can only be described, at best, as a reckless adventure and, at worst, a catastrophe waiting to happen.

In 2006, the Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency (TEPA) of Lahore Development Agency (LDA) proposed to widen the Canal Bank Road, purportedly to reduce traffic congestion in the city. Because the project was over Rs50 million, the provisions of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act,

1997 kicked in and TEPA was constrained to engage the National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK) to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project. This was done and the EIA was presented to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Punjab, in a public hearing where hundreds of Lahoris gathered to protest against the decision to deprive the city of one of its last surviving environmental heritages: the 14 kilometres of green belt that line the canal and make the street one of the most unique avenues in the world.

The EPA, Punjab approved the EIA but before the project could go any further, the Lahore Bachao Tehreek (an umbrella organisation of dozens of grass-root NGOs as well as WWF-Pakistan) challenged the veracity of the EIA as well as the approval granted to it by the EPA, Punjab. The case remains pending before the Lahore High Court.

The announcement by the mhief minister, giving the go-ahead for the project "after completion of design", raises some important points.

First, it is clear that the project approved by the CM is not the project that the TEPA had originally proposed in 2006. For one thing, the cost of this new project is nearly five times the cost of the original design. Also, according to news reports, the new project is set to incorporate new features along the Canal Road (like "beautifications" which, I must hastily point out, in the context of roads means nothing).

What this means is that the Government of Punjab cannot use the EIA approval granted to the original TEPA project. According to our laws which, the last time I checked still apply to everyone including the government, road projects in excess of Rs50 million must have an EIA carried out and should be approved by the EPA.

But the observance of legal and procedural formalities is not the primary concern that most Lahoris have about the road widening project. It's an open secret that the Government of Punjab is operating on overdraft.

In such a situation, it would seem bizarre that the provincial government would choose to spend Rs3.15 billion -- nearly 10 per cent of the allocations it made last year to the three heads of health, public health and education -- on one road in one city of the province.

Less than 20 per cent of Lahoris have access to cars. For the vast majority of the over eight million people who try and live and work in this city, transport and mobility are dependent on motorcycles, cycles and what is euphemistically referred to as "public transport" (there are less than 1,000 buses that ply the city's streets). Ever since the previous tenure of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, when the Punjab Road Transport Corporation was shut down, neither this nor the PML-Q government of Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi have spent a rupee on public transport, which, by the way, is the only way to reduce traffic congestion in a city. Now we are told that a seriously broke government is about to spend billions of rupees it doesn't have on a road it doesn't need for people who don't want or use it. Remarkable indeed.

In a presentation made by NESPAK on August 31 this year, the various options of widening the Canal Road were presented to the CM. According to NESPAK, all the road widening projects would "fail" by 2020 -- meaning thereby that if the government didn't do something to invest in public transport, and soon, the billion-rupee road widening adventure is, at best, a 10-year frolic. Is the Government of Punjab serious? Does the chief minister not know that, according to the Punjab Economic Survey of 2005 carried out by the Planning and Development Department (P&D), over 50 per cent of Punjabis live in slums? Who is this road being widened for?

All too often our politicians harbor the mistaken belief that infrastructure development is the only thing that will make our cities "modern"; that infrastructure is the only thing that will attract the foreign investment necessary to bring economic prosperity to a developing nation. But where are the examples of the success of this model? Our own urban Guru, Arif Hasan, in his brilliant essay "The world class city concept and its repercussion on urban planning in the Asia-Pacific region" demonstrates that our preoccupation with a modern city is also the root of our urban decay. But who in the government reads? Thus, one can only pray for Lahore.

06 November 2009

Punjab Assembly turns into a "fish market"

This has to be one of the most riveting descriptions of an Assembly session in recent memory. Brilliant stuff. Far more entertaining than TV. Wait, this should be on TV!!

From The News (http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=206968)

Punjab PA turns into fish market as Sana, Zaheer trade allegations
Friday, November 06, 2009
By Babar Dogar

LAHORE: The Punjab Assembly turned into a fish market on Thursday when Law Minister Rana Sana Ullah Khan and Opposition leader Ch Zaheer traded allegations against each other’s leadership, declaring them dacoits and Qabza Mafia heads.

The parliamentarians from the PML-N and the PML-Q in the Punjab Assembly crossed all limits of decency in exposing the past corruptions of their top leadership. Law Minister Rana Sana alleged Ch Pervaiz Elahi and Ch Moonis Elahi were dacoits and Qabza Mafia heads who had illegally occupied 4,000-kanal land of Roberts Agriculture Farm, besides being involved in the Punjab Bank scam.

In retaliation, Opposition leader Ch Zaheer termed PML-N Quaid Mian Nawaz Sharif and Chief Minister Punjab Shahbaz Sharif dacoits and heads of Qabza Mafia who had illegally occupied 1,600-acre land in Jati Umra, Raiwind.

Rana Sana challenged Ch Zaheer to prove the allegations, or he would have to resign while Ch Zaheer informed the house that he was being threatened within and outside the assembly by the law minister.

The parliamentarians from both sides of the divide also raised slogans against the leadership of the opposite parties. Sana alleged that the Chaudhary family had established a cell in the party secretariat to level allegations against him that he had illegally occupied 10-marla plot in Faisalabad. He said Ch Zaheer had held press conference against him while an open letter from the letterhead of MPA Ayesha Javed was also circulated. He claimed that Ayesha Javed had disowned the letter, telling him that it was circulated in her name by the party leadership.

Ch Zaheer, on the other hand, kept on requesting the Speaker to give time to him and his colleagues for unmasking two dacoits living in Jati Umra. Pandemonium ruled the Punjab Assembly immediately after its proceedings started with Speaker Punjab Assembly Rana Iqbal turning completely partial allowing the parliamentarians to engage in mudslinging against one-another’s leaders.

Speaker Rana Iqbal used to be very strict on the issue of supplementary questions and did not allow parliamentarians to make lengthy debates on any particular question but, on Thursday, in violation of his own verdict, he let the parliamentarians to waste one hour on just one question.

The female parliamentarians, throughout the debate, stood on their feet and continued raising slogans, making it difficult to comprehend anything. The Punjab Assembly could take only one question during one-hour long proceedings.

04 November 2009

Insights into a Lively Downtown

Interesting documentary on what people think make city center's successful. You'd be surprised that trees and benches are one of the important reasons why people like some downtown streets over others.

02 November 2009


Here's the brilliant Steven Johnson explaining how a cholera outbreak in London during the 1850s changed public infrastructure systems:

The outbreaks and Great Stinks eventually led to legislation to clean up the city of London (the largest and filthiest city in the world at that time). One of the heroes of the time was Joseph Bazalgette (another was John Snow). I wrote an article about Bazalgette some years ago when the sewerage system in Karachi's upscale Bath Island went kaput. Seems relevant now:

It was Jorge Agustin Nicolas Ruiz de Santayana, or George Santayana, the famed Spanish intellectual giant of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who first pointed out that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. A recent letter to the editor bemoaning the state of the sewerage system in Karachi – Bath Island is ankle-deep in &*%$ and the well-to-do are beginning to lose their beauty sleep – constrains me to remind my fellow city-dwellers of a certain historical incident of striking similarity.

By the middle of the 19th century, London was on the brink of an environmental catastrophe. The city was growing rapidly in terms of population and size, and the old ways of supplying water, burying the dead and disposing of sewage were rapidly becoming inadequate.

For centuries, human waste had been removed from the cesspits of the city disguised by the euphemism 'night soil' and taken away for use as fertilizer on fields in the surrounding areas.

With the relentless growth of London during the middle of the Industrial Revolution, this was no longer feasible. The population of London doubled between 1801 and 1841, and the city was rapidly spreading outwards. Most houses used cesspits which were mainly drained by means of open sewers and the tributaries of the river Thames. They weren’t perfect and had the nasty tendency to overflow through floorboards and into people’s living rooms!!

With the situation worsening, something was finally done in 1847. The Metropolitan Commission of Sewers was formed to tackle the problem. Sadly, the Commission tried to open its innings with a boundary, so to speak, and found itself clean bowled. Its first act was the “genius” order to seal all the cesspits. Needless to say, without an overflow to control pressure, the sewerage now burst through the antiquated open sewer system and directly into the Thames.

The resulting stink wasn’t the only problem. London’s drinking water used to come from the Thames, and this brackish drinking water only added to the woes of the cholera epidemic of 1831-32, the first of many such outbreaks lasting through 1854 which resulted in the deaths of over 100,000 people died (including 30,000 in London alone).

The tragedy of the cholera epidemics (they started in India and spread all the way to Europe) was that, at the time, it wasn’t common knowledge that cholera was a water-borne disease. The “experts” in London thought the disease was caused by miasma, the foul in the air from rotting matter, stagnant water and rats.

As is always the case when the poor suffer due to the indifference of the rich, the problem was not properly addressed until the Victorian gentry found their lovely morning and afternoon routines made unbearable by the fumes of the refuse flowing through the entire length of the city. The summer’s heat exacerbated the smells caused by the rotting sewage and soon passage to and from even Parliament became almost unbearable. The smell inside the un-ventilated building could not have been better. For some years, legislators attempted to keep the choking smells at bay by having their curtains soaked in perfume and chemicals. It was “The Great Stinks” of 1855 and 1858 that finally resulted in the government opening its coffers for the purposes of constructing the first modern sewerage system.

Although still advancing under the mistaken belief that a sewerage system would eliminate the miasma from the air and end the epidemics, the Great Stinks resulted in the passage of the Metropolitan Management Act, 1855 which in turn saw the establishment of the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW). It was the MBW that was tasked by Parliament to revolutionize the sewage system, and it fell upon a single individual, the Chief Engineer of the MBW, to forge the way. That man was Joseph William Bazalgette.

Bazalgette began his career as assistant surveyor to the ill-fated Metropolitan Commission of Sewers in 1849 and eventually rose to become Engineer in 1852 when his superior died suddenly, under the strain of the “harassing fatigues and anxieties” which cursed that office (a similar curse, I should point out, to the one which hangs over the post of MD of the Water and Sanitation Agency, Lahore). When the MBW was established – and I can’t think of it being an easy job to do – the only man who had the qualifications to do the job was Bazalgette.

Bazalgette’s solution was to construct 83 miles of underground brick sewers and intercept sewage outflows, and 1100 miles of street sewers, to prevent raw sewage flowing through London's streets and into the river. The whole scheme took seven years to complete and was opened in 1865. Bazalgette's achievement is amazing even by modern standards and today, almost a century and a half later, London still relies on Bazalgette's sewers to keep it looking clean and beautiful.

Bazalgette was knighted in 1875, and elected President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1888. There is a blue plaque in his honor outside his former home in St. John’s Wood, north London. Sadly, Bazalgette’s fame is not renowned. Perhaps there is justice in the fact that this should be the fate of any good plumber (a Chief Engineer is, in a way, a glorified saantry walla): If they’ve done their job right, you never need to remember their name or call them again.

However, there was no justice when, despite of the significance of Bazalgette’s achievement, the mistaken belief that cholera was spread by miasma and that it was not a water-borne disease resulted in many more deaths due to cholera.

Just as the well-heeled of Karachi’s Bath Island now have trouble getting from their front door to their cars, the well-to-do of Lahore’s Gulberg are now beginning to see the effects of an infrastructure straining to cope with fast paced commercialization. For example, the predecessor of the Lahore Development Authority, the Lahore Improvement Trust, could not have foreseen what has become of the Main Boulevard and M.M. Alam, Gurumangat and even Hali roads. That’s why it’s frightening to think that the commercialization of M.M. Alam road is resting on a infrastructure and a 9” sewer pipe laid nearly a half-century ago.

Just as in London over a century ago, the upper classes are beginning to get wind (pun intended) of the problem only now whereas the poor in our cities have been suffering this stink for years.

The directions issued by the Punjab Environmental Tribunal about a year ago in relation to the sewerage in Lahore’s canal has yet to be fully implemented. The Tribunal had identified over 40 different points where sewerage was pumped into the Canal, including industrial and chemical waste. The Canal is over 20 miles long and, like the Thames, flows through the length of the city.

Both Karachi and Lahore share environmental challenges stemming from waste management and an overburdened sewerage system. It would be a crime if, for example, the nightmare scenario of contamination were to strike the many thousands who swim in blissful ignorance through the filth of the Lahore Canal on any summer’s day. It would be a crime for which our indifference would indict us.

I cannot speak for Karachi and the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board, but Lahore does not have a Joseph Bazalgette (it has had its Sir Ganga Ram and Bhai Ram Singhs). I pray that we can learn from the examples of mistakes made through history and take the bold decisions to improve the environment today. If not, then, like Santayana predicted, we will all be condemned to repeat the horrors of the past.

29 October 2009

Some good news?

Below is a news report indicating the government may table legislation making it more expensive to import the raw-materials needed to make plastic bags. Apparently, it's part of anti-polythene bag legislation that's on the cards. I hope this happens. It would be good news. Taken from The News.

Law on degradable polythene bags shortly
Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The government would shortly be framing laws to practise use of bio-degradable polythene bags with the Environment Ministry already working on a draft law.

The law framed by the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency (Pak-EPA) will be soon sent to Law Division for presentation to the Cabinet for approval.

Introduction of degradable bags is still pending despite consensus reached between the industrialists and the Ministry around four months backs.

It was agreed between the Ministry and industrialists in mid May at a meeting chaired by Secretary Environment Kamran Lashari to start this project for averting environmental hazards caused by polythene bags.

But, certain departmental bottlenecks had delayed the early implementation and industrialists yet await a nod from the Commerce Ministry to import chemical for preparing degradable plastic bags.

Sources told APP that Commerce Ministry, despite request by the Environment Ministry did not include the duty drawback on import of a specific chemical, meant for preparing degradable polythene bags.

Though, it has been learnt that the Commerce Ministry had agreed to include this issue in next year’s (2010-2011) Trade Policy, yet it means delay of another year.

Used polythene bags are not only harmful for the environment and sewerage system but also for human health resulting in serious diseases.

As part of its efforts, the Environment Ministry had brought the producers to talking table and after agreeing to production of such bags, the producers had sought duty drawback on import of this specific chemical.

It was also agreed to introduce degradable polythene bags over the time by not affecting the working of industry and taking care of jobs of laborers attached to plastic bag industry.

Although, it was noted that production of bio-degradable plastic bags would raise the production cost by ten per cent, yet the industrialists had agreed to go for it.

The National Assembly had also passed a resolution two years back to ban polythene bags. But, it could not be implemented due to association of thousands families to this industry as banning abruptly could have deprived them of their livelihood. “For this, we are going to have proper legislation,” Director General Pak-EPA Asif Shuja Khan informed APP. “We neither want environmental degradation, nor desire industrialists to suffer and off load their employees,” he added.

Asif said, law will be given final shape soon and sent to Law division for vetting.

He said the initial draft of legislation was circulated among stakeholders and amendments are being made in it, in line with the suggestions and recommendations.

It has been found that polythene bags presently used do not degrade till thousands years and badly affect the environment.

Used bags were not only choking drains, but their burning in open by different civic departments, was also emitting harmful gases.

“The bags to be introduced after legislation, would degrade in minimum possible period,” Asif Shuja said.

He said number of experiments were conducted to produce a sample bio-degradable plastic bag and once practiced successfully, it will help improving environment and minimizing health hazards.

(from http://www.thenews.com.pk/daily_detail.asp?id=205576)

23 October 2009

It's time for October's Critical Mass Event

Join Lahore's 11th Critical Mass Event at 10:15am this Sunday 25 October 2009 from the Fountain Square, Neela Gumbat, behind Bank Square on Mall Road, Lahore.

This Critical Mass cycling event will see us prowling the innards of Lahore where riding a bike offers the chance to sample more of Walled City life without picking a tab.

The thrum of the historic Walled City will lift your spirits as we catch the city-folks going about their morning ritual of Nashta.

Spinning via Anarkali Bazar we will enter the walled city from Lohari Gate and zigzag our way through the maze of Said Mitha, Paniwala Talab, Rang Mahal, Kashmiri Bazar, Chuna Mandi, Sheranwala Gate, and weave our way back from Fort Road, Red Light District, and Bhati Gate returning to Nila Gumbad via Lower Mall.

Critical Mass is about having clean cities that provide mobility and accessibility. Critical Mass is about clean transport. Critical Mass is about putting public good over private interest. Critical Mass is about making friends. Critical Mass is about reclaiming public space. Critical Mass is about showing a man or a woman on a cycle is the same as one in a ten lac car. Critical Mass is about democracy.

What do I need to participate in a Critical Mass Event?
All you need is a road-worthy cycle and an sense of fun. Buy, beg, borrow or steal a cycle if you have to, but join the Mass. Come, cycle around Lahore. Reclaim your city, and have more fun than you can imagine!

Where and how else do Critical Mass Events take place?
Critical Mass events are typically held on the last Friday of each month in over 250 cities all over the world. In Lahore, it is held on the last Sunday of every month. For information about October's Critical Mass Lahore, be at Fountain Square, Neela Gumbat, Lahore by 10:15am this Sunday 25 September 2009 or visit the Critical Mass Lahore Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=38992998526) or the Critical Mass Lahore blog.

Important: Be on time!!!

16 October 2009

The Kerry Lugar Distraction

The Kerry-Lugar Bill has become the black-hole of Pakistani political debate. Its din of conflicting rhetoric and opinion drowns out everything else. Even good sense. Sovereignty, which reference to any nearby encyclopedia will tell you, is a quality, possessed by a sovereign, of having supreme and complete control over a territory. In light of the KLB (it’s even got its own acronym), we seem to have gotten this concept mixed with ghairat. While all this is most amusing, it is no substitute for meaningful debate about the future of this country.

Too many others have offered their expert opinion on the new American administration’s attempt to change how and whom it funds in this Islamic Republic. It’s mildly surprising how so much of the debate has remained centered on the idea that Pakistan’s “sovereignty” (may Allah bless it and protect it with the Bomb) will be irrevocably tarnished. This is an old debate that has its antecedents in our characteristic dependency on the United States and paranoid concern of what others think of us. I’m surprised that the debate hasn’t moved beyond the hackneyed jingoism we’ve been forced to read and hear these past few weeks. I’m surprised that so little of the debate has dealt with the reality that it’s basically the folks whose names have been left off the payroll who are hopping mad at being passed over. But that just proves that KLB is a massive black-hole of political debate.

While the KLB debate goes on consuming all the air in the room, the real challenges this country faces remain unaddressed. We are a country of nearly 170 million mostly poor and illiterate people that is facing an energy crisis, a population explosion and potential water scarcity. Environmental degradation already costs the economy at least Rs. 1 billion a day and kills hundreds of thousands of us a year. And soon we will be forced to play one of the worst hands Nature has ever dealt man: Climate Change and the water scarcity, food shortages, population migrations, increased incidents of disease and natural disaster it will bring. To this equation, add the variables religious extremism, militancy and terrorism.

And here we are, with this KLB debate, talking of nothing but whether or not it is acceptable for Pakistan to be a beggar and a chooser. I would think that saner counsel (“get whatever you can get and be thankful”) would prevail.

In the next ten years, it is estimated that rural to urban migrations will transform our rustic rural people into an urban people. It’s estimated that, by 2050, as many as 65 percent of Pakistanis will live in cities. The failure of population stabilization policies means that, by then, there will be nearly 300 million Pakistanis. Three challenges immediately come to the fore.

First, where are you going to get the electricity? We’ve got a woefully inadequate installed capacity somewhere in excess of 20,000MW, nearly 25 percent of which is wasted in an efficient distribution and transmission system (a day ago, I read that, “because of forced closures, fuel shortages and some scheduled closures”, the PEPCO system is only generating 11,750MW). The Planning Commission estimates that, by 2030, Pakistan will need approximately 164,000MW of electricity to meet it demands. Of course, at the moment, such an amount seems impossible and if efforts don’t start now to increase installed capacity, improve line-losses and think up ways of jumping to a “smart grid”, the our ability to industrialize our economy will be compromised.

Second, will there be enough water? About 90 percent of our water resources are consumed in irrigation, yet unlined canals, water theft and out-dated farming practices mean that 40 percent of this is lost to inefficiency. The remaining 10 percent of our water resources are consumed as drinking water and for sanitation. Almost all of our water resources are from glacial melt. At Partition, our water resources stood in excess of 5,000 cubic meters per capita. Now, they are fast falling to less than 1,000 cubic meters per capita. The rate at which climate change is affecting glacial melt have surprised researchers, and it is predicted that, after accelerated melting (which means flooding and lots and lots of silt) our glacial water resources will be depleted. This is set to happen in the next 100 years.

Third, will there be enough food? Climate Change, outdated farming practices and depleting water resources will have an effect on food productivity. All of our cash crops are going to be affected by Climate Change. Of course, there will always be mitigation and adaptation, but even if food production can be maintained through science and discipline there is no telling the effect on rural economy and society. Certainly Climate Change will contribute to the great desire of people to move from the labor of subsistence farming to the potential offered by the cash economy of an urban area.

Parenthetically, let me again mention the proposal to lease hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of hectares of arable land to certain Arab is a bad idea that hasn’t been clearly thought out yet. Also, how come no one raises the question of sovereignty at the thought that our government was/is to negotiate the lease of such land under the guise of foreign investment? The Lahore High Court has done the right thing, while disposing of a petition filed before it by a farmers union, by requiring any such negotiation be brought to its notice.

An increase in the number of people in cities will put stress on the availability of housing, sanitation infrastructure, employment opportunities, healthcare facilities, educational institutions, transportation services and recreational space. All these are already stretched beyond capacity, but nobody involved in the windbag KLB debate seems to have an eye on what’s around the corner.

The three challenges highlighted above also overlap, in one way or another, with the role of the city. The centrality and importance of urban management in the future of Pakistan must not be underestimated. In the near future, the issues of housing, sanitation, employment, health, education and poverty will all primarily be urban issues. Even issues like energy can be regulated by the of size and manner in which our cities are run. The latest sustainable development initiatives are experimenting with "urban farming" to reduce emissions resulting from the transport of produce from the field onto the dinner-table. Urban areas produce disproportionately large quantities of the world’s green house gas emissions, and for sure Climate Change mitigation and adaptation strategies have huge urban components.

At the moment, our cities are managed by junior to mid-level bureaucrats acting on the instructions of provincial governments (though the City District Government of Karachi, it must be said, is the most independent) that have woefully little knowledge of what makes cities tick. At the moment, they are centers of sprawl, congestion and pollution with rapidly growing katchi abadis and slums. Yet, while these challenges seem insurmountable, they are, in fact, completely manageable. Enrique Penalosa, the charismatic former Mayor of the Colombian city of Bogota who transformed his city in only three years, told me once that the only thing we need to do to start is a vision of the type of city we want to live in.
Now wouldn’t that be a debate worth having?

12 October 2009

Pollution in the City

I took this photo on the Mian Mir Bridge while cycling home last night. You can clearly see the atmospheric brown cloud over the city. This is the air we breathe every day.
Posted by Picasa

06 October 2009

To places on two wheels

Most of Lahore isn't large or difficult to get around on a cycle. So, why can't we adopt it as our preferred mode of transport?

By Ahmad Rafay Alam

TNS (http://tiny.cc/Y4VrR)

When the editor of this newspaper commissioned me to write an article on 'how Lahore can be made cycle friendly', I thought that making a list of things that could be done was one way to go about it, but to convince everyone about the need to cycle would be more effective. Once the need for cycle-friendly cities is understood, the 'how' is merely procedural -- a means to an end.

To begin with, we have to understand that our cities, and especially Lahore, are polluted; and that if we don't do something to improve the air quality in our urban areas, we are, for sure, killing ourselves. Urban air quality deteriorates because of an excess of commercial and industrial activity. It also deteriorates because of a scandalously poor sewerage and sanitation system. But the air in our cities is also made poisonous by the emissions of the many hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of private automobiles that congest city roads.

Incidentally, the increase in automobile usage has lots to do with the way our cities have been allowed to grow. Because of our insistence of living in detached bungalows, our cities have fallen victim of urban sprawl (the alternative is higher-density, low rise and environmentally-efficient habitats with dramatically smaller footprints). Massive urban footprints means an increase in commuting distances and commuting time. And, since none of our cities have invested in public transport, the only means of getting around is the automobile. Most "planned" housing schemes involve using a car to perform basic household chores like getting milk and eggs. Meanwhile, using an automobile is the most polluting thing any one of us does on a regular basis. No amount of forgetting to switch a light off at night or letting the tap run while you brush your teeth can compare to the fossil fuels burnt while driving from A to B in our increasingly congested and polluted cities.

Secondly, we must realize that mobility is a basic human right. Because we don't, our increasingly automobile dependant cities violate this right on a regular basis. Because our cities have become so large, and because there is no public transport, only people who can afford access to private automobiles have the advantage of mobility. Anyone who cannot afford a car simply can't compete with the "automobile elite" when it comes to getting around for things like work, entertainment, family and recreation. In Lahore, less than 15 percent of the population has access to a private automobile on a daily basis. In such circumstances, the fact that there's nothing by way of public transport means that, immediately, the elderly, the infirm and the female population of this and other cities are, effectively, rendered immobile and their right to mobility violated. With the potential of so many Pakistani's dampened by simply the fact that our cities are automobile dependent, the right to mobility is one of this country's least appreciated fundamental rights.

Thirdly, we must understand that automobile dependent cities and lifestyles are, in fact, incredibly unequal and undemocratic. The amount of money governments spends on the construction and maintenance of roads -- which are enjoyed predominantly by the automobile elite -- is grossly disproportionate to the needs of the majority poor. For example, for the budget year 2008-2009, the Government of Punjab allocated Rs 35 billion to health, public health and education. On the other hand, the singular allocation for roads and underpasses was Rs 45 billion. If anyone wants to understand why Pakistan has so many sick and illiterate children, it's because the money that should have gone towards better schools, better medical education, better salaries for public sector doctors and better healthcare facilities is being spent on only those people who have the means to access private automobiles. That's certainly not what I voted for.

Budget allocations are not the only thing that is unequal or undemocratic. The automobile also has a strange ability to distort perceptions. What else can account for our indifference to the suffering of children begging at red lights. Something happens to people in cars that stop them from having a human -- a humane -- reaction. Socially, if you don't have a car, it's assumed you don't count for anything. And it's not unusual to suggest that, on our roads, a person driving a car is treated differently from a man walking or cycling.

Parenthetically, note that it's always the "man" on the street and never the "woman": our urban experience is startlingly misogynist, a natural byproduct of having anti-public and anti-person urban planning, and also a reason moralists find it so easy to point a finger at something they call our "culture" when defending the segregation of women and their gradual exclusion from public places.

We may claim our elections are proof of our commitment to democracy, but anyone who looks at a city street can testify that our roads are evidence otherwise.

Fourthly, we must understand that our automobile dependent cities are also a massive burden on the economy. Fully 55 percent of the petroleum that's imported into this country (the oil import bill alone is in excess of US$ 6-7 billion) is consumed by the transport sector. At the same time, government is struggling to keep the economy from imploding. That's involved accepting oil "facilities" from the Saudi government which means, essentially, that we haven't the money to go on purchasing oil with dollars we can't come up with. More cycles mean less cars and less money spent on fueling them.

And lastly, we must realize that cycling is a solution to all the problems listed above. Cycle-friendly cities are less polluted, as fewer fossils fuels are burnt when people opt not to use cars. Cycle-friendly cities are often less congested with traffic as more cyclists can translate to fewer cars. Their roads are safer and more enjoyable for pedestrians. They are safer, more democratic and, as a bonus, cycling is also something that almost everyone can do. They provide mobility and allow people to exercise their right to get around. Cycle-friendly cities are also designed smaller and are, therefore, easier to get around. This is true of Lahore, and, as an avid cyclist, I'm witness to the fact that, at the moment, most of Lahore isn't very large or difficult to get around either. Given the city's automobile traffic, getting from A to B on a cycle usually isn't more than 20 minutes longer than the corresponding car ride.

My grandmother and her sisters used to cycle when they were in college in Lahore. My father often rented a cycle along with other friends when they went out at night. As a child, I enjoyed cycling around my neighborhood and beyond. But in a surprisingly short period of time, cycling has become a thing of the past. Enrique Penalose, the former Mayor of Bogota and the man responsible for making Bogota a pedestrian and cycle-friendly city in merely three years, once told me that the reason for such a change in social practice was simple: it was because of the our dependence on the automobile.

Making Lahore a cycle-friendly city is a statement about one's understanding of the environmental and urban planning issues facing the city. It's a statement about one's belief in equality and democracy. And it's statement of one's commitment to making Lahore a better, cleaner, safer place to live. If one wanted to make Lahore a cycling-friendly city, they'd be best advised that they could (i) introduce car-free days once a month; (ii) tax the usage of automobiles; (iii) increase parking fees for cars; (iv) invest in public transport; (iv) re-introduce cycle rentals; (v) officially promote cycling or any number of other initiatives. Or one could simply go out and get a cycle for themselves.

The writer is one of the many environmentally active Lahoris who organise Critical Mass Lahore. Critical Mass events take place in over 250 cities in the world. Lahore is Pakistan's first Critical Mass city. Last week, Islamabad hosted its first Critical Mass event. He can be contacted at ralam@nexlinx.net.pk

05 October 2009

Lahori generating 6,000 ton garbage daily

LAHORE - Illegal and dangerous practice of burning of solid waste is continuing unchecked in the City. It poses serious health hazards by causing considerable increase in the environmental pollution and the criminal activity on the part of sanitation staff and public at large, mostly scavengers, is also damaging the solid waste containers.

Usually scavengers, gardeners and addicts are held responsible for the unfortunate daily routine but Solid Waste Management (SWM) Department staff is also involved for across the metropolis and the dumping sites. City District Government, Environment Department and the sanitation officials are mere silent spectators, thus encouraging the practice with every passing day.

According to the insiders, the sanitation staff burns the garbage to reduce the quantity that is much higher than the lifting capacity of SWM, as Lahore, a City of around ten million people, produces over 6,000 ton of solid waste daily. As a result, more than 30 per cent waste remains unattended on the roads and SWM workers burn a large quantity to reduce the volume for easy transportation to the dumping sites. Lack of proper segregation and extraction of recyclable material before dumping, is prompting the scavengers and addicts to burn waste for collecting useful material. Almost every 2nd CDGL container is bearing burning scars.

District Officer SWM Mudassar Waheed Malik, however, denies his staff’s involvement. “I cannot appoint a person on each container. The community should come up and cooperate with the sanitation staff to discourage such an activity. Public should immediately inform the department about any such incident so that action could be taken against the culprits,” he replied.

He said new infrastructure was needed for meeting the requirement of a City like Lahore and promised that SWM complaint number, 139, would be written on every CDGL container. But ironically, the number cannot be dialled from mobile sets.

SWM introduced a master plan in 2007 based on Experience Report of Commission constituted by the Lahore High Court on scientific disposal of solid waste in collaboration with private sector, integrated with Master Plan of Lahore 2021 (NESPAK) and SWM bylaws. The main objective of the plan is zero waste society that includes 3Rs: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle.

In this regard, Deputy Director SWM Rafique Jatoi says some strategies of the plan were being adopted like performance based wages to SWM workers that has resulted into 100 per cent lifting of garbage. About the burning of waste, he pointed to the Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) that lacks waste lifting system, saying it burns the leaves or throw the garbage in CDGL containers.

The SWM is not as much under-resourced as they complain. Increasing the trips of the collection vehicles can enhance the collection, storage and lifting capacity. The containers are left filled for long time, resulting in the over filling and then burning of the waste.

DDO Environment Muhammad Younas says there is a culture of laziness among the government employees and a private firm will perform much better with the available resources. The Environmental Department is very concerned over the practice because it is hazardous not only for the environment also the humans.

He further informed that issues regarding waste burning on dumping sites like Mahmood Booti are also in court, and the Environmental Department is in liaison with the SWM to curb the routine. But there is hardly any change visible.

An integrated effort by the departments concerned to create awareness through media is needed to meet the future challenges because with rising urbanisation and change in lifestyle and eating habits, the amount of municipal solid waste is increasing rapidly and its composition is changing as well. Non-biodegradable waste requires scientific processes for its disposal. However, by developing the recycling industry, the solid waste can be turned into ‘solid wealth’.

by Ayaz Mahmood Khan in The Nation, 5 October 2009 ( http://tiny.cc/GRcfi)

21 September 2009

It's time for Lahore's 10th Critical Mass event

Fellow Lahoris, Critical Mass Lahore has survived the summer and has been enjoyed through Ramzan. Now, it's time to rally once more for the cause of public transport, sustainable development, democratic public spaces and, of course, the right to have fun on our own streets!!!

Join Lahore's 10th Critical Mass Event at 5:00pm this Sunday 27 September 2009 from the Zakir Tikka intersection, Sarwar Road, Lahore Cantonment.

Critical Mass
is about having clean cities that provide mobility and accessibility. Critical Mass is about clean transport. Critical Mass is about putting public good over private interest. Critical Mass is about making friends. Critical Mass is about reclaiming public space. Critical Mass is about showing a man or a woman on a cycle is the same as one in a ten lac car. Critical Mass is about democracy.

What do I need to participate in a Critical Mass Event?
All you need is a road-worthy cycle and an sense of fun. Buy, beg, borrow or steal a cycle if you have to, but join the Mass. Come, cycle around Lahore. Reclaim your city, and have more fun than you can imagine!

Where and how else do Critical Mass Events take place?
Critical Mass events are typically held on the last Friday of each month in over 250 cities all over the world. In Lahore, it is held on the last Sunday of every month. For information about Critical Mass Lahore, be at Zakir Tikka at 5:00pm this Sunday 27 September 2009 or visit the Critical Mass Lahore Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=38992998526) or the Critical Mass Lahore blog (http://cmlahore.blogspot.com/). Important: Be on time!!!

08 September 2009

Traveling At Good Speed

The next time the LDA tells us that the Canal Widening project will "save time" or that "time is money", think of this excellent article on the elasticity of travel time.

Traveling At Good Speed | GOVERNING

Shared via AddThis

18 August 2009

Exiting the “Forgiving Highway” for the “Self Explaining Road”

Posted by Gary Roth at http://tiny.cc/AhqVY

One of America's easily forgetable "Forgiving Highways".

On America's "Forgiving Highways" it may be too easy to forget oneself.

The first in a series of groundbreaking reflections from the travels of a 34-year veteran of New Jersey Department of Transportation. Gary Toth, who had previously never been to Europe, spent a week touring the Netherlands with fellow PPSers Fred Kent and Kathy Madden. Their mission was to learn more about the Dutch approach to Sustainable Safety, bikeped accommodations and community-based transportation.

30 years ago, the Netherlands, a country about twice in size and in population as New Jersey, was despondent over the high fatality rate on its roads. In the 1970s, 3,200 Dutch died each year in crashes, about ¼ of them pedestrians. This rate was about 15% higher than it was in the US at the same time. Around the same time, like most countries around the world, the US also decided to do something about highway safety.

Both the US and the Netherlands endorsed improved technology in cars, driver education and the 1960s “Forgiving Highway.” The major difference rests in how engineers approached safety in built up areas — cities, villages and suburbs. More on this in a moment.

Forgiving Highways is a concept that designs roads to “forgive” mistakes made on the road. It seeks to smoothly redirect the vehicles that leave roads, and allow wide enough clear zones to bring vehicles to controlled stops if and when they leave the roads. Breakaway supports, burying the end of guardrail, clearing the roadside of unneeded obstacles, and flattening and rounding slopes and ditch sections became standard design as part of the concept.

The idea that Forgiving Highways (wider and straighter) would reduce crashes on non-freeways took root during the 1966 National Highway Safety hearings. Leading the way was a nationally revered expert on safety: Kenneth Stonex, who during his career at General Motors, oversaw much of the research that created the basis for the Interstate Highway safety standards. Justifiably marveling in the remarkable safety record of the Interstates, Stonex and others sought to apply the Interstate principles to the rest of our roads. “What we must do is to operate the 90% or more of our surface streets just as we do our freeways… [converting] the surface highway and street network to freeway road and roadside conditions,” Stonex testified. It sounded logical at the time… and a great political solution, because the responsibility for fixing the problem once again fell on government, not the individual. We dove deep into the Forgiving Highway philosophy and still have not come up for air.

The Dutch also believed in technology and Forgiving Highways. However, they began to notice that while this worked on the high speed freeways and the low speed residential areas, they still had a problem in their “built up” areas. Recognizing that it is in these areas that they have the biggest conflicts between the purpose of roads for moving people and the value of roads in providing for exchange and access, they began to commit themselves to a different approach. They began designing roads in built up areas that induced motorists to operate their vehicles in ways and at speeds that were appropriate for passage through urbanized areas. The Dutch came to understand that the post-World War II world wide approach to making roads wider, straighter and faster simply doesn’t work on local and commercial roads in urbanized areas.

In the US, application of the Forgiving Highways approach in urban areas did accomplish its mission when vehicles did leave the road. However, as an unintended consequence, vehicular speeds go up. Drivers responded to their environment. Put them on a stretch of road that is wider, flatter, and straighter and they drove faster. While okay on controlled access freeways where there are no adjacent land uses or pedestrians, and where sight distances are near infinite, curves are flat and opposing roadways are separated by wide medians or center barriers, higher speeds caused problems in built up areas. Yet we were so caught up in the paradigm that we never stopped to check to see if we were getting the desired result.

Even today, groups with credible sounding names such as the Transportation Construction Coalition continue to advocate for bigger roads. This philosophy makes sense for the coalition, since its membership is made up almost entirely of contractors’ associations. But does it make sense for the rest of America?

Apparently not, according to research conducted by Eric Dumbaugh of the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M. Wider shoulders and larger fixed object offsets – i.e. forgiving roadway design – has a statistically insignificant effect on roadside crashes. Yet widening shoulders actually increases midblock crashes. Why? The premise is higher speeds negate the effect of moving fixed objects further out, and cause more car to car crashes. Dumbaugh’s research further shows that a Livable Street concept — bringing life back to the street via trees, streetscaping, building setbacks, etc – leads to 40% fewer midblock crashes and 67% fewer roadside crashes than roadway averages (click here for more information). More importantly, injuries and fatalities from crashes almost disappear. Some American engineers are starting to accept this, but widespread adoption of this philosophy is still distant.

The Dutch have accomodated bicycling so well that a woman feels comfortable toting her three kids to school.

The Dutch have accommodated bicycling so well that a woman feels comfortable toting her three children to school.

Back to the Dutch. There are three significant differences between their approach to safety and ours.

1. They rejected that wider, straighter and faster is better for non-freeways in urban areas.

2. They adopted a multi-modal approach to safety. Travel by bicycle or on foot is valued equally and bikeped accommodations are universal.

3. They are managing access to their “arterials” to a degree that many American access engineers would envy. The helps eliminate conflicts between mobility and local access, which destroys the capacity of our through roads and leads to substantial deterioration of safety.

Cumulatively these three differences represent a disciplined approach to standardizing street design that the Dutch call “self explaining streets.”

Any American traffic engineer would instantly agree that one of the biggest sources of crashes in the US is lack of driver expectancy and confusion from road to road, sometimes within a segment of road. In fact, there have been some efforts in the US to foster self explaining streets, such as the Proactive Roadway Design philosophy described in the Pennsylvania DOT/ New Jersey DOT Smart Transportation Guide. Cities and metropolitan areas such as Charlotte, San Franciso, Denver, Savannah and Portland have all moved to create transportation policies that move away from wider, straighter and faster. But none have consistently or comprehensively taken root across the American transportation industry.

The American emphasis on safety has led to a reduction in annual fatalities from 44,000 a year in 1975 to 37,000 a year in 2008. This is an accomplishment to be proud of under any circumstance but particularly impressive in light of our population growth over that period. This is a tribute to the engineering and planning profession in our country.

During the same period, the Dutch have reduced their fatalities from 3200 to 800. If we calculate out the rate per 1000 people, the Dutch fatality rate is 40% of the American rate. This is remarkable, particularly when one considers that in 1975, their fatality rate was 20% higher than the US rate!

If we in American had achieved a similar reduction in fatality rates, our annual fatalities would drop to just under 15,000 a year – 22,000 less deaths than we currently experience.

An New Agenda to Save Lives in the United States

This dramatic savings of lives should be a focus of the next federal transportation bill. Congress, transportation advocacy and our communities all agree that the American transportation system has lost its way, and has no overarching message that excites our citizenry in the way that Interstate system did in the 1950s

To foster the infusion of the applicable Dutch transportation ideas into the US, PPS is forging a partnership with the Dutch National Information and Technology Platform for infrastructure, traffic, transport and public space – C.R.O.W.

07 August 2009

Technology, Political Ideology, the Environment and our Cities

Published as Technology, Ideology & Cities in The News on 7 August 2009

In 1947, when the Electronic Number Integrator and Computer, one of the first-ever computers, began its operations as a calculator of artillery firing tables for the US Army’s Ballistics Research Laboratory, few knew the changes it would herald. ENIAC, as it was commonly known, measured roughly 8.5 by 3 by 80 feet, took up 680 square feet and consumed 150kW of power. No one seriously considered that the “computer” would serve any other purpose but as a calculator for the military or the business world.

In little over two generations, advances in technology have changed computers. In today’s world, the computer is thought of as “personal” or as a “communicator.” It has seeped into every facet of human activity and what we can get done today on our phones, let alone laptops, would have been unthinkable sixty years ago. But what accounted for the huge change in perceptions about the role of computers in society? For example, to demonstrate just how pervasive the notion that computers would remain large, clunky metal boxes, Thomas J Watson, the president of IBM, is famously misquoted as having predicted in 1943 that the world market for computers would be less than the fingers of two hands.

Manuel Castells, the “philosopher of the Internet” and professor of sociology and city and regional planning at the University of California, has suggested that the remarkable changes in the shape, form and function of the computer have been driven by politics, as much as by technological breakthrough. He illustrates by saying that a “personal” computer would have been a political and, hence, technical impossibility in Cold War Russia. The state itself would have been forced to oppose technological advances that promoted private property. Western politics, by way of generalised distinction, has focused more on the individual. No wonder, then, that iPods are icons of individualism as well a particular political ideology.

The environmental and development challenges facing the people, economy and ultimately politics of this country are of epic proportion. Our population is underestimated at 160 million and we have a poverty rate, depending on whether you believe the figures approved by the World Bank or put forward by the Planning Commission, of anywhere from 17.2 to 37.5 percent. At the same time, the scandalous failure of every one of our populations stabilisation policies means that, in as little as the next thirty to forty years, our population is set to double. Rural-to-urban population shifts, motivated by a desire to engage in the cash economy of an urban area, will mean that, by such time, over half of the population of Pakistan will be crammed into its cities.

Our politicians are busy investing in infrastructure in their larger cities. It is their belief that it is infrastructure like roads and underpasses that will provide people the mobility they need to exploit their potential, that it is things like road infrastructure, five-star hotels, fast-food chains and airports that convinces foreign investment that Pakistan is a viable home for their money. But our politicians they have not considered any of the environmental and development challenges facing us. For example, last week, the Government of Punjab announced it was going to be “e-governed” by next year. I’m all for the efficiency of e-government and I’m sure e-government initiatives will bring transparency and speed to bureaucratic inefficiency, but clearly no one has given thought to the energy crisis. How is anything going to be e-governed when there’s no electricity?

Our politicians appear to be concentrating on investing in the infrastructure of large urban areas. Smaller urban areas are ignored, and the lack of investment in infrastructure there often adds to the population migration to larger urban areas. The government, meanwhile, in order to find the energy to run the current model, has been forced to turn to rental power. The recent exhortations of the Minister of Water and Power pleading for people to “conserve more energy” and directing government offices not to use air-conditioners are platitudes at best. The energy conservation we need in Pakistan is beyond the scope of individual actions. What is needed is institutional change. But if we really listen to what people like Manuel Castells are saying, we also desperately need a change of the current political ideology that reinforces environmentally-unfriendly and unsustainable urban growth.

Pakistan’s energy infrastructure relies on sources of electricity large enough to cater to the energy demands of its large urban areas. It’s because our cities are so large and so full of people that we need things as large as dams or massive gas- or furnace-oil based IPPs to provide them electricity. It’s because our cities are so large and energy-inefficient that alternatives like solar, wind and run-of-the-water power will never be able to provide for them. For example, both the cost and the amount of land required to accommodate a solar power station large enough to provide a city like Lahore or Faislabad makes the entire project unfeasible. But the cost and amount of land required for a solar or wind or run-of-the-water power station to provide energy to a city of 200,000 to 300,000 people is totally manageable. Also, the sewage and sanitation requirements of a small city are much more manageable than the hundreds of tons of raw sewage and solid waste a city like Lahore produces every day.

Smaller cities? Cities of 200,000 to 300,000 people! Impossible, some will say. Well, that’s exactly what people said to anyone who suggested, only 60 years ago, that computers could have a “personal” use. In little over half a century – in fact, since the time this Islamic Republic was founded – the ENIAC has shrunk to the size of a Blackberry or iPhone.

And according to Castells, this remarkable change in technology has as much to do with innovation as it does with political ideology. In order to have environmentally-friendly and sustainable cities, we need to have a political ideology that recognises that small is good. It’s an ideology that recognises that public good trumps personal interest. It’s one that respects the person and does not treat one only as an economic entity. It’s one that believes that energy conservation is more important than energy generation.

(You can watch the Manuel Castells interview that motivated this column here)

06 August 2009

City Visions: Past and Future

An excellent (and long) lecture on the importance of cities in history and in literature.