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OUR CITIES: Our Future

Pervaiz Vandal
1) Intro
Every demographic study tells us that urbanization, people living in large numbers within
small areas, is on the increase and in our sub-continental context such numbers run into
hundreds of thousands and, in some cases, millions; simply put even our small cities are
big and getting bigger. Large, small, big are, of course, relative terms, however, the
essential characteristic of urbanization is the way-of-life and in our context there is a
clear-cut difference in the urban and rural lifestyles. The dichotomy between the two is so
sharp, so loaded with inequities that there can hardly be any debate on the definition of a
city. People enjoy the benefits of the city such as jobs, education, health-care, social
services, infrastructure, cultural sustenance, companionship and general societal well-
being that living among friends can provide; it also has problems, transport inadequacies,
shortage of energy, degradation of environment, prevalence of the inequities of wealth
that sometime take horrific shape. Cities, however, keep growing the sum total of benefits
must therefore outweigh the difficulties. If we foster and sustain the benefits they provide
and reduce their negative aspects they might provide a more comfortable life.

This paper takes the position that urbanization will continue to increase and cities will
continue to grow, we cannot wish them away nor can we ordain them to shrink in size
and change with the wishes of our middle-class-comfort-seeking-groups. Cities will not
be pet dogs that jump through the loop or sit and behave on command. Cities of the future
will follow out of the ones we leave behind; they will not descend from heaven. Some see
the city of the future with horror, as huge agglomerations collapsing under their own
weight, over-extending in their use of valuable natural resources and pollution-creating
monsters; others may see in them the next stage of human evolution with human
ingenuity coming into play to save the future and make it better than the present.

It is rational to look at the question of what a city is, not only in terms of brick and
mortar, but as method of living and working together that humans have developed in their
continuing evolution and struggle for survival. Cities should be viewed in the context of
human evolution and development over the millennia. Measure of a city cannot be only
the roads and infrastructure, or the housing societies and estates; it is, above all, judged
by the quality of life it provides to its citizens – all the citizens. This paper argues that the
basic role of the city is to facilitate the growth of human society toward the next stage of
human evolution, a realization of human values as applicable to all, and not only the
provision of roads, sewage, drainage and buildings.

2) Birth and Growth of Cities


The Human Family grew into a Human Society posing ever-increasing challenges of
production and distribution of resources. As numbers increased food became scarce and
human intelligence came into play to create new avenues of food production which could
sustain the larger numbers. The taming of the bull, with castration, was an important
development towards increased agricultural production just as was the plough to till
greater areas to produce food and other crops that made for a more complex living and to
support large numbers of traders, craftsmen, administrators, scientist, and educationist.

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Our early cities did all that and more. They provided the conditions and the intellectual
ambience for human creativity to come into play and provide solutions to scarcity of
resources. Every major crisis led to new means to overcome the crises. In addition to the
question of physical survival, the city developed art, music, dance, poetry, and drama, for
humans to enjoy and develop the finer aspects of life. Architecture, parks, and open
public spaces helped to rejuvenate the human spirit. Relaxation, recreation, spiritual and
psychological well-being contribute to development of human ingenuity to meet the
difficulties in life. Cities are a tool in the struggle for survival. Humans invented the city
as a means for greater production particularly through craftsmen and artisans, better
management of the available resources, redistribution of the agricultural produce to
support people engaged in activities that support cultural.

I propose to take a quick look at only two points in history, first the earliest known
urbanization effort in the subcontinent, the Indus Valley City, for, its essential qualities of
human welfare, public health facilities and social relations and tolerance stand out as
worthy of emulation; second, a Colonial City, Lahore, as it marked a remarkable turning
point in our history; today we are a product of our colonial experience of turmoil and
recasting of character.

3) Moenjodaro --- a city of peace, equity and harmony.


The earliest example of city life in the subcontinent goes back to the Indus Valley
Civilization. Despite sustained efforts by scholars, Moenjodaro remains a city that eludes
complete understanding. The script remains to be deciphered, the ending unexplained and
its unique equitable lifestyle unbelievable. It had no monuments bespeaking of powerful
monarchs or autocrats yet its large expanse, larger than Mesopotamia or Egypt, could not
have been managed without an elaborate and powerful ruling elite; also there is no
evidence of large scale massacres to explain its disappearance. There is not a single piece
of art that celebrates violence or conquest; on the contrary there is much evidence of far-
flung trade possible only in peaceful environment. Its rectilinear town layout, its
understanding of clean and dirty water, and therefore the understanding of disease being
caused by lack of hygiene and presence of bacteria; its understanding of brickwork and
production and usage of 1:2:4 ratio of brick size, use of gypsum and tar as mortar, where
needed, are far ahead of its time. The quality of the infrastructure provided to all levels of
citizenry was remarkably uniform. Status of women, the importance of the pipal tree,
reverence for knowledge and the Teacher, crafts, understanding of metallurgy, art quality,
standardization of weights and measures, no celebration of the master and no denigration
of groveling servant and no great awe-inspiring and terrifying gods tell of its high culture.
It was indeed a city where, despite differences, citizens enjoyed a certain minimum level
of comfort, dignity and happiness. It had harmony and unity that exhibits both in its
physical infrastructure and its arts. It had all the attributes that a city of today can hope to
have.

4) Cities in the Colonial Period


The Colonial intervention in India put a stop to the industrialization of the society and the
consequent natural growth of cities. Professor Mark LeVine of University of California
writes (2007) that pre-colonial India possessed more than 25% of world’s manufacturing

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output which, despite post independence growth was only 2.3% in 1980. Society lost its
inner momentum and for the next 200 years the country lived off the crumbs from the
colonial table. From a country well on its way toward mercantilism and progress towards
industrial production, particularly textiles, India was pushed back to an agrarian economy
meant only to produce raw materials for the rapidly industrializing west. Older native
cities of India froze in time and only the new colonial centers of administration and
colonial commerce became centers of growth with facilities for education, health, and
recreation. Lahore, for example, grew as capital of Punjab, seat of the Lt Governor,
Centre for the N.W. Railway and Canal administration and a major Military Cantonment
given to looking after the province of Punjab which at one time extended from Delhi to
Peshawar. The colonial city was full of inequities of the worst kind, divided and divisive;
ethnic, cultural, religious divisions became sharp with encouragement by the State and a
general sense of fear and insecurity prevailed. Communities barricaded themselves into
groups, there came into being the GORs with their beautiful ambience, the Cantonment
with their forbidding disciplined streets, the Railway colonies with natives, the Anglo-
Indian being setup as a separate slightly more privileged community, native quarters then
further divided into Muslim, Sikh and Hindu neighborhoods.

Unfortunately the post-colonial period in the subcontinent has further intensified the
divisions. Look at the barricades in Lahore and Karachi. Our society continues to be
divided, and politics of fear continues to bear fruit for the communalists of all variety.
We live in fear of our neighbors, both national and international.

5) The four attributes of cities


Numbers have always been a source of security and, when in opposition, terror. However
the agglomeration of humans, from small town to the large metropolis, is an opportunity
to think of the future and find solutions to some of the issues at hand. The process is
cumulative, perpetual and developmental. In evolutionary terms, the cities are a survival
tool with the following four attributes which promote its progressive development:

i) Idea Generation
Where do ideas come from was famously asked by Chairman Mao in his
essays on Philosophy. They follow from the ability to observe, think,
understand and conceptualize situations requiring new ideas. They represent
that essential difference between animals and humans viz the processes of the
mind. The fundamental facility that humans acquired in the evolutionary
process which has resulted in their great saga of survival is Idea Generation. It
is this quality that keeps them a step ahead of the ever-increasing possibility
of extinction through over-exploitation of resources, pollution of the basic
needs of air and water, and destruction of climate in which we operate. There
are a number of ways in which societies ensure a continuous supply of ideas
to face the problems of tomorrow. Education, of course, is number one;
however it is quite different from the education that our present system
imparts. The present educational system, colonial in origin, continues to feed
the colonial system, in present terms, globalization. An education that only
strives to get marks or grades to move into the higher level and to ultimately

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secure jobs, which at its height means administrative service in the
government or the local tool of some multi-national, is self defeating. Starting
from the primary school our system alienates the educated. From school
uniform to language of instruction it sets apart the educated from the great
masses of supposedly illiterate people. Education ceases to be knowledge,
wisdom and culture devoted to the development of society and becomes an
incursive, rude and coercive system. Ideas devoted to society’s progress can
only come from people immersed in the society, working with live curiosity
and freedom to think out- of-the-box. Idea generation can only flower in a
climate of freedom of thought, expression, assembly and protest. Without a
society that provides the above freedoms, idea generation will not proceed and
the society will be an apt target for foreign exploitation and rule by people
pretending to be experts in their problems; like the western consultants, who
visit for a short term and give solutions for the long term.

ii) Culture Enrichment


A city brings together a variety of people from within the region and even
outside. Ethnic, racial, and religious variety is something to be celebrated and
brought together. A city that is divided, and thus not at peace with itself, is in
trouble. A tolerant culture sets the stage for cultural enrichment that the cities
provide for the better lifestyle of all. Debates on law, governance, ideology,
social contract, multiply and sometimes become intense, as the society moves
from simpler existence to more complex situations. Economic systems, living
styles, trade and production also generate discussion among members of the
society who can then vote upon and legislate. In our context it is difficult to
see all the citizens participating because, at present, we have excluded the
majority from the forums of discussion and debate for reasons of poverty, lack
of education and any other to ensure our own supremacy. It is essential to
assure freedom of thought and action, psychological well-being, joys of
living, poetry, music, literature, pleasure, reproduction, family, for all citizens.
Such cultural enrichment of people feeds back to the question of the basic
issue and purpose of idea-generation leading to a vibrant and developing city
which can then solve its problems.

iii) Space modulation – the Physical City


As the work of the artisan, perhaps the first building block of the city, became
more complex, work and home space got separated leading to factories where
humans toiled and offices where they worked in addition to spaces where they
lived, relaxed and recuperated ready for the next day’s work. Increasing
numbers meant greater complexities of transport, water supply, garbage
disposal and sewerage systems leading to special disciplines and bodies of
knowledge developed to cope with them. Town Planning, City Management,
Urban Design, Transport Engineering, Public Health Engineering and a host
of other important contributions were developed in the Western cities and
used in the cities of the Third World. Colonial mind set, as exposed by

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Edward Said, however refused to see the particularity of the sub-continental
urban phenomenon.

The early speeches of both Mr Jinnah and Mr Nehru visualize Pakistan and
India as Modern States. In the context of the middle of 20th Century
Modernization meant Industrialization which meant Westernization. No
wonder then, that, when new cities were planned both the countries looked to
the West for Planners. As a result solutions developed in the West were
applied here but not always with the best results. Political slogans reflect the
same thinking: almost every new ruler promises to make Lahore the Paris of
the East. Mega projects are launched just because they mirror something
similar in the West. In Lahore we have the spectacle of roads that are being
continually widened, and over-passes and under-passes built with only the
automobile in mind; the problem, however, is not the width of the road, it is
the variety of traffic which is a management issue. We have to rethink the
road, this strip of land on which people move, to cater for the variety of users
and speeds. Our cities and the solutions to their problems must be home-
grown and will never be the same as those of the West.

Look at building control: Nominally set up to regulate building construction


to better build the city for the greater enjoyment and welfare of the people it
has become a nexus of corrupt forces trying their best to break whatever rules
and regulation might exist. In fact mathematical formulas can be developed: if
K is the amount of money exchanged under the table then the following
results can be expected
• K is inversely proportional to the time taken for the approval of plan ie
greater the money exchanged shorter the time
• K is proportional to the height of the building allowed beyond the rules
• K is proportional to the flexibility of rules (rules are designed to have
ambiguities so that they can be suitably interpreted)

Decentralization is another bogey word. Making small towns of large


metropolises only works if there is a sufficient level of citizen awareness and
participation. The division of Lahore into 5 towns has only added confusion
and misery for the citizen, instead of there being one office to go to, they have
to keep finding out where they belong.

iv) Resource Generation


The fourth attribute of Cities is that they have become huge engines of
production growing at an ever-increasing pace. From being a burden on the
hinterland, cities are leading the country in terms of production. In the
knowledge economy of the 21st Century the production potential of the cities
is going to increase manifold. A major portion of the population is young
below the age of 20; if this tremendous resource can be harnessed and
developed all the other attributes of idea generation, cultural enrichment, a
rational environment will bring closer the promise of a better future.

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Developments in technology in the thermo-nuclear fusion process promise a
world with unlimited energy at little cost, means of sustenance that promise to
eradicate hunger and disease, a multi-polar world that promises a variety of
people with their richness of culture. With some dedicated care, humans may
yet make the cities of the future places worthy of living in harmony and peace;
the great obstacle being poverty.

6) Inequities, Poverty and Failure of Cities


In every city, large numbers of people live in abject poverty; this is the failure of the city
to live up to its promise. Capitalism lives off an army of the unemployed, thus despite its
great riches, the United States cities has a fairly large pool of the poor, jobless and
homeless. The sub-continental cities present inequities of the worst kind and we face
them daily. This is the end of the road for Market Economy, for we cannot abandon the
teeming millions to vagaries of the Market Economy; it requires a very special effort with
a new approach going beyond the supply and demand framework to ensure that the poor
too can have a decent life. The question of poverty alleviation and more equitable city is
not a matter of altruistic thinking and action. It is absolutely essential for the survival of
all the citizens, even the elite.

Only a few European Scandinavian countries have been able to achieve an equitable mix
of capitalism and social welfare to create a relatively harmonious society. Some
fundamentalists of Capitalism question such supports for the poor and advocate recasting
of economic systems to deny expenses such as medical care, unemployment benefits etc,
for the alleviation of poverty. They consider that this promotes sloth and inefficiency.
Margaret Thatcher was the leading protagonist of such an approach and this philosophy
has ruled the world for the last two decades. Fortunately here is now a deep awareness of
the limits of Capitalism and people all over the world are resisting the neo-liberals.

An example is Zapatista movement in Mexico. People in the Mexican state of Chiapas,


led by the Zapatistas, are changing the old and welcome a new system of politics,
education and city management. They meet, discuss, arrive at consensus and act. They
use global means of communication to spread their message and develop a network of
sympathizers; - some call it the first post-modern revolution. They seek not power, but to
empower people; they rule by obeying; they fight for human rights along with a
consistent and clear ideology to save the environment; they are in the forefront of
developing new approaches to societal living. They claim to have saved their cities from
ruination; their system is managed through a myriad of local councils, working
independently within a strategic framework; there is no central leader, no central party.

7) Cities in the age of Globalization


Globalization is breaking down barriers and has effectively ended the philosophy of
specialization. For some years now educationists and research scientist have shown the
limits of over-specialization and the harm it can do to the integrated human fabric.
Holistic thinking, interdependence, fighting the evils of globalization while welcoming its
positive aspects, characterizes the thinkers of today. In this milieu where do we stand and
what do we do? If we restrict our role to only the physical/geographical and ignore the

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sociological / human side of the city we negate one side of our personality; we restrict
ourselves only to design of buildings and roads, some rehabilitation of housing, through
government agencies or private bodies with people’s participation. Under pressures of
specialization we have constricted ourselves into a narrow rut. Why do we abdicate half
of our person, especially since we humans are intellectually in a position to help the city
to achieve its next stage in the Human Development? When a city is filthy, as most of our
cities are, when a large number of its citizens live without the basic amenities of life,
when we tolerate this because we console ourselves with reasons of lack of resources,
when we see the ultimate degradation of humans as outcasts, treated as animals, when we
see little children begging in cold nights, as we see them aplenty in Lahore, how can we
remain untouched; that is not what the city came into being for. That is not something to
be tolerated. Why don’t we say enough is enough… this has to change; in brief, let us
focus on humans and not just roads, under-passes and such other gimmicks.