MANZOORAHMAD - Before we talk of housing, whether for low income or high income people, we shall address features of urban planning of Lahore since partition till to-date.

It is urban planning which decides the sizes of residential plots, layout of structural roads, social infrastructure and most importantly scope for future expansion of a city or a town. As an example, we take Lahore, mega city and capital of Punjab. Just look at the unscrupulous urban planning of Lahore since 1947.

The immediate batch of Townships which was created in Lahore after 1947 was: Samanabad, Gulberg, Township.

Samanabad was hurriedly planned by the then Lahore Improvement Trust who did not have qualified Town Planners at that time. That’s why Samanabad is a crowded, haphazard and badly planned housing scheme in which no consideration was kept in mind for scientific roads and building controls.  We can observe Samanabad houses, over-riding on their neighbouring houses without leaving compulsory open spaces or set offs. Gulberg colony was the brainchild of a British trained bureaucrat who conceived the town plan of Gulberg with colonial mindset. Larger size of plots seemed very much contemporary with the British Raj, where the elites (Sr. bureaucrats and the feudal gentry were supposed to live). The Lahore Improvement Trust, responsible for creating Gulberg, lacked vision towards long term urban planning of Lahore. It did not visualize that Lahore’s population will explode and the blocks of land on prime location shall be wasted by creating acre size plots. Such wasteful utilization of residential land forced Lahore’s horizontal expansion. The trend of creating large plots continued in Lahore Township colony and also in Shahjamal. Since after 1960, properly qualified town planning graduates, mostly trained from abroad, entered into the organizations responsible to give better and futuristic town plans in the Punjab and other provinces of Pakistan. Building rules were codified although by now they have also become stale. The poor architects fret under those stale building bye-laws because existing dimension of plots does not permit optimum utilization of expensive plot land.

The private and Coop. Housing projects have also contributed in the horizontal expansion of Lahore which has created different kind of problems such as traffic jams which become cause of pollution and wastage of precious fuel. Past governments of Punjab failed to visualize dis-coordination between urban expansion and the location of public dealing government departments which are located at the far end of Lahore. Lahore is expanding towards south-east whereas Punjab secretariat, District and High Courts, the DCO and commissioner offices, the Police Head Quarters, the State Bank, the GPO, the LDA offices, Governor House, elite and prestigious educational Institutions are situated within a 3 km radius of Lahore’s busiest Mall area. The flow of vehicular traffic in the morning is mostly towards North of Lahore almost at the same timings hence frightening traffic rush. And in the afternoon and the evening, same maddening vehicular Jams on the opposite side can be seen. Another cruel blunder that is still being committed by our development authorities is that they created smaller size of plots at unattractive locations of the Town Plan. An educated dweller in a 3 marla or 5 marla plot considers it a stigma to tell others his place of living. Unless our urban planners create respectful surroundings and beautiful landscaping for smaller plots, the lower middle class will be hesitant to go for smaller plots.

Our country very badly lacks in standardization of housing industry. The houses already built in Lahore alone have different sizes and designs of windows, doors and partition walls and that too they are not of uniform specifications, whereas European or American housing industry has standardized itself. There, we will find large stores like “home depot” where pre-fab doors, windows, semi-concrete walls and everything connected to construction and building industry are available under one roof with code numbers. By standardizing the sizes of important parts of a home, the architect will be obliged to provide doors, windows and pre-fab partition walls by choosing from the limited number of designs of doors, windows and walls.

 This very standardization will create large scale manufacturing of everything required for a home. By introducing concept of pre-fab technology in Pakistan even at a smaller scale, we can highly economise construction of a home because mass production reduces prices and the cost of labour is also reduced.  In the housing industry, the bulky building materials are always local such as bricks, cement, sand, wood and steel.

 While these materials also add considerably in the increase of costs, but major portion of the cost of a house goes to finishing materials such as sanitary wares, tiles, faucets and kitchen paraphernalia. If we improve locally made finishing materials in looks, strength and design, the dumping of Chinese building materials will be automatically discouraged. We are manufacturing even better materials but they are so far expensive viz-a-viz Chinese and Malaysian materials. If the Government’s prestigious buildings and houses are mandated to use locally made finishing materials, I am sure our rich class will also emulate the rulers’ simple abodes with indigenous building materials. Low income groups have a tendency to match their living standards with richer class especially in marriage expenses and housing. This social behaviour can only be changed when our ruling and richer class observe austerity.

Economical homes are also possible if our architects design vertical housing commensurate with our culture and living style of low income population. The experience of making flats in Lahore has not given desired results. LDA flats or private high rise flats have been populated by questionable characters. Our architects and Government should make serious efforts to make vertical housing (only 3 level buildings) more practical, comfortable and socially acceptable. Mere sloganeering for low cost housing will not solve the problem.

Our Government must show the will to:

a. Create low income friendly residential plots in prestigious townships whether developed in public or private sector.

b. Encourage standardisation of building materials by limiting the designs of homes to 3 or 4 designs and hence encourage mass production causing reduction in the costs. Urban homes in Europe and in USA are almost identical in design, finish and internal zoning.

c. House financing should be on affordable terms for low income groups.

d. The Government should mandate that no residential plot shall be larger than 4,500 SFT.(One Kanal). Only then, the display of glamorous houses will be discouraged.

e. It is against human dignity to raise low income colonies and declare them as low income housing just as we have done in Nishtar Town, Ashiana scheme or other schemes in the past like Tameer-e-Watan Housing Programme of Junejo Government.

f. Smaller plots should be accommodated in upscale housing schemes so as a white collar middle income fellow does not feel embarrassed to tell his address which will loudly declare that the fellow is a wretched poor. If we do not bring real reforms in developing budget housing, all our efforts will be considered fake.

At present in Lahore alone, more than 200,000 fully developed plots are still lying vacant. The city Government must make it mandatory on plot owners to complete construction on a vacant plot say within a period of 5 years from the date of allotment otherwise the allotment shall be cancelled. At the same time, the development authorities must provide civic and social infrastructure for the plot owner so as he is encouraged to build his house. Empty plots are like dumped wealth which is not productive for the country but promises lucrative profits for the plot owners.