Thursday, April 28, 2016

More squatter settlements in city following intensification?

Published in Daily Times on July 5, 2010

KARACHI: The global meltdown in the real estate sector and the apparent bubble-burst in the fixed-asset investment sector first struck down the United States, giving way to a global recession that crumbled Dubai, and now experts also point towards Beijing as the next victim.
However, in Karachi, instead of taking a lesson from what the giants have already suffered, the government is furthering the plan for building high-density zones to attract foreign investors and develop the skyline.
There are already many projects under way in different parts of the city, including Centre Point near DHA Phase VII Extension, IT Tower at University Road, Sofitel Tower and Emerald Tower in Clifton, and the in-process and most gigantic of all of them, the Karachi Port Trust's mixed-use 78-storey giant.
With such development already under way, the Sindh government has also suddenly started taking swift measures to support the construction industry, and perhaps make a few quick bucks.
Several actions have been undertaken by the government including the Sindh High Density Development Board Bill No 14 of 2010.
Also, the recently announced anti-encroachment drive is perhaps connected to the same bill, paving way for the construction of high-rises on plots owned by the influential.
However, apart from the economic aspect, it would be relevant to question the sanity of the intensification, looking at the already chocked infrastructure, environmental degradation, crime rate and terrorism.
It remains to be seen how much the government and the private sector is able to control the existing problems while creating new ones with the giant commercial hubs, which would increase power outages, congestion and especially the deficiency in the housing sector.
Since the time of partition and later during the rapid industrialisation, the city saw many people migrating from the rural or less-developed areas to the urban centres, looking for work as watchmen, drivers, cooks, domestic help, gardeners, lift operators and so on.
Architect Nazar Rizvi, a University of Karachi graduate, said, "The government made the same mistake previously during industrialisation. North Karachi Industrial Area, Korangi and SITE labourers and workers were given an option to settle in Khuda ki Basti, forcing people to live in katchi abadis as commuting was time consuming as well as a drain on the household income."
Although the situation in Nooriabad has been better comparatively, it is far from perfect, he added.
According to reports, mass migration and unavailability of affordable housing has always been one of the major problems faced by the working class immigrants who came to the city in search of livelihood; hence, the city acquired a plethora of squatter settlements that the land mafia established for assisting them. As a result, around 50 percent of the city's population live in katchi abadis.
An architect wishing to remain anonymous, said, "Looking at the current trend for building commercial hubs with high-end users in mind, it would not be wrong to assume that once again, the city would be thronged by desperate workers looking for a place to call home. Moreover, the chances of their exploitation by the land grabbers are high."
She also said insufficient energy production was also a major aspect to be kept in view of the proposed rapid intensification, which would ultimately be a huge burden on the economy.
Massive construction of new high-rise commercial hubs in the city would only create a temporary influx of investments, which would later serve to be a bubble-burst that the dilapidated economy of the city would be unable to withstand, she added.
Moreover, the construction industry in the city is still not capable to build high-rises, which would prompt the government to import technology, requiring an exorbitant cost of investment, resultantly increasing the final open-market rent of the space that, hampered by the constantly deteriorating law and order situation of the city, cannot be a positive attraction for foreign investments anyway.

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