Discourse Vol 3, Issue 3
Housing, Housing!
Publication Year : 2022
Author: Abida Naurin

What is  the problem  with our cities? Can these tiny geographical  locations  be termed  as cities,  as burgeoning housing  societies  are  encroaching  the  city  spaces   more than  ever? Who  is  going  to  stop this  unguided  fascination with  lavish  housing  madness? Cities are shrinking,  housing societies are sprawling? Does this mean economic activity is also being squeezed?  Let me explain. Cities are powerhouses of   growth,   innovation,   and   prosperity.   Yet,   in    Pakistan, research on cities  management  is  scarce.

Dr.  Nadeem  ul Haq, the  Pakistan  Institute  of  Development Economics (PIDE) vice-chancellor,  has been investigating  the land   model   maintained   by  societies  such  as DHA  Lahore, in  which  land  is  created  by the  public  sector  and  handed to  officials  as  a   kind  of compensation  for  service  and the like.  This is  a  hindrance to the development  of competitive real  estate markets. DHA Lahore was originally  intended for army officials, but it quickly became a  public housing society. Society  was  always  intended  to  be a   prestigious  area,  but it  has become  much  more than  that; collateral  of  growing urbanization.  Gentrification  has essentially taken  away  any area that was previously available to the upper-middle-class or middle-class aspirants. As  a  result, the nominal space has reduced even further.

The issue raised by this understanding is: why is  the government able to get away with it? A famous British economic geographer Prof.  David Harvey,  has an answer.  He claims that  “quality of urban life has increasingly become a commodity for those with money,” successfully insulating people from the disparities at play. This permits communities to maintain their exclusive ethos because, according to Zukin, “Pacification   by  Cappuccino”   keeps   them   engaged.  This smart expression is  used to describe how materialism  keeps people entertained  and diverted  from  actual concerns, and this is especially true  in form of housing societies  in  Pakistan.Perhaps  a   literal  pacification  by cappuccino  is  at  play with gentrified  coffee shops  in  every sector,  blinding  inhabitants to the difficulties within and the distinct reality that exists and is maintained firmly outside the society. In Pakistan’s context, the vast wealth divide is “indelibly  inscribed into the physical patterns  of  our  cities,  which  are  progressively  becoming cities  of  fortified   shards   of  gated  enclaves  and  private• public  places  maintained  under  continual  surveillance,”  as Prof.  David Harvey describes. This portrays housing society accurately and may be utilized to  comprehend  why such   a culture  survives.

Dr. Durre Nayab, Joint-Director at PIDE, recently wrote a  PIDE Policy viewpoint  on “The  Assumed Shortage  of Housing  in Pakistan”. For the past ten years, the rallying cry in politics, the media,  and donor-funded  research have been “We are short of  10 million  housing  units.”  Given the  average  household size  of well  over six  people, this  equates to  approximately one-third of the population living in  poverty. Do we witness such  a large number of people living on sidewalks, roadside, beneath bridges, or in any other open space? Thankfully, the answer is no! We can’t figure out where this massive housing shortfall  of  ten  million  people came from.  Worst  of all,  the

government  relies on this estimate without ever questioning its  accuracy.  Regrettably, the  policy  has been built  on this premise,  and  a   large-scale  public  housing  endeavor  has been launched  at tremendous  expense.

Dr.  Haq,  recently also wrote  a  Twitter thread  on the  issue. The points mentioned are briefly explained here. Pakistan is perhaps the  only  country where  housing  societies  exist on such   a  scale.  They’re the  result  of  the  British  passing down a  PLOT  culture to us. Those that were faithful  to the colonial authorities  would  be  given  land  as   a   gift.  Corporate  is   a legal  structure  designed to  assist poor  farmers  in  banding together to do tasks that would be more difficult  if they were working  alone.  Soon  after  the  petition  was filed,  officials began  forming   housing  societies  under  the  cooperatives law. Pakistan is a very strange country in the sense that every government  organization  is   into  real  estate  development. City  administrations  run  by  District  Management   Group (DMG)  have through  history forbidden  real  estate  high-rise and mixed-use construction inside cities. Since we continued the British tradition of gifting plots to govt officials’ suburban development was favored on basis of housing societies.  It  is a  scheme  for self-enrichment  at the cost of the suckers who buy  into  those  societies.   It  is  time  to  allow  high-rise  and mixed-use are liberalized.   It  is  time  government including governor houses move out of cities leaving commerce to take over.  Not allowing  high-rise and city  center  redevelopment will slow  down country  development.

The PIDE Reforms Agenda 2021-22, focuses upon reforming almost every area that directly or indirectly influences economic  growth.  Cities  are seen  to  be the  driving  force behind economic development. Dense, high-rise, mixed-use, and inclusive cities are conducive to economic development. Work,  home,  markets,  school,  hospital,  and  entertainment are  all   conveniently  located   in   these  cities.  These  cities produce  knowledge  spillovers  on the  one  hand and  lower transaction  costs  on the  other  by concentrating  economic activity. This is  a  favorable  climate for  innovation, which  is necessary for  economic  progress.  The  existing  regulatory structure  prohibits the establishment  of such cities.

The PIDE Agenda also aims for revisiting the regulatory framework  around  city  planning,  construction  rules, automobile  usage,  and public  spaces,  among  other things, to  release communities  that  maximize economic activity.  To make true progress toward the rightto housing in Pakistan, we must rethink our unhealthy, unequal, and toxic  relationship with  the  land  and  establish an urban  development  model that  prioritizes  our  economic,  social,  and  ecological  needs over unbridled  profit.  We need city libraries,  proper  school buildings,   footpaths,   cycling   lanes,   studio   apartments, offices, and shopping in our neighborhood. Finally, the PIDE suggestion  that  local  universities  and think  tanks  be active in  policy, policy research, and policymaking should be taken seriously by the government.  Nothing should be brought to the  policy table without first being  properly  evaluated. Our experience has shown  us that relying on consultants without domestic  oversight  has been expensive far too  frequently. Let’s  reclaim our cities!