Interview with Babar Mumtaz

Author: Babar Mumtaz
Publication Year : 2021

Q. In your opinion, are there commonalities when it comes to planning issues that afflict cities in high income Global North countries and low- & middle-income countries of the Global South?
A. It goes without saying that yes, there are commonalities, and indeed, always will be, regardless of the size of the city, it’s economy or its social composition. Furthermore, regardless of the detail, the “problem” for urban planners everywhere is essentially one of how to provide appropriate accommodation, mobility, employment and enjoyment within the available resources. People are not easily satisfied – and indeed our economic paradigm requires that they are not – so it is a continuous struggle. Drastic and dramatic events, natural calamities, wars and pandemics tend to create opportunities for change, precisely because they disrupt the status quo, and allow for some re-examination of assumptions of where are we going but also a questioning of how we are doing so. The need to plan is a basic human trait – and one that allowed mankind to dominate all the other species despite our physical limitations. Integrated and underlying all of the religious texts are guidelines for social and societal behaviour – but they all belong to an earlier phase of our existence when we were transiting from a hunter-gathering state to a settled agricultural economy. All of the religious texts are built on rural references and imagery…of flocks and lambs and shepherds in their huts (and of course, the kings in their palaces). Islam I think, was the first and perhaps only urban religion, built on trade, exchange and inter- change (the gardens are for the life hereafter). The planning of cities consisted of apportioning sections on the basis of tribe or vocation, with bazars along the streets that ran between them. The planning of the space in-between was based on 2 principles: it must be possible to reach each household with a street wide and routed such as to allow the transport of funeral cortege, and secondly, that any water reaching a plot must be allowed to flow freely across it and to the other side unimpeded.