The phenomenon of large-scale human settlements has, on the one hand, brought about rapid capital accumulation leading to spectacular developments in commerce, industry, travel, and communication, yet on the other it has generated a level of inequity among its residents never seen before. This is particularly compounded in the cities of Asia as the global enterprises have further exacerbated the situation. Towns and cities of Pakistan, as in the rest of the subcontinent, exhibit, exhibit contrasts of poverty and opulence that simply shock. ‘…no account of time; no arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short’.

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) writing in 1651, might well have been describing the current state of life of the poor, the majority, in the small towns of Pakistan. With each passing day, as the economy lurches from one crisis to another, the quality of life is further eroded. A human settlement, village, town or a city, is worthwhile only if it ensures a decent quality of life for its residents. A town is not only brick and mortar, but it is a method of living and working together that humans have developed in their continuing struggle for survival. 

It has to come from the people who are the ultimate stakeholders. The process of urbanization is irreversible and cannot be wished away. People are congregating in larger and larger numbers in search of opportunity and in the city and towns the living conditions for the poor are becoming intolerable. 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. 

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 consultants, who visit for a short term and give solutions for the long term. 2 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 the elite’s supremacy. 

However. this requires a major change in the objectives, motivation and understanding of the rulers. Housing societies with vacant plots eat away the scarce land resource and do not ameliorate the housing shortages – especially of the poor. High rise building with glass fronts are horribly wasteful in energy and are underused. High costs of the infrastructure preclude any uniform improvements over the whole spectrum of towns and cities. Great fortunes are being made through political control of the infrastructure development and the resultant speculation in land prices which concomitantly further pushes large numbers below the poverty line. Policies regarding undue profits made through such process must be drastically changed and this avenue whereby a small minority manipulates land usage and prices to the detriment of the majority has to be drastically changed.


Pervaiz Vandal