Model town

World Bank project focuses on public spaces in 3 Karachi areas

Model town
Three neighbourhoods, downtown Saddar, Malir and Korangi, have been selected for a World Bank-supported project to improve their public spaces.

The Karachi Neighborhood Improvement Project will bring together the Sindh government’s Directorate of Urban Policy and Strategic Planning and other relevant departments, including the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation. The KNIP will work on enhancing the usability, safety, and attractiveness of public spaces, improve mobility and pedestrian access to key destinations, and improve traffic safety in public spaces in the three targeted neighborhoods.

The plan was prepared after the Bank undertook its Karachi City Diagnostic (2015-2016) report. It came up with some sobering statistics. It found that in Karachi there is 1 bus seat for 45 passengers, which is among the highest in the world (1:12 in Mumbai, 1:8 in Hong Kong). Out of the estimated 24m people in the city, 10m have no access to the public sewerage network and 60% of municipal solid waste generated is left uncollected. Urban green areas are estimated to have declined as a proportion to the urban footprint, from 4.6% to 3.7%.

The report confirmed what has long been known and studied. Karachi is considered one of the least livable cities in the world, performing poorly on all indicators of municipal services and dimensions of livability. In 2015, it ranked in the bottom ten cities (134 out of 140) in the Global Livability Index produced by the Economist Intelligence Unit.

The Karachi City Diagnostic report reinforced the understanding that in order to transform the city into a more livable and inclusive one, where the dividends of growth and development can equitably be shared and where development interventions are holistic and can be sustained, no single project or intervention will have the capacity to accomplish this. It would involve strategic reforms in policy and institutional capacity, financial management and social accountability. In addition, long term investment in critical urban civic services and infrastructure rehabilitation and upgrades is urgently required.

KNIP has a fast preparation timeline with high?visibility interventions aimed at strengthening confidence. This engagement is expected to demonstrate potential for city transformation , build consensus and political buy?in, and lay the institutional groundwork for larger follow?up policy-led investment operations. This engagement is being considered a stepping stone to transitioning into the deeper institutional reforms and major investment needs identified under the Karachi City Diagnostic. These reforms would focus on priority areas such as building a competitive business environment, improving city governance and municipal service delivery, and increasing access to water supply and sanitation.

KNIP thus focuses on a critically important urban livability indicator that is seriously neglected in Karachi and that is ‘public spaces’. Public assets and public urban spaces (streets such as roads and avenues; open spaces such as parks, plazas and markets; and public buildings) within the urban landscape represent multiple functions and serve as critical barometers of the quality and viability of a city’s social and environmental capital.

Public space

Globally, public spaces now take up a much larger agenda for urban sustainability. Innovative public space designs are now being used to breathe life back into rundown and blighted urban land parcels. Social capital catalyzed by public spaces is contributing to bridging communal differences based on ethnic and socio-economic profiling and is thus reducing crime and violence, celebrating the vibrant diversities of people and cultures enriching modern day cities. Streets and public spaces also directly support the livelihoods of many residents, such as vendors. The city of Medellin in Colombia is a classic example. Once considered the most violent city in the world, home to drug baron Pablo Escobar, it is now a tourist destination. This transition has much to do with strategic public space design interventions built around projects such as the Metro Cable that contributed to opening up ‘no-go’ areas to vibrant public interaction. The world famous Cheonggyecheon stream (a highway converted to a man-made stream and linear park) in Seoul is another such project. Cities such as Bogota in Colombia and Curitiba in Brazil have also benefited from adopting a public space agenda.

The project also finds synergy with a number of Sustainable Development Goals, the implementation of which, the government of Pakistan is committed to. They include Goal 11 for Sustainable Cities and Communities and Goal 13 for Climate Change.


Many proposals have earlier been put forward to carve out pedestrian-friendly public spaces, reduce traffic and parking congestion in Saddar and protect its heritage sites. However, not much progress could be made. This time around, with KNIP, there seems to be greater hope. The project has been approved for the government and is mentioned in the provincial budget.

The Saddar project area, for Phase I of KNIP includes a carved-out space from Pakistan Chowk to MR Kayani Road housing the Arts Council and NAPA. Sub-projects include upgrading roads and streets, sidewalks, and pedestrian crossings; upgrading open spaces, installing shade, reorganizing traffic patterns and closing certain street segments (temporarily or permanently); installing signs, street furniture, lighting and bus stop shelters; organizing parking and installing safety barriers; and rehabilitating infrastructure and stormwater drainage beneath roads upgraded by the project. There is also a consideration to link via pedestrian trails, the visiting spaces with relevant stations of the Green Line.

The larger project area mostly housing institutional, civic and public spaces has been categorized in ‘zones’ according to land use as recreational, educational, commercial etc. Consultations held with local users of these spaces has elicited a positive response that includes educational institutes such as NED University, DJ Science College, arts and entertainment spaces that include the Arts Council and NAPA management and local business, transport representatives, youth and women groups. The NED City Campus and Arts Council have served as venues for most of the public consultations, thus adding that critical level of stakeholder engagement and public legitimacy to the project.

Another much-needed intervention is a planned Parking Study for Saddar aimed at reducing the congestion, parking encroachments in the area and improving walkability, safety and security.

The project will also have a multi-stakeholder steering committee with local government, civil society and the private sector to guide KNIP and future projects. In Phase II, the project heads to public space interventions in other downtown areas that include public space design of the famous Burns Road.

Other than Saddar, select arteries in Korangi and Malir are being rehabilitated with public space interventions such as improving market spaces design and playgrounds along the Korangi road corridor and roadside park rehabilitation off the Malir corridor. In addition to main roads, sidewalks and pedestrian crossings will be upgraded within the existing right of way. The project will install street furniture, lighting, bus shelters, and safety barriers for pedestrians and rehabilitate underground infrastructure and stormwater drainage beneath upgraded roads.
One component includes a Sindh Provincial Electronic One?Stop Shop (PEOSS) for business licenses and e?licensing by other provincial agencies, hosted by the Sindh Board of Investment. It includes the automation of construction permits, integrated counters for the public requesting industrial and commercial building licenses, and public access to information

Building business

To support interventions on the ground, efforts are being made to improve selected administrative services to ease doing business in Karachi. This subcomponent includes design and implementation of a Sindh Provincial Electronic One?Stop Shop for business licenses and e?licensing by other provincial agencies, hosted by the Sindh Board of Investment. It will also finance services and goods for the automation of construction permits, including capacity?building for the Sindh Building Control Authority, construction of integrated counters for the public requesting industrial and commercial building licenses, and public access to information and complaint management and resolution.

There is an urgent need to strategically leverage all opportunities to transform the state of Karachi’s governance and critical service delivery institutions. While this intervention offers hope, the real test of its sustainability lies in viable coordination being established and sustained within the urban policy making and implementation agencies. This has to be coupled with a sincere effort to constructively engage city stakeholders. For now, all the right steps are being taken but they need to be sustained over the long run. KNIP offers a model, not a solution for urban rejuvenation that needs to find a citywide footprint through invoking the appropriate policy and institutional reforms at all levels of governance. To effectively reverse the decline in urban services would require difficult decisions to be taken, and strategic alliances and partnerships to be forged between stakeholders that often struggle to balance competing interests with the need to find synergy in critical requirements for good urban governance. This balance has to be achieved if this city has any hope of sustaining long term, viable and appropriate reforms.

The Bank back in business

It has been 20 years since the World Bank worked in Karachi. The last time it was here, it was proposing the privatization of the Karachi Water and Sewage Board, in 1996. Once it became clear that this would make the urban poor suffer, there was a massive push back. Now the Bank is back in town. This time the Sindh government has signed up for the Karachi neighbourhood project that costs US$98 million. The World Bank will lend it $86 million and the government will pay for the rest. The project is expected to last till 2021.

– Mahim Maher

Resettlement plan

The Sindh government Karachi Neighbourhood Improvement Project documents available on the World Bank website include those for involuntary resettlement. The project has selected Saddar, Malir and Korangi (but the website doesn’t specify where and the map doesn’t show up.) The goal is to improve public spaces and because it will fix up existing roads, parks and streets, the project doesn’t foresee having to acquire land. But “temporary and smallscale land acquisition cannot be ruled out”. These are densely used areas where people live and work. “Impacts on livelihoods, access to properties and businesses as well as other social impacts are expected to take place,” says the Resettlement Policy Framework.

The Bank says itself that its experience indicates that involuntary resettlement under development projects, if unmitigated, can push people into more poverty. This is why it has guidelines for KNIP on compensation, which in the case of, for example, the temporary loss of income gives the owner of a business cash compensation equal to the lost income for up to 3 months, based on “tax records or, in their absence, comparable rates from registered businesses of the same type with tax records”. (Thella wallahs, however, do not keep tax records, one assumes). However, if tax-based lost incomes are unknown, then the official poverty line will become the minimum rate of compensation per family member per month.

– Mahim Maher