Beyond Gentrification: Pakistan Needs Inclusive Urban Renewal

Beyond Gentrification: Pakistan Needs Inclusive Urban Renewal
Urban gentrification is the process of revitalisation and modernisation in semi-urban neighbourhoods into vast luxurious and posh residential societies to increase property prices and attract more affluent residents. It is an emerging issue in Pakistan, impacting property markets in most large cities like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. Similar factors that influence gentrification in other nations — such as urban revitalisation initiatives, real estate investment, and shifting demographics — also apply in the case of Pakistan. One of the key challenges of gentrification is the displacement of lower-income residents because of rising rents and home prices.

Rapid urbanisation in Pakistan has been a key phenomenon over the past few decades, with the country experiencing a consistent rise in its urbanisation rate. According to the population censuses of 1951 and 2017, the share of Pakistan's urban population increased from 17.8 percent in 1951 to 36.4 percent in 2017. But, in terms of absolute numbers, the urban population increased from around 6.02 million in 1951 to 75.6 million in 2017, showing a compound annual growth rate of around 3.9 percent per annum.

It is pertinent to mention that this urban population is the population living in the areas notified as urban by the provincial Local Government Departments. The actual number of urban populations could be much higher, according to the Urban Unit's estimates as reported in the ‘Punjab Spatial Strategy’ and ‘Punjab Map Book’. These reports identified that the actual extent of the uncontrolled and unplanned urban sprawl of cities extended far beyond their notified boundaries. That rising trend of urbanisation is expected to continue, with the share of urban population projected to reach more than 60 percent of total population of the country by 2050.

No doubt gentrification offers an opportunity to Pakistani cities and their residents under the current scenario of rapid urbanisation to revitalise run-down neighbourhoods while also improving housing, public spaces, and community services. Additionally, it can attract fresh investment and economic expansion, generating employment while bolstering regional economies. However, it may also result in a growing wealth disparity, a loss of social capital, and community cohesiveness.

For instance, in large cities and even in medium-sized cities in Pakistan, gentrification of neighbourhoods into posh societies is driving up property values and rents, making it difficult for many low-income families to continue living in these areas. Gentrification encourages the construction of spacious low-rise residential houses and sprawling residences, resulting in the horizontal spread of cities, which raises the cost of service delivery, public utility provision, and dramatically raises commute costs.

These gentrified enclaves do not offer affordable means of transportation or public transport nor affordable rental apartments or low-cost housing for the middle class. This results in the emergence of shanty towns, slums, and informal markets around the boundaries of these societies. This worsening of socioeconomic inequality can lead to a widening gap between the rich and poor and a loss of community cohesion and social capital.

Given the circumstances, governments and policymakers must adopt a comprehensive and inclusive approach to urban renewal for urban planning and development. Inclusive urban renewal refers to the process of revitalising and rebuilding urban areas while promoting social integration and a reasonable quality of life. It improves the infrastructure and facilities of the region and ensures that all residents, including the marginalised and vulnerable communities, can benefit equitably from the renewal process.

The objective of inclusive urban regeneration must be to build livable, resilient communities that benefit all citizens economically, socially, and environmentally. This may be accomplished via a variety of approaches, including community involvement, the creation of low-cost affordable housing, upgrades to public transit, upgrading of public spaces, and the provision of amenities and services for the local community.

Recognising multiple needs and perspectives of diverse communities, inclusive urban regeneration works to address the underlying social, economic, and environmental issues that lead to urban inequality and decay. Cities may become more alive, diversified, and livable for all citizens through fostering social inclusion and fairness in the revitalisation process.

One potential answer to the issue of displacement is the creation of affordable housing programmes, such as inclusive zoning, rent control, community-based development projects like cooperatives and community land trusts. These programmes enable low- and moderate-income families to remain in their neighbourhoods while helping to preserve the cultural and ethnic diversity of those areas as the benefits of urban renewal are spread more fairly among all citizens.

Urban planners and city administrations must adopt a comprehensive and inclusive urban renewal approach to city planning and development, involving the active participation of all residents and stakeholders and the development of policies and programmes that support affordable housing, create economic opportunity and foster community development.

Dr. Ghulam Mohey-ud-din is Director Economic Affairs at the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS), Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at