Archive for the ‘City Issues’ Category

Trees of Lahore

Until the 1970s some one hindered and sixty species of birds were listed in Lahore. While the city had such green spaces as Lawrence Gardens, Aitchison College, the cantonment and Model Town, farm and forest on the outskirts began where Defence Society or Allama Iqbal Town and the innumerable societies now sprawl in south and east Lahore. Also, houses along main thoroughfares were constructed on plots of four or five thousand square yards or more, giving every residence a large garden with trees, shrubbery and flowers.
The conversion of suburban farm, forest and scrub land to housing estates led to large scale deforestation. Over the years it was observed that not just government agencies, but private developers as well as individual home owners are clearly repulsed by trees. The first thing anyone does is remove the forest cover, even when the trees do not get in the way of construction. Wherever indigenous forest was destroyed, the grid of new roads was bordered with eucalyptus.
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Why Kalma Chowk Underpass is a bad idea…

Traffic is becoming a major issue for dwellers of this city of 10 million, especially for the vast majority of population that cannot afford to drive Corollas or fancy Range Rovers. The current Punjab Government has been epic in initiating unplanned, unreasonable and unjustified projects just for the sake of gaining mass publicity and a possible nod from the Western governments and donor agencies. Transparency and good governance are two important issues in which the Punjab government, according to some observers, was apparently faring better as compared to the center and other provinces. Any sane person from the general population, however, will highly disagree with this false notion when he still has to enjoy the effects of these supposedly successful initiatives. Urban planning is one important issue where each of our governments handsomely fails. The long-awaited Lahore Rapid Mass Transit system has almost been laid to rest while highly questionable strategy of road widening and tree cutting continues. Meaningless small stunts like construction of the Park n Ride plaza on Liberty Roundabout hardly have done anything to resolve the planning crisis and make our city more livable. The ugly structure, by the way, is hardly used by anyone and emits more carbon thanks to its free shuttle service to Liberty Market (located just a few hundred meters away) using diesel coaster buses.

Ahmed Rafay Alam, in his recent article published in the The Tribune, pretty much summarizes the flaws of recently inaugurated Kalma Chowk underpass project. He writes,

“Investment in public transport (and removal of private automobiles from roads) is the only long-term solution. Three years ago, the Punjab government launched the Lahore Transport Company with the promise to import some 1,300 buses into the city within three years. Well, it’s been three years and no such buses have been imported. Meanwhile, the Lahore Transport Company continues to pay salaries to its many officers and employees. The construction of the Kalma Chowk overpass excuses the failure by the Punjab government to adopt any long-term public transport alternatives. This should not be so and taxpayers should be informed of the reasons why no public transport is being provided, as promised.”

In Lahore

Model Town shakes up to a deadly awakening

It was only quarter past eight Monday morning when residents of Model Town were shaken by a glass-shattering sound and impact. People as far away as 10 KMs in Wapda Town and DHA, both in different directions from Model Town, heard a loud bang and saw smoke rising in the distance. Few minutes of utter panic followed until media reported a suicide attack in the otherwise calm part of the city.
Rubble of the SIA building in Model Town after suicide attack - Source: AFP via Dawn.com.pk
Rescuers clearing rubble after suicide attack on the SIA building in Model Town, Lahore
Image Source: AFP via Dawn.com.pk
Yesterday, the target was office of the FIA and Special Investigative Agency (SIA), a branch of secret police that investigates highly sensitive terrorism suspects and criminals. The office building totally collapsed as a result while 13 people fell victim to the horrendous episode with another 80 or so injured. Victims include passerby children who were heading towards school. Dr. Israr Ahmed’s Masjid is very close to the scene and bore the full brunt of impact where all glass has shattered. Similar was the effect on the entire block where home windows, doors and facades of houses were badly damaged.
This incident happened after a period of relative calm. Last time Lahorites saw terror up so close was when Moon Market was hit by attackers a few months back.
According to recent media reports, the Taliban have accepted the claim of the blast and called it a revenge over US drone strikes and Pakistan Army’s operation in the tribal areas.
Although many questions remain unanswered, however, the most important one still remains why are these sensitive agencies based in residential areas of the city? Similarly, how secure is the common man? and what from here on?
We strongly condemn terrorism of all sorts and pray for the deceased… May Allah bless them and their souls rest in Peace, Ameen! (Inna lillahe wa inna ilaihe rajioon)

VIP movement & traffic problems

Since our ‘beloved’ president Mr. 10% err Zardari is in town today till another week, the ongoing traffic miseries are certainly on the rise apart from the roads overclouded by the PPP flags and banners; Here are some tips to follow before you start your commute:

– Tune into Traffic Radio RASTA FM 88.8 often and listen to the traffic updates
– Call 24×7 Traffic Helpline 1915 before you leave your home
– Visit RASTA.PK to see the updates on traffic

P.S: My personal experience of 1915 helpline is very good when i called them early today for the first time to check on Mall Road status and the lady operator told me that there were some portions closed due to security but they have been restored 5 minutes before i called. And I had a nice and easy commute to downtown; As per the lady operator, you can also get help if your car breaks down.

Foggy weather – Live Temprature Updates

As a usual January every year, Lahore is currently under heavy foggy conditions; commuters & daily life is suffering quite badly with lots of flight canceled and motorway M2, M3 closed down every now and then – So there I was and an idea just kicked into my mind that there should be real time temperature updates for Lahoris from the city – so I managed to build this thing out today and we have live temperature updates going out to Twitter after every 30 minutes :) So if you are into twitter, please follow the tag #Lahore or Follow LahoreTemp to get updates after every 30 minutes. Even if you don’t use twitter, you can still logon to http://twitter.com/LahoreTemp and read the latest temperature from the beacon.

Enjoy the weather, keep your distance on the road, and be safe out there and let us know how you feel about this service :)

Google Maps & Lahore: Mapping ‘Party’

Are you map literate?  Do you reside in Lahore? 

Then you might want to check out  the Google Mapping ‘party’ taking place at FAST-NU this Saturday, 2nd  January, 2010. 

Sneak peak at what its all about— Badshahi Mosque and neighborhood.

Some information from the organizers:

Greetings!

FAST-NU and the Google Map Maker Community in Pakistan officially invite you to a half-day of discussion, interaction and mapping fun! Google Map Maker is an open editing tool for Google Maps, and has allowed crowd-sourced mapping of Pakistan on an unprecedented scale, as highlighted by Google.
In order to take stock of what has been accomplished so far, and more importantly, what opportunities lie ahead, FAST-NU’s ACM (Association for Computing Machinery) Chapter welcomes Google to campus to host a workshop and discussion on crowd-sourced mapping of our cities. Take a look at the links below to see Lahore’s map on Google Maps today, to see how Badshahi Mosque’s neighborhood has been mapped, for example.
Now, help shape the opportunities which lie ahead for Pakistan’s urban development using maps, the internet and the power of collective public thinking.
Join us on the 2nd of January, 2010 from 12:30pm to 5:00pm, at FAST-NU (see it on the map)
….(click here to read the rest on the event page on Facebook)

For further information and to register–click here.

Important: You must pre-register at http://local.com.pk/mappingparty  to join in all the fun on Saturday!

If you attend–do come back to share your experience here on Lahore Metblog. :)

Sign the Save the Lahore Canal petition

Canal
To view the petition, click here.

To: Citizens of Lahore

As you may have heard, The Punjab government is planning to widen the road on both sides of the Lahore Canal, from Thokar Niaz Baig to Dharampura, as a so-called solution for the congestion on the canal road due to the rapidly increasing automobile population. The Punjab Chief Minister had announced that the project would begin immediately after Eid-ul-Azha, however, Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry took suo moto notice and effectively restrained the government from commencing work on the project on 27 November 2009. The government has not fulfilled its legal obligation of carrying out an EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment)for the project and the lack of transparency of the program is depriving the citizens of Lahore from having a say in this change.

It is the consensus of a great number of organizations and groups of concerned citizens that the Rs 3.15 billion project violates basic principles of traffic design and will not only prove ineffective in countering traffic congestion, but also lead to an outstanding number of problems related to the well-being of the public and the environment. Widened roads have historically proven to only end up attracting more traffic, and the government’s focus on providing for the car-owning citizen over the abounding majority (which requires public transport, sidewalks, public toilets, phones and drinking water) is entirely against the principles of equity. The project also means the cutting down of several thousand old trees and losing over 50 acres of the green belt, which is sure to lead to a staggering number of environmental problems including rising temperatures and carbon and toxic content, not to mention the loss of ancient species of trees and shrubs that provide shelter to a variety of birds and small animals. The historical, environmental, recreational and aesthetic value of this green space cannot be stressed enough.

We demand that our voice be heard to address these critical issues and help preserve the beauty and grandeur of our city.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned

(This petition was prepared by Lahore Chitrikar and their initiative is acknowledged)

Chief Justice takes suo motu notice of Canal widening; orders no trees to be cut

CanalFrom Dawn, 28 November 2009

LAHORE, Nov 27: Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry on Friday took suo motu notice against proposed chopping of trees in the provincial metropolis to widen Canal Road.

Chief Justice Chaudhry directed the authorities concerned to put their plans of cutting the trees on hold and summoned the chief secretary and the environment secretary on Dec 1 at Court House in Islamabad.

The chief justice took notice on applications moved by two NGOs namely the Concerned Citizens of Pakistan (CCP) and the Lahore Bachao Tehreek (LBT), seeking a restraining order against proposed cutting of trees to widen Canal Road.

Earlier, Dawn reported in its Nov 26 edition that environmentalists, conservationists and civil society activists had sought help of the CJP to save hundreds of trees likely to be felled during Eid holidays to pave the way for widening of Canal Road. Through an application to the CJP, they had said the Punjab government was planning to widen Canal Road from Thokar Niaz Beg to Dharampura underpass at a hefty cost of Rs3.15 billion, without fulfilling its obligations under the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997, and the chief minister had announced that work on the project should be started.

“The project envisages felling of over 5,000 mature trees and taking away 51 acres of green land from the general public. Road widening is also against the master plan of the city and suffers from major defects in terms of urban planning and transparency.

Previously, an EIA was conducted for the Rs700 million project, but citizens overwhelmingly rejected it at the public hearing. A case is pending with the Lahore High Court against the EIA for the previous project,” said the application moved by the concerned citizens gathered under the banner of Shajar Dost.

They had feared that during the Eid holidays, the priceless, speechless trees would be the first casualty of this development project.

Conservationist Dr Ajaz Anwar had told Dawn that some three years ago, Lahore was deprived of a historical asset during Eidul Azha holidays.

“Haveli Mian Khan was built during the regime of Emperor Shah Jehan. It was spreading over acres — from Rang Mahal to Mochi Gate. Gradually it fell victim to commercial vandalism – the beautiful and priceless structures were replaced with ugly plazas and shops. Only a wall and its main entrance near Rang Mahal had survived but it was also demolished during Eidul Azha holidays three years ago by the men of one Raju Pehalwan with the patronage and connivance of some government officials,” recalled Dr Anwar who had been the founding secretary of Lahore Conservation Society and a senior faculty member of the National College of Arts.

Say a little prayer for Lahore

Canal IIThe only thing as incredulous as the recent announcement by the Government of Punjab — it intention to construct a highway through the heart of Lahore — was the recent statement of the CEO of Fashion Pakistan Week that their glorified display of clothes was a “gesture of defiance towards the Taliban.”

Our fashion industry is as much of an industry as the Holy Roman empire was holy, Roman or an empire. Our designers are talented without doubt; but to suggest that parading scantily clad men and women down a runway behind the bunkers and barricades of a five-star hotel in Karachi is an act of defiance is, well, really stretching the limits to which the “security situation” can make a fool out of us. The foreign media took to the sound bite like a starving man to a steak and now, once again, Pakistan is portrayed as two-dimensional: a country teeming with brave designers, fighting Islamic militancy. My friend and critic Faiza S. Khan said it perfectly in her column at openthemagazine.com:

“One designer lamentably laid claim to being ‘a very brave woman’ for displaying her clothes on a catwalk at a five-star hotel in a country where women have been known to be murdered, maimed, mutilated and on occasion buried alive, where girls’ schools are routinely attacked and where, even at the best of times, women’s rights, outside of a tiny income bracket, are limited at best. Another designer called it an act of defiance in the face of the Taliban, glossing over the fact that fashion shows do, in fact, take place with some regularity in Pakistan, and if one must intellectualise this, then it could more honestly be described as a display of affluence in the face of a nation torn apart by the gaping chasm between rich and poor. Why the foreign media can’t ask Pakistani designers questions about their work and why they, in turn, yield to the temptation, like Miss Universe, of providing a sound bite on world peace is beyond me.”

Over the weekend, the Chief Minister of Punjab announced that he was allocating Rs3.15 billion for a project to widen Lahore’s Canal Road. The decision can only be described, at best, as a reckless adventure and, at worst, a catastrophe waiting to happen.

In 2006, the Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency (TEPA) of Lahore Development Agency (LDA) proposed to widen the Canal Bank Road, purportedly to reduce traffic congestion in the city. Because the project was over Rs50 million, the provisions of the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act,

1997 kicked in and TEPA was constrained to engage the National Engineering Services Pakistan (NESPAK) to carry out an environmental impact assessment (EIA) of the project. This was done and the EIA was presented to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), Punjab, in a public hearing where hundreds of Lahoris gathered to protest against the decision to deprive the city of one of its last surviving environmental heritages: the 14 kilometres of green belt that line the canal and make the street one of the most unique avenues in the world.

The EPA, Punjab approved the EIA but before the project could go any further, the Lahore Bachao Tehreek (an umbrella organisation of dozens of grass-root NGOs as well as WWF-Pakistan) challenged the veracity of the EIA as well as the approval granted to it by the EPA, Punjab. The case remains pending before the Lahore High Court.

The announcement by the mhief minister, giving the go-ahead for the project “after completion of design”, raises some important points. First, it is clear that the project approved by the CM is not the project that the TEPA had originally proposed in 2006. For one thing, the cost of this new project is nearly five times the cost of the original design. Also, according to news reports, the new project is set to incorporate new features along the Canal Road (like “beautifications” which, I must hastily point out, in the context of roads means nothing).

What this means is that the Government of Punjab cannot use the EIA approval granted to the original TEPA project. According to our laws which, the last time I checked still apply to everyone including the government, road projects in excess of Rs50 million must have an EIA carried out and should be approved by the EPA.

But the observance of legal and procedural formalities is not the primary concern that most Lahoris have about the road widening project. It’s an open secret that the Government of Punjab is operating on overdraft. In such a situation, it would seem bizarre that the provincial government would choose to spend Rs3.15 billion — nearly 10 per cent of the allocations it made last year to the three heads of health, public health and education — on one road in one city of the province.

Less than 20 per cent of Lahoris have access to cars. For the vast majority of the over eight million people who try and live and work in this city, transport and mobility are dependent on motorcycles, cycles and what is euphemistically referred to as “public transport” (there are less than 1,000 buses that ply the city’s streets). Ever since the previous tenure of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, when the Punjab Road Transport Corporation was shut down, neither this nor the PML-Q government of Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi have spent a rupee on public transport, which, by the way, is the only way to reduce traffic congestion in a city. Now we are told that a seriously broke government is about to spend billions of rupees it doesn’t have on a road it doesn’t need for people who don’t want or use it. Remarkable indeed.

In a presentation made by NESPAK on August 31 this year, the various options of widening the Canal Road were presented to the CM. According to NESPAK, all the road widening projects would “fail” by 2020 — meaning thereby that if the government didn’t do something to invest in public transport, and soon, the billion-rupee road widening adventure is, at best, a 10-year frolic. Is the Government of Punjab serious? Does the chief minister not know that, according to the Punjab Economic Survey of 2005 carried out by the Planning and Development Department (P&D), over 50 per cent of Punjabis live in slums? Who is this road being widened for?

All too often our politicians harbor the mistaken belief that infrastructure development is the only thing that will make our cities “modern”; that infrastructure is the only thing that will attract the foreign investment necessary to bring economic prosperity to a developing nation. But where are the examples of the success of this model? Our own urban Guru, Arif Hasan, in his brilliant essay “The world class city concept and its repercussion on urban planning in the Asia-Pacific region” demonstrates that our preoccupation with a modern city is also the root of our urban decay. But who in the government reads? Oh, save a little prayer for Lahore.

From The News, 13 November 2009 (http://www.thenews.com.pk/editorial_detail.asp?id=208278)

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