Can Karachi Be Turned into A Walkable City?

January 18, 2022

Walkable cities are those where the majority of people live within a few minutes’ walk from public transport, shops and amenities. The concept has been around for some time now but in Pakistan it is only just beginning to take hold. 

The idea was first introduced by Richard Florida, author of “Who Are We?: What We Think about Ourselves” and “The Rise of the Creative Class”. He argues that there is a link between creative industries such as design, music, film making, fashion, advertising, publishing and software development and urban areas with large populations of educated professionals. These cities have an attractive mix of cultural and recreational facilities, high quality educational institutions and excellent transportation networks. They are also places where the wealthy can live in luxury without having to drive their cars. 

He identifies four basic elements required for a city to be successful: 

  1. Creative labour (artists, writers, designers, musicians) 
  2. Educated workforce (doctors, lawyers, teachers, accountants, engineers, scientists, managers, etc.) 
  3. A healthy environment (clean air, clean water, parks, green spaces, etc.) 
  4. Good infrastructure (roads, mass transit, airports, ports, hospitals, schools, universities, libraries, etc.) 

These four elements combine to create a place where the residents feel safe and secure. 

There is no doubt that Karachi has all these ingredients but we need to ensure that they are properly mixed together. For example, the lack of good roads and parking facilities in our metros means that most people do not own cars. This is very different from the situation in London or New York where owning a car is considered essential. The result is that traffic congestion is horrendous and people spend hours every day sitting in their cars waiting for the next available opportunity to move forward. This leads to stress and frustration among the drivers. In addition, pollution levels in the city are alarmingly high. 

Karachi’s transport system consists of buses, taxis and rickshaws which cover the major routes but the network is woefully inadequate to handle the huge volume of traffic. At any given time, at least one out of three vehicles on the road is a taxi or a bus. There is a serious shortage of parking space, so people park their cars on pavements or in front of buildings. This results in littering, damage to property and health hazards for pedestrians. 

To make matters worse, most of Karachi’s main roads are designed to cater to heavy vehicles like trucks and buses. Cars and light commercial vehicles have no priority and are forced to use narrow lanes. This means that they cannot pass each other easily, causing jams and traffic snarls. Most of the traffic lights are located far away from the cross-road, adding to the problem. 

The result is chaos and frustration. As a consequence, the city’s reputation as a tourist destination is suffering badly. 

If we want to attract more tourists, then we must provide them with a better experience when they visit Karachi. A start would be to introduce a carpooling scheme. The government should also work towards improving the condition of the roads and the traffic signals. If we can solve these problems, then we will be able to offer a much better service to visitors. 

We also need to encourage the private sector to invest in building hotels and restaurants close to the main arterial roads. It is true that many of these establishments have been built on land owned by the government but the authorities could have charged rent for using this land. Instead, they allowed them to operate on a free hand and now they are struggling to find tenants. 

Final Words 

It is important to remember that the idea of walkable cities was first proposed in the United States. Since Karachi has all the ingredients needed to become a walkable city, it makes sense to adopt the model used by other successful cities. However, if we want to achieve success, then we need to act quickly and decisively. 

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