PUBLIC LECTURE The 'World Class City' Concept: Its Repercussions on Urban Planning in Southasia

October 12, 2012 00:00
October 12, 2012 00:00
Hotel Himalaya, Lalitpur
  • 4472807/5547279

Alliance for Social Dialogue and Himal Southasian



The 'World Class City' Concept:
Its Repercussions on Urban Planning in Southasia 
(Architect, Urban Planner, Activist, Teacher) 

3:00 pm • 12 October, 2012 (Friday) • Hotel Himalaya, Lalitpur

The political reforms and deregulations pushed by the international financial institutions (IFIs) have had a major impact on property markets in the developing world including Southasia, giving developers and financers (many with links with the 'underworld') a dominant role in the politics of land – and hence in urban politics. In almost all cases, the state has responded to the demands of this powerful lobby and made land available to it through mostly illegal land-use conversions, new development schemes (often in ecologically inappropriate locations), and the bulldozing of informal settlements and forceful purchase of formal ones. The non-governmental and community-based organisations (CBOs) who have challenged this process have faced two constraints; one, an unsympathetic national and international media, and the other an absence of laws to prevent environmentally and socially inappropriate land conversions.

Karachi, Bombay, Ho Chi Minh City, Seoul, Delhi all aspire to become 'world class cities'. According to the World Class City agenda, a city should have iconic architecture by which it should be recognised. It should be branded for a particular cultural, industrial or other produce or happening. It should be an international event city (hosting the Olympics, sports fairs, etc). It should have high-rise apartments as opposed to upgraded settlements with low-rise neighborhoods. It should cater to tourism (which is often at the expense of local commerce). It should have malls as opposed to traditional markets. To solve the problem of increasing traffic (the result of a nexus between the automobile, banking and oil sectors), it should build flyovers, underpasses and expressways, rather than restrict the production and purchase of automobiles and manage traffic better.

Building a World Class City is therefore an expensive agenda, and for this the city has to seek foreign direct investment (FDI) and the support of the IFIs. For accessing FDI, it is important for the host country to develop an investment friendly infrastructure, and to develop the image of the World Class City. To establish this image, poverty has to be pushed out of the city to the periphery, and the already anti-poor byelaws are to be made even more onerous by permitting environmentally and socially problematic land-use conversions. The most important repercussions of this agenda are that global capital, and not local requirements, increasingly determines the physical and social form of the cities of Southasia, as elsewhere in the developing world. We find that projects have replaced planning, and land-use is now determined entirely on the basis of land value.

The urban crisis we face today is serious and is promoting social and class inequity, ecological damage and environmental degradation, crime and conflict, displacement of entire communities, loss of multi-class public spaces, and overconsumption of resources. The World Class City concept is to a great extent responsible for this damage. Interestingly, this concept has now taken root in both academia and bureaucracy, thus guaranteeing the continuation of this concept among our future planners.

With the death of the modernist paradigm, a new vision for the development of an 'inclusive' city is required to replace the neo-liberal paradigm. We can begin with articulating the principles on the basis of which urban projects, in the absence of planning, should be designed; the changes that are required in university curricula to make this happen; and laws and processes that can make our citizens the decision makers in the planning and implementation processes.

(The contents of the lecture are drawn from Arif Hasan's experience in working programmes and projects in a number of Asian cities over the last two and a half decades and with their planners, academics, students, politicians and NGO and CBO representatives. Many of these programmes and projects, he says, were supported by the IFIs and bilateral development agencies)

Arif Hasan is an architect/planner who lives in Karachi. He studied architecture at the Oxford Polytechnic and, on his return to Karachi in 1968, began work on urban planning and development issues in general, focusing specifically on Asia and Pakistan.

Since 1982, Hasan has been involved with the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) and is currently the Chairperson of its Research and Training Institute. He is founder chairman of the Urban Resource Centre (URC), Karachi. Both institutions are being replicated nationally and in a number of other countries. The OPP is an informal settlement-upgrading project whose development is managed and funded by local communities. The URC is a research and advocacy organisation supporting communities against eviction and against gentrification and/or degradation of Karachi’s inner city.

Hasan has taught at Pakistani and European universities and is author of a large number of books on development and planning dealing with Asian cities. He was 'celebrity speaker' at the Union of International Architects Congress in Brighton in 1987 and has been a member of the 'master jury' of the Aga Khan Award. He is on the board of several international journals and research organisations including the Bangkok-based Asian Coalition for Housing Rights, of which he is a founding member. A Visiting Professor at the Department of Architecture and Planning at the NED University, Karachi, he has served on a number of UN committees including on the Millennium Development Goals. Hasan is presently member of the UN Advisory Group on Forced Evictions.

Hasan is recipient of several awards, including the UN Year for the Shelterless Memorial Award of Japan Government (1990), the Prince Claus Award of the Netherlands (2000), and the Hilal-i-Imtiaz of the Pakistan (2001). In 2003, he was recognised with the Life Time Achievement Award by the Institute of Architects, Pakistan (2003).


This is a public lecture and admission is free and open to all.
Seating is first-come-first-served.
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