The changing nature of low income settlements in the larger Karachi context

The Humanities and Social Sciences conference, “Urbanism, Exclusion and Change in South Asia”, which will be held at LUMS between March 4-6, 2016, aims to explore more closely the lived experience of urbanism in South Asia and its diaspora. This conference approaches the city as a site of multiple contestations and contradictions and aims to highlight struggles over space, resources, identities, and meaning taking place within South Asian cities. While power-holders struggle to create ‘world-class’ and ‘smart’ cities in order to attract capital, the vast majority of urban inhabitants experience multiple forms of insecurity. For those surviving on the margins, the city is both a site of promise as well as precarity. There is an urgent need for scholars of South Asia to reflect on the impacts of these profound changes on the lives of citizens and on our understanding of processes of urbanisation in general.

The conference will host experts from disciplines across the social sciences and humanities exploring narratives of the city both past and present across South Asia. The current proposal is requesting funding in order to support one of the main panels at the conference, which is centred on Arif Hasan’s paper, “The Changing Nature of Low Income Settlements in the Larger Karachi Context”. This paper will explore the impact of urban development on the people living on the margins of Karachi. Arif Hasan sees the expansion of informal settlements (katchi abadis) in Karachi as a direct consequence of the policies of the urban developers. The government is unwilling to make land available for low-income workers in Karachi near their places of work although such land exists. Rather land is horded for speculation or for middle and high- income commercial development. Meanwhile, on the fringes of the city, tens of thousands of acres of land are being developed as gated middle income and elite housing societies with densities as low as 100 persons per hectare. These are evicting villages, destroying historic archaeological sites and the tangible and intangible culture of the communities that live here, and also the ecology of the region in which the city is located. As a result, it has become cheaper and socially beneficial to rent or purchase an apartment in an old katchi abadi near the city than live on the fringe.

One of the main outputs expected will be a discussion with Professor Nauman Ahmed (NED University of Engineering and Technology) on informality and urban development in Pakistan. The second major output will be a working paper on the subject, ‘The Changing Nature of Informal Settlements in Karachi,’ written by Arif Hasan. This working paper will be a resource for policymakers and researchers working in the field of urban development in Pakistan and in other developing country contexts. Furthermore, the conversation generated by Arif Hasan’s talk and paper will help foster a dialogue on urban policy across South Asia amongst academics, practitioners and policy makers.