My paper discusses the concept of utopia and dystopia and the two cities that I want to discuss is Karachi and Paris through the lens of “The Utopian Failures of Modernism” and how the promise of idealism creates and disconnects the idea of belonging in the two cities. My research is focused on the notions of development in Karachi, focusing on Bahria Town and the idea of capitalism that is shaping the city in to gated communities.
The research will be based on the basis of theoretical frame work of utopia and dystopia the two binaries. In depth interviews and their analysis and my personal observation as a film maker on the concept of Bahria Town, building cities with in cities with enclosed environments. The paper will also discuss how the concept of free market and capitalism is the subtext behind development of projects like Bahria Town, why is the media not discussing the impact over all? Why the city’s development is is given more priority rather than the local businesses which have been affected significantly.
My paper also discusses that the promise of providing the best life , Bahria Town is taking away the sense of belonging from an individual and will further create divisions between class culture and ethnicities giving the idea of the utopia.
As a film maker, I believe every dream comes true with a price tag, for some “Karachites” their dream is to see Karachi secure, tall buildings with more work opportunities and less inflation. However I see Karachi, the country’s most ethnically diverse city, divided by real estate capitalism, with large investments setting new development to fulfill the dreams of millions.
Pakistan’s largest city, once known as the Paris of Asia, culturally vibrant, always known as a city of migrants. Karachi was a small fishing village that became a medium sized trading post in the 18th century which was further developed by the British colonists established as a hub of business and trade.
Karachi is an ever-expanding metropolis with an estimated population of about 21.2 million in 2011[i] people reflecting clustered diversity of multiple groups. Since the last three decades these groups have further giving an impression of city holding various small cities in the form of communities which mostly reside in their own areas of influence and majority.
According to Weber (1978) ethnicity relates to group feelings developed by
then members of the group consciously for group solidarity (p.389).[ii]
Further examining some parts of the city also hosts people belonging from different religions and various Muslim sects and sub sects, some pocket of areas are dedicated only to minorities which only come out of their areas when they have to trade as to avoid conflict between the groups of ethnic and sectarian violence mainly due to accusing each other encroaching upon the area of the other.[iii]
Areas which are somewhat conflict free zones are neutral spaces owned by the city’s private multinational, state owned factories, bazaars, shopping malls and recreational spots. These areas are the ones which generate economic capital hence criminal activities such as mugging and kidnapping are also targeted these areas the most.
The most prevailing issue of the city has always been security, ethnic violence and sectarian target killings which makes desirable the idea of living in scrutinized developments like Bahria Town.
Bahria Town, a project started by Malik Riaz has become one of the main real estate highlights of the country and a popular business scheme in Karachi. A wide range of investors are very keen on being a part of the project as it promises to provide the city some very dynamic infrastructural development. However the project also urges to make new environmental changes based on new social theories. Nevertheless the promise of such a capitalist development such as Icon Tower in Karachi causes a lot of issues for the general public who cannot afford such an idealist space for an residential purpose are displaced through a major crises traffic issues and loss of local business.
Environmental impact assessment 2014 (EIA Study) report states that, urban development, where underpasses of entry/ exit movements to/from Bahria Town icon tower and Clifton fun land has been under assessment.
Interchange between Shahra-e- Iran and Shahra-e Firdausi near Pak tower intersection leading to Do talwar intersection has also been restrained under the law of environmental examination.[iv]
The report also states that the due to these urban development projects the local businesses had a significant deep impact. Shopping areas are found deserted and the business has been affected.
According to an article from Dawn News, The Icon Tower Bahria Town project was held on a law suit in April 2014, an order was passed through Sindh High Court by Pakistan Defense Officers Housing Authority stating that the project was allegedly being built without compiling mandatory requirements of environmental protection laws, further seeking approval from the concerned authorities.
According to few locals there Pak towers and Clifton fun land have been affected the most and have been left deserted. The shop owners/ business operators are particularly worried because their business is further going to be effected in the coming peak season of Ramadan, a huge crises can be predicted for the people especially those who earn on daily wages. Ahmed, a Pan wala, situated opposite to Pak towers speaks in Punjabi states, “I don’t want to leave this place I have been selling pan here since 15 years but I don’t think I have a choice, earlier my customers used to come here from different parts of the city and I used to sell 200 pans a day. Now I only sell 50 maximum, I have not paid rent of my house since three months.”
While speaking to an official in the sales and marketing team at Bahria Town’s Clifton office, I stated these problems and the loss these locals are facing; I was told that the “Bahria town project is a need for a segment of population, seeking safety, security and improvement in quality of life. Local businesses affected are a temporary issue which will be solved in couple of months through the government.”
According to Walter Benjamin’s article, Paris also faced a huge development phase (similar to Karachi) where Haussmann under Napoleon III’s era 1851-1870 ran a scheme to rebuild Paris. A new modernist form, he wanted to save Paris from civil war.[v]
Haussmann’s idea was to structurally change the city itself in to a modernist plan where he would bring Bourgeoisie and Proletariats together but he was unsuccessful and they grew further apart.
“The mechanisms of capitalism kept the poor disparaged and locked in their class. The fact that they could traverse the city easily agitated the upper class which was happy keeping them out of sight.”[vi]
The growing population of Karachi has created severe inter-ethnic problems as we speak but the idea of closed and gated communities and projects like Bahria Town will further create crises of identities. One can only predict that the local shop owners will not be able to sell their goods to the general people and their business will further fall in to crises as Bahria town offers everything that one needs in an idealistic form with a promise of leisure.
Sukaina Ali Raza, a house wife, mother of two children resides in block 2 Clifton also believes that security is a major issue in Karachi and this is why she wants to invest in Bahria town. She wants to see a secure future for her family where she is not stressed or worried about her kids playing outdoors. According to her Bahria Town can provide her family with a good secure housing facility which is a dream come true.
Abdul Rafay, age 25, business man said, “Bahria Town is a complete gamble, that suggests it’s risky and to me I see making money in the long run. It’s a great idea for people to invest and generate more business out of it.”
The notions of development and re creation of the city Karachi just based on the idea of providing business and security to a segment of population who can afford it is a concept of utter dystopia in my opinion as it also dysfunctions the society.
After analyzing the adverts that are shown on Television on Bahria Town Karachi, it is evident that security is the major cause why people want to invest in gated communities. However as discussed earlier, as witnessed in Paris it will further create identity crises, bring divisions in public spheres causing colossal social failures.
Utopianism was a central motivation for the Modern Movement in architecture and design; Technology gives rise to modernism and modernism promised a better future but in the case of Karachi my analysis states urban dystopia is forged by capitalism and it is a false promise to provide a perfect society. The concept of a planned city, Bahria Town is dangerous because no single plan can anticipate the needs of millions; real cities have grown progressed organically with providing solutions on a universal level.
A single anticipated solution of development like Bahria Town and enclosed gated communities, segregating people from their identity with a modernist point of view building cities with in cities cannot reflect the variety and complexity of society.
Recently in an interview with the Economic times Malik Riaz spoke about signing a multi-billion dollar deal with Abu Dhabi to build the world’s tallest building in the country overtaking Dubai’s Burj Khalifa.
Now the question is does Karachi really need this investment? When there are perhaps other basic fundamental issues that need more importance. Karachi needs enormous planning where it provides an even ground to every class and each individual. Where the city’s identity is also taken in to consideration; High rise buildings and development for the sake of development will provide further issues in the system in terms of capitalism.
Moreover Bahria town which is developing near super highway is also going to be a risk in my opinion as it is situated far from the city, not everyone can afford a car and the public transport system is not that effective. Before building such mega projects and investing in them, the government needs to invest and improve the public transport systems, which needs to be centralized, quick, cheap and efficient.
[i] Laurent Gayer(2014).Karachi, Ordered disorder and the struggle of the city; pp.2-321C. Hurst & Co. (Publishers) Ltd.
[ii] Umbreen Javaid and Rehana Saeed Hashmi.pp.58-77.The case of Karachi i Journal of Political Studies, Vol. 19, Issue – 1,2012, 57:77Contending Ethnic Identities: An Issue to Pakistan’s Internal Security
[iii] Umbreen Javaid and Rehana Saeed Hashmi.pp.58-77.The case of Karachi i Journal of Political Studies, Vol. 19, Issue – 1,2012, 57:77Contending Ethnic Identities: An Issue to Pakistan’s Internal Security
[iv] Environmental Management Consultants. Final report June 2014. Environmental Impact Assessment Karachi Grade separated Traffic improvement Plan from Pak tower intersection to A.T Naqvi round about Metropolitan Corporation.
[v] Walter Benjamin Paris – Capital of the Nineteenth Century published in Illuminationen by Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt.
[vi] Tim Wyciskalla, Marian College (2010).The Utopian Failures of Modernism;pp.53-57 Journal of History and Social Science. B.A European study.