Pakistan is experiencing rapid population growth, the result of which is rapid urbanisation. This phenomenon remains at the forefront of the growth of a country since it helps to give impetus to economic activity through increase in demand and supply, generates employment opportunities, improves standards of living and more. But it only happens in the case if it is regularised, controlled and organised in a fashion that helps to maintain a balance between population and resources. Land uses are efficiently utilised and parcels of land are developed under the vigilance of development authorities.

The situation in Pakistan is very alarming. Cities are expanding haphazardly with no provision of adequate infrastructure. Although, all of the major metropolitan cities in Pakistan are confronted with urban planning problems like sewerage, roads, waste management, the most critical situation lies at the heart of peri-urban areas–fringe areas of cities or adjoining rural areas which are intrinsically linked with the city economy, experience constant transformation, and are characterised by a mix of rural and urban activities.

It is imagined as intermediary zone overlapping rural and urban jurisdictions and is inhabited by the native population which is normally engaged in agro-based activities or livestock rearing. It’s a promising place for migrant populations who pursue non-farm interests.

Most of the planning problems like infrastructure availability, socio economic problems and societal issues are prevalent here. The lack of surveillance by planning authorities gives rise to unplanned arrays, drainage issues, waste dumps, lack of facilities like proper schools or hospitals. The poor have found it easier to build shelters here and to occupy land for agriculture or reside in shabby rental houses. The poverty brings with it a lot of other menaces like frustration, feuds, rivalry and crimes like theft, dicot, and even killing out of lust, money or illegitimate relations. A careful and in-depth analysis shows that poverty stricken, unfurnished localities have higher rates of criminal activities due to a lack of surveillance and security.

This mess at the city boundary creates problems not only within the city but also disturbs the agricultural activities that are considered to be ideal. The industry has considered these areas as sources of materials essential for urban life like water, brick-clays, sand and gravel, limestone, fuel-wood and timber. The middle class has found peri-urban areas as a potential residential zone for houses with golf courses and other recreational facilities. The local government has considered the fringes of urban areas as a site for locating landfills, waste dumps, peripheral freeways, airports or noisy and toxic industries.

The mess at city periphery can be characterised as place of fast and unplanned growth resulting in negative health issues and environmental degradation. Service and social infrastructure is inadequate to meet the basic needs of human beings. Rapid urbanisation that took place in Lahore within the last decade has been detrimental to the physical, environmental and social environment as well. The development authority remains short of capacity, the flawed legislative system and biased distribution of finances are most prevalent excuses for noncompliance of rules and control.

To address the issue, the provincial government took and initiative to channelise the growth of Lahore in a proper direction. For many years, the provincial metropolis has been confronted with unchecked sprawl that created lots of planning issues. In this scenario, the south of Lahore is a parallel: well-planned, progressive and immense upscale settlement. The first reason was to address the uncontrollable urban growth of Lahore. The historic capital is expanding endlessly, creating multiple planning hazards at its peripheral areas. Secondly, to endorse vertical development to accommodate as many people while maintaining the green spaces and residential density and thirdly, to channelise River Ravi. There is no doubt about the fact that since long, River Ravi has been transformed into a massive drain and where a lot of cattle are found. The project shall bring relief to the degraded scene. But all such projects are politically owned and lose their credibility in case of a change in government or political turmoil.

A permanent solution could be a statutory system with independent macro-level polices that look after leveraging the urbanisation menace. Mega projects like River Ravi Front, have an impact across regional boundaries and the area of influence may cross international boundaries too. For such far reaching development programs, a comprehensive national or regional policy should be devised. The rural economy and urban development both are integral for a country and shall be dealt with precision. The growth of our cities and towns are indicators of development, opportunities and level of accomplishment for a country, while agriculture has significance as its central to a country’s productivity.

For all components of urban planning to function efficiently and in harmony with each other, the hierarchy of statutory mechanism should be followed for each tier of governance. Local governments shall only focus on municipal service delivery and local level matters while for broader areas like the channelisation of growth corridors and spatial distribution of resources shall be designated to the national level. The vertical and horizontal linkages should be maintained. The mess at the periphery should be vigilantly controlled and regulated as it has its implications in defining the future form of our towns and cities. We certainly need well planned towns for our future generations.