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The Ravi Riverfront Development Plan: A Case Of Misdirected Priorities

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In developing countries like Pakistan the need for development initiatives that can catalyze growth and raise the standard of living cannot be overstated. However, lack of research in the development field – and sometimes over ambitiousness of self-motivated proponents – often make it difficult to determine the merits on the basis of which certain projects or initiatives are pursued instead of others. And so, we often find examples of huge infrastructure projects that fail to deliver their promised gains. The Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project, also dubbed as Ravi City, appears to be one such project that might create more problems that it will solve.

Plans so far indicate that the Ravi City aims to preempt issues like housing shortage, water scarcity, waste management, pollution and economic sustainability – issues that are likely to become critical with the ever-extending sprawl of Lahore. The project envisions development on both banks of the Ravi River along a 46 km long stretch divided into different zones including a residential area that will house part of the huge population of Lahore. Waterfront infrastructure including a lake will be built to help recharge the water table of Lahore. A state-of-the-art sewerage system will rejuvenate the river Ravi as treatment plants will treat industrial and municipal waste water before pouring it into the river. The project will be a green city, where 6 million trees will be planted to mitigate the effects of the lost green cover of Lahore. Other zones to be built include Financial City, Entertainment City, Sport City, Knowledge City, Medical City and Innovation City. Total project cost is estimated to be around Rs. 5 trillion, the bulk of which is expected to be financed through private investment.

The drive behind the project apparently is to build a modern city to share the burden of the burgeoning city of Lahore and fuel its further growth; but a careful analysis of the plan bares many possible pitfalls that make the idea less desirable. It is still unclear whether Ravi City will be a commuter city built to share population burden of Lahore by providing residence to people who will travel to the city every day for work, or will it be a self-sustaining financial and residential hub outside Lahore. Either way, adding another 400 square kilometers to Lahore’s already unwieldy sprawl will only aggravate the problem. High-rise buildings can house much larger number of people with much smaller land use. All megacities of the world sustain huge populations by expanding vertically instead of horizontally. Singapore is a great example of one such megacity that has higher population density than Lahore with a much higher standard of living. Housing can be managed for Lahore’s current population with room for more in coming years if high-rise residential buildings are built instead of encroaching more land.

The huge cost of the project is bound to draw resentment from other regions in the province already disgruntled at the decades of disproportionate concentration of government spending and development initiatives in Lahore. This development can be shifted elsewhere to regions that lag behind in terms of economic growth and development indicators. This will also mitigate population burden in Lahore as more people will find work closer to home.

Areas identified for the project along the banks of Ravi include many residential settlements, small industries and agricultural land belonging to thousands of low-to-middle-income people of Lahore and its suburbs. The government is moving to acquire this land which will be developed by big industrial firms and real estate developers for building industrial and residential complexes. Residents of the area see this as ploy to dispossess them of their belongings for gains of big investors and firms. Human rights groups and environmental protection organizations are criticizing the planned project as it will change the natural environment of the river bank and cover potentially arable land with stifling concrete structures.

Lahore definitely needs projects for improving its waste management system and for revitalizing its water table and green cover. However, the expansion of residential and commercial infrastructure into a new city right next to Lahore doesn’t seem like a plausible solution. To ensure effective development planning, policy makers must carefully study examples of modern cities like Singapore before undertaking projects like the Ravi City.

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Naya Daur