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FEATURE STORY

In Lahore, Improving Livelihoods and Preserving Heritage Go Hand in Hand

October 28, 2013

Sheikh Mohammad Jahangir sitting at a window of his restored house in Gali Surjan Singh in the Walled City of Lahore.

A Journey Towards a Better Future
  • A World Bank-assisted project is restoring centuries-old streets and homes in the historic Walled City with replacement of infrastructure, street paving, underground sewerage and gas lines, and encroachment removal.
  • Social mobilization teams have been essential to the success of the project, as residents lead the efforts to convince fellow residents of the benefits of conservation and urban rehabilitation.
  • Families have a better quality of life, businesses face less losses, and the community has a greater sense of participation in improving their lives.

As one enters the Delhi Gate of Lahore’s fabled Walled City, it is with the knowledge that travelers from across the world have walked through its grand arch for hundreds of years. The gate faces the historic path pointing towards its namesake city, serving as a reminder of South Asia’s interconnected history. Inhabited for over 1,000 years, Lahore's Walled City has served as the capital of Mughal and Sikh empires, along with being a major center of colonial India. Today, it continues to be a part of Pakistan's, and South Asia's, rich cultural heritage. As Lahore has grown and expanded beyond the Walled City, much of its grandeur has fallen into disrepair as newer areas became the center of investment.

Its historic houses, many stories tall as generations of families built on top of each other, have rich brick façades, flat roofs, richly carved wooden balconies and overhanging jharokas (windows with wooden shutters). Unplanned and haphazard construction has led to illegal encroachments and neglect of municipal services to open wiring and sewage in the streets. These not only compromise the beauty of the centuries-old buildings, but also cause traffic jams in the already narrow streets, putting their physical structures at risk and becoming a hazard to the inhabitants.

The Walled City of Lahore Authority (WCLA), an agency of the Government of Punjab, has been working to restore these neighborhoods, assisted by a World Bank project and valuable technical support from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Beginning from the Delhi Gate, the WCLA has restored a 383 meter-long heritage trail, leading up to Chowk Purani Kotwali. It encompasses a complete restoration of heritage architecture, and a replacement of infrastructure and services including underground telecommunications, electricity, gas, water and sewerage. Also included are encroachment removal, street paving, and street furniture.

Hafiz Zia, 53, is a lifelong resident of the locality and owns a stationery shop in Gali Surjan Singh, a fully restored model street of the project. He is also the Secretary General of the Community Based Organization of his neighborhood, formed by the WCLA, consisting of local residents as part of the project. “Before the restoration work was done, water would enter our shops during the monsoon causing huge losses,” he says, recalling the state of the streets he grew up in. Now, “We enjoy the monsoon rain instead of worrying about our losses or how to control flood water,” he says, calling the project a “dream come true” for the entire community. 

Twenty-three houses have been restored in Gali Surjan Singh, of which 13 were restored fully, including interiors. Sher Mohammad Jehangir’s family has lived in their house for four generations. The restoration work, he says, has raised their quality of life and that of their locality. ”The restoration has created a sense of participation in improving our living conditions.”

Open Quotes

I was always weary of sending my children out to play before the restoration work in our neighborhood. But now, at least, I know that the environment around my house is clean and safe. Close Quotes

Samina Afzal
Walled City resident

Social mobilization key to success

This participation is illustrated by his son Nadeem, an activist within the Walled City who works with social mobilization teams. These teams are fundamental to the success of the project, as the spirit of the project is to improve the community’s lives and livelihoods through the restoration and rehabilitation of its heritage. To accomplish this, the efforts have been led by the local community with the help of social mobilization teams who help convince residents of the benefits of conservation and urban rehabilitation. About 1,500 households have thus been engaged through this process. Without such community involvement, there would have been little progress in the project.

Similarly, social mobilizers and local activists engaged with encroachers outside the Shahi Hamam, the 380-year old Royal Bath, and succeeded in their voluntary resettlement outside the Walled City on payment of a mutually negotiated compensation package. The locality around the Hamam has since changed dramatically, as the façade of the Hamam has been revealed and is currently being restored.

Samina Afzal, another resident has been living in the Walled City for the past 13 years with her three kids, husband, and father-in- law. “I was always weary of sending my children out to play before the restoration work in our neighborhood. But now, at least, I know that the environment around my house is clean and safe,” she says.

As the project moves on to a new phase restoring more neighborhoods, Asif Zaheer, a Director at WCLA, says, “Our biggest challenge now is the sustainability of the project. We are mobilizing additional teams to raise awareness that we have restored a beautiful part of our heritage.” Zaheer, also a native of Lahore, feels proud of helping preserve his city’s rich history “This can become a model for the rest of Lahore, and for other cities in the country…it is our joint responsibility now to preserve it for future generations.”