What is ‘Messy and Hidden Urbanization?’
Mark Roberts, Senior Urban Economist of the World Bank and a co-author of the report, explained ‘Messy’ as the widespread existence of slums and sprawl. This sprawl he said helps gives rise to urbanization, on the peripheries of major cities, which is not captured by official statistics, hence, the ‘Hidden’ part of the equation. ‘Messy’ urbanization also manifests itself in the form of inadequate access to housing, drinking water, and sanitation services, not to mention city streets that are gridlocked with traffic.
Unplanned urbanization can also be witnessed in the widespread existence of poverty and slums. In Pakistan in 2010, about one in eight urban dwellers lived below the national poverty line and an estimated 46.6 percent of the urban population lived in slums.
Officially, 36 percent of Pakistanis lived in urban settlements in 2010 but the World Bank estimates that the actual share of the population living in areas with urban characteristics may be as high as 55 percent. Furthermore, as urban areas have expanded and spilled-over their formal administrative boundaries, so Pakistan has witnessed the emergence of continuous belts of urbanization that exhibit the form of large multi-city agglomerations. This is particularly true in Punjab province where Lahore, Chiniot, Gujranwala, Gujrat, Lalamusa and Sialkot now form part of a single belt of urbanization that is visible in satellite imagery of lights at night. Acknowledging the true extent of urban areas can help to facilitate better planning and metropolitan management.
Pakistan’s cites are the primary generator of GDP in the country and the Government’s Vision 2025 priority is urban job growth. Planning ahead for urban growth can help create vibrant and productive cities that fuel the country’s growth, but that requires dealing with the existing problems of unplanned urbanization. Failure to do so will only perpetuate the status quo of cities which lack livability.
To better tap into the economic potential that urbanization offers, the World Bank report asks policymakers in Pakistan and the rest of South Asia to consider actions at two levels – the institutional level and the policy level. At the institutional level, Pakistan would benefit from improvements in the ways in which towns and cities are governed and financed. Specifically, the report suggests reforms to address three fundamental urban governance deficits – in empowerment, resources and accountability:
- Intergovernmental fiscal relations must be improved to address empowerment;
- Practical ways must be identified to increase the resources available to local governments to allow them to perform their mandated functions; and
- Mechanisms must be strengthened to hold local governments accountable for their actions.
“The recent local government elections and the fact that cities will soon have democratically elected mayors presents an unprecedented opportunity for Pakistan to address these three urban governance deficits and thereby leverage much better the benefits of its urbanization process,” said Peter Ellis, Lead Urban Economist and a co-author of the report.
They may also help provide the catalyst for other reforms that are necessary to address, in particular, messy urbanization and bring about lasting improvements in both prosperity and livability. These include policies to improve the ways in which Pakistan’s cities are connected and planned, the working of land and housing markets, and cities’ resilience to natural disasters and the effects of climate change. Forum participants from different walks of life including, government, media, think tanks, academia, and civil society displayed keen interest in the subject and engaged in a lively exchange with the experts.