Saturday, September 21, 2013

Plans to transform Clifton's Nehr-e-Khayyam into a Hip Hop Destination

Urban decay is more worrying in areas such as, say Saddar, which is home to places of architectural and heritage value. It tends to set in when people and businesses move out from that neighbourhood. In the US, for example, many financially prosperous city districts in the north faced urban decay when ‘suburbs’ developed and the wealthier communities moved out of the inner city. Urban decay also happened when industrialisation in the south attracted businesses from the north as they took advantage of cheaper labour and tax incentives. Urban decay is also triggered by poor infrastructure (pavements) and services planning (garbage collection) and a rise in population.

In response, cities need to undertake ‘urban renewal’ targeted at historic preservation, slum clearance, crime reduction, improving housing stock and infrastructure and most importantly, bringing economic vibrancy to the area.

The nullah on Boat Basin (left) will be transformed into a ‘cultural corridor’ if the proposed Nehr-e-Khayyam project in Clifton goes through. In the map above, researcher Mahwish Rasool points out the cultural zones in the neighbourhood.

In Karachi, different forms of urban decay are visible in many areas. Take for example, its ‘downtown’, which houses the ‘historic quarters’ of Karachi – Saddar and adjoining localities. These neighbourhoods that were once the city’s cultural and recreational soul, a vibrant and colourful urban space, now exist as a sorry shadow of their past glory with decaying facades, traffic chaos and crumbling infrastructure. Many other parts of the old city have met a similar fate. Natural ecosystems have also been degraded.

Planning and design interventions to breathe life back into such spaces though articulated within civil society have not led to action and just come up against the wall of the state’s inertia. ‘Urban renewal’ plans are always authorised by the ‘state/government’ and in many instances facilitated through specially empowered ‘urban renewal agencies’. This is important as the government is best placed to tackle some important prerequisites for urban renewal. They may include acquisition and resale of property and instituting financial mechanisms, such as tax and loan incentives to encourage and enable the private sector to invest.

Other than Saddar, Clifton has also historically served as a cultural zone but that cultural identity has been eroding. However, what is good is that exciting ‘ideas’ for city rejuvenation keep coming! Recently, a thesis project was completed at the Department of Architecture and Planning, NED University of Engineering and Technology, Karachi. Its focus was the drainage channel of Nehr-e-Khayyam that was considered as a critical ‘connector node’ or a vibrant ‘cultural corridor’ linking a larger complex of ‘collective spaces’.

According to Mahwish Khawja Ghulam Rasool, who conducted and authored the research, the ‘vision’ is to have a commercial and recreational zone in Clifton with ‘collective spaces’ with the Nehr-e-Khayyam acting as the ‘connecting node’ providing a ‘cultural corridor’. (Indeed, in the 1973-75 Master Plan it was proposed as a recreational zone!) This cultural corridor would connect spaces in ‘old’ and ‘new’ Clifton, such as the Boat Basin backwaters and food street, Sailors Club, Zamzama shopping district, Mohatta Palace and Abdullah Shah Ghazi Mazaar area. As Mahwish says, the main theme of the project is ‘connections’ – the city landscapes with historical and cultural assets and connecting people and their diversified cultures. Nehr-e-Khayyam itself was proposed to serve as an exciting ‘water body’ by offering boat rides, housing a fashion house as a flagship cultural space, pedestrian walkways, decked pavilions, festival spaces, artists bazaars etc.

Many people in the city have envisioned change. Projects such as the Nehr-e-Khayyam ‘cultural corridor’ offer a vision and hope to breathe life back into public spaces, enhance economic vibrancy and celebrate our cultural and historical diversity. The private sector has the motivation, capacity and willingness to invest. The city government only has to act as an enabler. Can that happen? We wait in hope.

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