Karachi is fast becoming a concrete jungle with the construction of high-rise buildings. Previously, multi-storey buildings were constructed in old town, but now skyscrapers are being constructed on the coastal-line also. Parks are vanishing fast and plants grown on both sides of the roads are being cut in the name of creation of clear vision for the drivers. This on one hand creates pollution and on the other hand give birth to other related health and social issues, the worst being the traffic jams on the roads.
Traffic jams have become a norm mainly due to the encroachments on roads and lack of designated parking space outside the residential and commercial buildings. This is the worst outcome of construction of multi-storey buildings have hardly any parking space within the units. Space allocated for parks and parking have been taken over by the land grabbers, where car repairing workshops, fast food outlets and marriage gardens have been constructed. In fact, playing grounds of schools and universities have been converted into marriage gardens and banquet halls.
Initially, the city of Karachi expanded horizontally. If one starts the journey from seaport and travels up to 40/50 kilometers in various directions, he/she remains in the municipal limits of the city. Despite expansion, the old city remains the center of commercial activities. The mega industrial sites have been developed in SITE, Landhi and Korangi areas. After the construction of Bin Qasim Port, an adjoining industrial zone has been developed. However, only the low-wage workers live in the vicinity of these industrial areas. The white collar workers, middle and top management and owners live in different parts of the city i.e. Nazimabad, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Gulistan-e-Johar, PECHS and DHA. A serious problem arises because most of the people move in a few particular directions in the mornings and in the reserve directions in the evenings.
Lack of efficient and dependable public transport has become the key reason for the phenomenal growth in motorcycle and car population. If one observes mostly one individual is seen travelling on motorcycles and even driving a car. With the availability of motorcycles at low price, after the influx of Chinese and local brands and financing facilities, population of two-wheeler has increased phenomenally in the city. The same is also true about cars as now banks offer car financing at attractive terms. CNG rickshaws were also offered on easy installments in the past and the number now runs into hundreds and thousands.
Buses and mini-buses are vanishing fast from Karachi because of two reasons: 1) non-availability of financing facilities and 2) inability to compete with CNG rickshaws. The condition of public transport is highly depleted and even white collar workers don’t prefer to use it. This has resulted in the vertical growth – construction of skyscrapers with average 10-storied building within the main city. In certain areas, population density is very high, one such example is Gulistan-e-Johar, which is also called ‘Concrete Jungle’ as the largest number of flats have been constructed in this part of the city. It is estimated that the population of this area now exceeds 3.5 million. During the peak-hours traffic jams are common because main arteries like Rashid Minhas Road, Shahrae-Faisal and University Road have proven incapable of handling the massive number of commuters. Currently, expansion work on Shahrae Faisal and University Road is going on, which has added to the miseries of the residents of Karachi.
With the vertical growth, the cost of housing units in the main city has gone up phenomenally as people wish to live close to their work places and schools and universities of their children. Often the residents are willing to pay higher rent in the main city as it saves them from spending huge sums in terms of fuel charges. Despite robust growth in multi-storey buildings, horizontal growth is also there. Now the residential areas on National Highway have expanded to Gharo and Toll-Plaza on Super Highway.
The average travelling time during peak hours is up to 2 hours. According to the residents of Gulistan-e-Johar, reaching I. I. Chundrigar Road, the financial hub of Pakistan takes minimum 90 minutes. The residents of North Karachi face even worse situation because they are stuck in various bottlenecks. These include I. I. Chundrigar Road itself, Governor House, Saddar, FTC, PAF Faisal Base, if one is travelling on Shahrae-Faisal. If one chooses to travel on University Road, the worst bottleneck is the areas around Empress Market. The highest number of encroachments is found in the areas managed by the Karachi Cantonment Board. Most of this area has been declared ‘Red Zone’ but encroachments and parking on the roads is common. The credit of these traffic jams also goes to the traffic police. However, the picket in-charges say that they are helpless because of the movement of VVIP cars with their security staff and parking of their cars in the ‘No Parking’ Zones. One could also find a parking plaza constructed in the area, where hardly any vehicle is parked.
Having arrived at the conclusion that they could not expect any favour from the government, the residents have found their own solutions. Now hundreds and thousands of ‘Contract Carrier’ are seen running on the roads carrying schools going children and female workers. Even men who have cars/motorcycles also choose to use this type of transport for going to offices. Previously, wholesale markets, furniture markets, jewellery outlets were confined to certain areas. Now such markets operate in almost all the areas. The moral of the story is that people will have to play a proactive role in overcoming the problem, with a bottom line that the government is the biggest hurdle in the development of the city.