Centuries back the location of towns and cities, at least superficially, seemed to be largely determined by the preferences of kings, princes, generals and other political and military leaders of society. Cities were never just parasitic; most have always added at least some economic value.
Refer back to the time when Islam flourished, Makkah was the most affluent and developed city in the kingdom, it was the economic hub. Similarly we have numerous examples of cities that have developed wherever agriculture was produced, was near the sea or had a port. In subcontinent Mumbai and Kolkata became the largest and most developed cities back in 18th century primarily because the British used these cities to develop ports to carry out trade. These examples still exist with Dubai as an example and in future Gwadar as a city to be developed primarily because it has a deep sea port.
However, this traditional view of early cities, while perhaps correct in its essentials, is also almost surely too limited in the current economic and global business environment. The key to successful urbanization in developing countries like Pakistan is to develop new industrial cities and town that can provide opportunities to achieve scale and scope economies for the industries through cheap lands, incentives, tax benefits and low cost labour, while the government gains from urbanisation and new development of cities.
Pakistan needs to implement a plan for the development of industrial cities. A basic plan to resettle or establish factories in cities where all the elements, such as basic services and equipment are available.
One of the pressing issue facing Pakistan is its reliance on Karachi as an industrial and income generating city. Karachi has seen an influx of people from all over Pakistan, who come to the city of lights to search for a good paying job and to start business, however, Karachi is unable to cope up with the current numbers of approximately 15 million people (Census 2017).
The government does not need to develop entirely new cities, it needs to identify cities that are already existing with basic necessities and ample land, the aim of this project should be to create employment opportunities for citizens of that area, and distribution of resources in a manner that ensures that the area has a carefully considered balance of each to reduce migration to the main cities.
Food for thought
Many examples exist today of cities that were developed and have become successful industrial cities. One example is of the city that is home to the world’s leading telecom giant Vodafone, Town of Newbury, Berkshire in UK, dubbed as the UK’s Silicon Valley. Newbury was a small town near the main city London, had ample empty land and was well connected to the city of London by roads. In 1985, Vodafone launched and headquartered in the city of Newbury, which at that time was a small town with hardly any skilled labour. As Vodafone grew, Newbury also grew, people from all of UK, Scotland and Europe started making their way to Vodafone, eventually schools developed, Vodafone built one of the best community centre in the town, medical facilities improved and the city got connected to London through rail network.
Today after almost 33 years, Newbury is home to not only the giant Vodafone, but also to many other tech companies. The city is bustling with residents from all over the world and tech workers are flocking to this historic market town – following a huge growth in the technology sector there. Newbury, has a higher ‘digital density’ than anywhere else in the UK, and new companies are seeking to expand beyond London in cities like Newbury.
New industrial cities should be set up in close collaboration with the private sector and in line with future needs of Pakistan. The government needs to engage city leaders, business leaders, experts and civil society in an urban strategic dialogue, the objective of this dialogue is to develop policy solutions that accelerate the delivery of human-centred, innovative, sustainable and affordable urban infrastructure and services required to prepare cities for the future.
The government needs to incorporate inputs of the local industrial and business community to make the future economic city successful. Identifying the cities will be one of the most important task and it should be carried out prudently and transparently by forming the basis of decision through supportive evidence. Once the cities have been identified the government needs to layout a strategic plan which could include free land, tax free zones, infrastructure development etc to encourage organisations to establish industries and head offices in the new cities. Once favoured, these cities will start developing with a cripple down effect, as new offices will bring experienced staff, who will encourage establishment of good educational institutes, medical facilities and other basic needs.
This plan also aligned with the overall vision of the new Prime Minister of Pakistan, who is keen and supportive of the idea to develop new industrial towns and cities.
The new government should focus on announcing new cities by the end of year 2019 so that the cities are visible by the next 25 to 30 years.