LAHORE IS LAHORE

The city gives more prosperous look and people are more contended. If purchasing power has been on the rise so has been the lifestyle.

By SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Feb 27 - Mar 05, 2006

Lahore is basically part of an industrial hub commonly referred to as the industrial and commercial triangle of Pakistan, which comprises Lahore city, Sheikhupura and Gujranwala. This industrial hub has around 10,000 units, which are also supported by Faisalabad and Sialkot. The fast pace of industrialization in this areas has resulted in conversion of agriculture land into industrial and housing units. However, Lahore is best known as home for foundaries, steel mills, textile units, and chemical factories. It also houses ailing film industry as well as information technology units, both hardware assembly units and software development houses.

The government has been discouraging industrialization in already highly industrialized urban areas, including Lahore. To facilitate establishment of industrial units in less developed areas the government has been offering concessions, incentives, and tax holidays. Since it peaked at 25% in 1987, the percentage of Punjab industry located in Lahore has been declining. Lahore's economic base isn't single dimensional, it is broad-based and diversified. Since 1981, it has undergone a paradigm shift, from manufacturing to services, which employs about 42 percent of its present workforce. This number is deceptive because only 34% of Lahoris are actually employed in the formal sector. It has a strong informal economic center, and 60% of the country is involved in serious informal economic activities. Lahore is also a major exporter of ready-to-wear garments and leather products.

Most of the built-up area of Lahore is an interesting mix of low and high income communities, as a result of squatter settlements all over the city, many of which have been regularized and upgraded by the government. These are known as "katchi abadis." One estimate says that 11% of Lahoris live in these, and 37% live in other "slums," but these statistics seem to vary wildly from source to source. Low-lying northern Lahore is the home of many of the industries of the city as well as many of the industrial workers. The population here is largely lower and middle class, and the population density in this area is very high. The southern urban expansion of Lahore contains a mixture of planned and unplanned urban development. In recent years, the Lahore Development Authority and private developers have been providing many plots for middle and upper class housing units. However, many lower class communities have begun squatting on these plots before anything has been built, resulting in many slums on the southern periphery of the urban area.

Horizontal expansion of Lahore has been completely constrained in the north by the Ravi River, because it floods heavily during monsoon. Expansion has also been constrained to the east because of the nearby Pak-Indian border. Most of Lahore's recent expansion has been directed towards the south. If Lahore actually does grow in population at the rate projected by the United Nations, it will be fascinating to see how Lahore adjusts to this growth. Though, it has started happening that old houses are being demolished and multistoried building are being constructed, the infrastructure will be highly insufficient to meet the demand.

Head office of Pakistan Railways is located in Lahore and the city is connected to all the major cities of Punjab as well as other provinces by road, rail and air. Ground travel to more far-flung areas had been a major problem for years, but now all of the major cities and towns in Pakistan are accessible to each other by road. In the last couple of years, a landmark was reached as a highway between Lahore and the relatively nearby national capital, Islamabad, was completed. All types of vehicles i.e. vans, buses, and coaches are available for every part of the country, from dilapidated and non air-conditioned vehicles, to air-conditioned, luxurious ones. Travel is also possible to India, China, and Iran. There is rail link from Lahore to Delhi, India. Lahore has an international airport, with flights to cities all over Pakistan, including Karachi, which is the main air travel hub of the country. Flights are also offered by international airlines connecting Lahore to the Central Asian countries.

The nature of vehicular traffic in Lahore has changed a great deal over the years. The proportion of animal-drawn and other slow moving vehicles has declined significantly. Now the population includes cars and two-wheelers. Buses also ply but facility is very limited. In the old city, most of the roads are too narrow for efficient motorized transportation. However, outside the old city wall's boundary, the streets are wide enough. There is widespread encroachment into the streets. Parking is also a major problem, both in the downtown, and in most of the major commercial areas of the city. Absence of parking facilities in most commercial areas has led to an overuse of roads for parking. Recently, several multi-storied parking decks have been built in Lahore in the areas needing them, but they are largely unused because of the lack of government control and enforcement of road parking restrictions.

Despite all the beautiful historical buildings, monuments, and parks in the city, perhaps the single most important leisure activity in Lahore, and its biggest draw to outsiders, is the shopping, especially the city's bazaars. The bazaars of Lahore are legendary, and shopping there is an intrinsic part of typical life of a Lahori.

Some of them are located in narrow streets where one cannot take his/her car and others are in very posh areas. In the old city, the main bazaars are the Kashmiri, Suha, Chatta, Dubbi, and Anarkali. The streets that these bazaars are located along are often so narrow that even entry of two wheelers has to be banned. The Liberty and Gulberg markets are the largest bazaars in modern Lahore. The Anarkali Bazaar in the old city, named after a courtesan of Akbar, is usually considered the largest and best of them all. One of the latest additions is the food street in Lahore. It offers from traditional to Chinese and European food. In the old city hundreds of outlets offer the traditional items.

Coming to the hardcore business activity, it is necessary to remember that industrial units of only small to medium size could be established within the old city. However, mega industrial units have been established on Lahore-Sheikhupura road. One such unit is polyester staple unit established by ICI Pakistan. There are also other medium and large size industrial units. However, most of these come under textiles and clothing. The value added units have been established mainly due to proximity to Faisalabad.

Some of the analysts say that contribution of Lahore is substantial in the overall economy of Punjab, whereas others say it is rather small. The difference in quantification is only because of difference in evaluation parameters. For example it may be said that huge quantum of cargo pertaining to international trade is from Karachi Port, but share of Lahore Dry Port is low. It is because a lot of import/export cargo originating/destined for Lahore is handled/registered at Karachi Port.

According to an analyst Lahore can be best described as a city that is just fabulous, that every nook and corner of the city speaks of a certain vibrance, a certain zeal, a spirit of life, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Perhaps it is the maturity of the city, which manifests itself in the various parts of Lahore. It is present in the monuments, in the bazaars, in the old buildings lining the Mall, or in the vast expanses of the sports grounds in the Cantonment. But most vividly, this great Lahori spirit is visible in the people of Lahore, the Zinda dilan-e-Lahore (The Zealous of Lahore). Lahore is a city of culture, of history, of an unrivaled charm that sets it apart from every other city on earth. It seems that great Lahori spirit has invaded and saturated this city over the centuries, to the effect that Lahore today is not just a city, not just a place in one corner of this planet, but a whole universe in itself.

Apart from being the cultural and academic centre of the country, Lahore is the showcase for Mughal architecture in Pakistan. For more than 200 years, beginning from about 1524 AD, Lahore was a thriving cultural centre of the great Mughal Empire. Mughal Emperors beautified Lahore, with palaces, gardens and mosques. The original citadel city is situated one mile to the south of the river Ravi, and some 23 miles from the eastern border of the Punjab district. The walls of the city, when they were still standing, gave it a shape of a parallelogram. The total area inside the walls encompassed roughly 461 acres of land. The city is slightly elevated above the plain, and has a high ridge within it, running east and west on its northern side. The whole of this elevated ground is composed of the accumulated debris of many centuries.

If Mughals were the builders of yesteryear Lahore, the new city has been carved over the last quarter century. Roads are being constructed and plantation is keeping the city cool and pollution is being contained. The single largest contribution of all the successive governments is that the city gives more prosperous look and people are more contended. If purchasing power has been on the rise so has been the lifestyle.