Conservation of LahoreArchive
CITIES are complicated, organic entities, and changes to their makeup must never be conceived of in broad brushstrokes; it is better to put plans on hold until all the potential consequences of their execution can be assessed in detail.
Unfortunately, it would appear that the administrators of Lahore, the historical timeline of which spans several centuries, have not even reached this rudimentary level of reasoning.
The Punjab chief minister’s pet project, the (relatively) new metro bus system, had already been facing criticism on several counts — there are concerns about it changing the face of several localities with its elevated pathways, while many have asked whether this was the most expedient use of money.
Now an even more worrying dimension has been added. The route identified for the metro train project, work on which was started recently, is such that several buildings and sites of great historical significance will be affected.
These include the Shalimar Gardens which is on Unesco’s World Heritage List, and the colonial-era General Post Office. Even the Chauburji, whose grace has survived the centuries, and that, unfortunately, has been reduced to the centrepiece of a massive traffic roundabout in a densely tangled area, will not be spared it seems.
The issue has been taken up by several prominent citizens and organisations, and on Thursday a meeting convened by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan urged the government to review its urban development and other plans so that the principles of conservation are adhered to.
These crusaders for heritage and the environment are rightly arguing that poorly thought-out steps cannot be undone, and the direction in which the city is being taken will strip it of its soul.
The Punjab and Lahore administrations do urgently need to take all such reservations into account and to have the moral courage to go back to the drawing board if required.
City development and mass transit systems are vital, but there is no gainsaying the fact that irreparable harm can very easily be caused by them too.
Published in Dawn, October 31st, 2015
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