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Shaping The Future.

Byline: DR MUHAMMAD BABAR CHOHAN

This transformative approach inspires people to create and improve their public places because it strengthens the connection between people and the places they share.

A meliorating the quality of places is surpassingly becoming the nucleus of policy and planning debates in the developed world. The rudimentary question, in this perspective, is about the institutional governance capacity of a country to bring about spatial improvements in a coherent manner. Such a capacity fundamentally relies on the quality of local and contextual policy cultures. The notion of 'quality of places' is applicable in most of the public welfare megaprojects in Pakistan including, but not limited to, Solid Waste Management in Karachi, Orange Train in Lahore and Metro Bus in Peshawar.

The inability of prevailing policy cultures to acknowledge the quality of places, as an essential function of robust spatial management, is a root cause of the failure of megaprojects in Pakistan. The concept of urban design is also inherently conjoined with the quality of places. During the circuitous process of defining urban design, there are no 'right' or 'wrong' approaches. It is rather 'better' and 'worse' handling of urban places for the citizenry. This suggests that the quality of places, in the long run, is determined by the ongoing policy practices defining otherwise unfathomable planning cultures.

The planning contraptions and policy practices are indeed engineered by a morass of attitudes and ingrained beliefs behind place-making and urban design in which megaprojects are built. Cities can act as engines of economic growth only if the quality of places is boosted through multiple vibrant processes revolving around economic, social, spatial, environmental and political determinants. Pasty Healey, a UK-based planner, notes that well-connected, well-informed and well-integrated policy cultures have the ability to surreptitiously mobilize and capture urban opportunities and improve local conditions. However, the pandemonium of fragmented policy practices lack connections with updated knowledge and power, resulting in their failure to augment quality of places. The snippet is that place-making is a holistic process requiring a step by step winnowing of urban externalities.

Against this backdrop, it may be underscored that policy cultures in Pakistan have despicably been finagled through dictatorial and dogmatic practices lacking an inquisitive approach to place-making. Consequently, there is an unbridled urban expansion in Pakistan, particularly the mushroom growth of housing schemes, literally swallowing vitally crucial green spaces. A seemingly insuperable challenge is to put a well-informed policy in place capable of framing robust urban design, effective place-making and transforming cities into engines of economic growth. A basic framework juxtaposing the state of places, the policy, and the processes to gradually integrate them with a tantalizingly conceived urban design is the kernel of this article.

As said earlier, there are no right or wrong approaches in place-making; a 2010 book "Public places, urban spaces: the dimensions of urban design", however, appears to sum it up. There can be three epicurean stages behind place-making: the design stage, the policy stage and the implementation stage.

The design stage is primarily a broad exposition of what we understand by the term 'urban design'. It is way beyond the narrow confines of visual and physical understanding of space making it a holistic and integrative phenomenon. This stage is reflective of the political and planning vision of cities' places while handling various socioeconomic externalities. Way above the traditional power centred practices; framing urban design is indeed an ethical activity in an axiological perspective. The policy stage needs to treat urban design as a holistic guideline thus accommodating various economic, social, spatial, environmental and political externalities. On the micro level, these externalities can further be bifurcated into morphological, visual, social, perceptual, functional and temporal fronts. The six overlapping dimensions truly define the perception of place-making.

The morphological, visual, social and perceptual dimensions mainly relate with the predominant perceptions about a place. The functional and temporal fronts are related with the policy and implementation processes. An urban design can be integrative meaningfully if the six dimensions are considered together in policymaking. The implementation stage translates the visions, enshrined in an urban design through a policy framework, into reality. The implementation stage is practically crucial in the sense that it does away with the unrealistic romanticism of seemingly attractive public welfare projects. The underestimation of a proposed project's costs and overestimation of its benefits may also be contained at this stage.

Once an effective place-making phenomenon is in place in Pakistan, the earlier mentioned megaprojects and housing schemes will be part of a pre-defined urban design. The understanding of space at three procedural stages will have the ability to come up with an institutional power capable of countering the interests of the powerful strata of society. The pith is to encourage, enable and even force high quality urban design capable of making the places better for people living in Pakistan.
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Author:DR MUHAMMAD BABAR CHOHAN
Publication:South Asia
Geographic Code:9PAKI
Date:Jan 31, 2020
Words:867
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