Connecting our cities not just with flyovers but with people

Published: April 18, 2012

My future Karachi would be a city where my experience of growing up would not be as drastically different from that of another 18-year-old, growing up in Lyari. PHOTO: IOWNKARACHI.COM

What do you want Islamabad to look like in 2042?

If there’s anything the geography component of O’ Level Pakistan Studies taught me, it was to appreciate my city. One of the chapters was “Population in Pakistan”  full of sketches of villagers moving to new cities. A friend underlined one reason given in the textbook for rural-urban migration: Bright lights.

“Of all things, that’s why people migrate?” she asked with a bemused laugh.

But that is true to some extent as Karachi is a city of bright lights. Take a ride at night and the billboards will prove this. Is your child eating nutritiously? Try new formula! Dress elegantly – wear XYZ lawn!

Karachi feels like a never-ending kaleidoscope of things you can buy, or make, or do, if you have time and money. And that is why 18 million people live here from all over Pakistan.

This Sunday, the Institute of Architects of Pakistan organised its exhibition. It was fun to note the vitriol among the milling architects over ineffective government, the chaotic sprawl that Karachi has become. 85 per cent of sewage is being dumped untreated into the sea. We had too many people and too few buses. Clearly, these were a few things my Pakistan studies course had brushed aside.

But there was optimism as well. Several of the architects and planners mentioned that much loved phrase “the youth of Pakistan”. That is how I ended being a panellist on the Building Bridges Karachi session.

“So, Meiryum, what do you want Karachi to look like in 2042?”

Heads swivelled my way and I pulled a blank.

No one has ever asked people my age that question, funnily enough, considering that we’ll be the one’s living here in the future. If I were younger, I would have wanted Karachi to look the set of the Jetsons: jets packs and sleek transport, clean machines and a metro. Skyscrapers. Karachi’s filth would magically vanish.

But the concrete doesn’t make a city what is. It’s the people and it’s the attitude. I’m not six-years-old any more and I know that it doesn’t matter how much Karachi transforms if it only affects some people and not others.

My experience of Karachi — as the city of shiny billboards — may very well have been different had my parents worked different jobs, had I gone to another school or lived in some other neighbourhood. Even the car I use to reach school is telling; I don’t use public transport.

The bigger Karachi gets, the more isolated its localities seem to become.

One of the students in the audience said there wasn’t one single place in Karachi where all teenagers hung out:

“We only go to Saddar when we want to watch Hunger Games in 3D, or to Nazimabad when we want to eat at Hardees.

Karachi had become for her, as it has to several people my age I know, a city where you only leave your enclave when absolutely necessary.

The challenge is to make a sustainable city which doesn’t devolve into islands of seclusion. My future Karachi would be a city where my experience of growing up would not be as drastically different from that of another 18-year-old, growing up in, say, Lyari.

Karachi would be a city where (s)he and I would use the same underground system to get to school.

This is not a utopian vision; after all it is a city of 18 million with its share of disparity. But the disparity would be less. The city would be connected not just in terms of bridges and underpasses and flyovers, but in terms of people.

Read more by Meiryum here.

Meiryum Ali

Meiryum Ali

A freshman at an ivy league school who writes a weekly national column in The Express Tribune called "Khayaban-e-Nowhere".

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Faisal

    Good article !! I could understand the message which you want to convey because the similar emotions I had in my mind almost 20 years ago when I was at your age but today when I take a look at my city many dreams have shattered and we have no other choice but to live with it and keep struggling to make things a little better with a ray of hope. Recommend

  • pseudo intellectual— not

    was there a point to this article ? whining or rather boasting abt. why karachi is getting more elitist, mentioning hunger games and hardees , this reference in the article is limited to people from posh localities, as your title clearly shows , khayaban-e-no where , you’re the official spoke person of the hipster crowd from posher localities miss o so very o’ levels !

    p.s:- glass you wear are oh so uber elite !

    double p.s :- just so you know i too live in dha !Recommend

  • Kaka

    May your wishes come true.Recommend

  • Ovais

    omg … the preacher miss marriyam is here to comment on karachi ethnic problem… seriously ET what is wrong with my blogs… Recommend

  • Ovais

    I cry every single day

    I cry every single day at what unfolds to these eyes, I can’t dream of what has occurred in the past 20 years , I have suffered too much , yet still I somehow live among all the atrocities. I am like a working father who works his socks of day in day out and is suffering from cancer now, yet no one cares . those who feed on me or rely on me care less about murders then electricity , while I stood ground every day whether it be for Baluchistan , Interior Sindh , Drones etc.

    What is my fault I wonder someday, am I so ugly and disgusting that I am owned by none. With blood soaking leechers looting me day in day out , it’s sad that they don’t care of their fellows and every day internally I bleed. I bleed so hard yet still I myself don’t know how I stand up again, the next day and start running because I need to run if this country needs to progress. I am old , over populated , polluted and filled with blood and violence while onlookers look at my situation.

    I just wonder at times that even God is surprised at me , I wonder if this is worse than hell at times , surely if there is hell on this planet its either in Palestine or Karachi . but then as soon as I give up my hope and start to die , a child rises from the ashes running towards a better future, he studies at day time , gives tuition in evening and takes tuition at night. How can I deny that bright light a chance to live , a chance to progress and I gather all my courage and stand .

    I would love to go back to my humble abode , but this country needs me standing , its difficult but I need to carry on and take this country along. So bring whatever you have , I have seen worse now, my people have seen worse now yet still their attitude is unimaginable. So while you make fun of my populace for their lack of grammar , for their love of MQM, PPP, ANP , please do note they work 200 days way way harder than you work in all 365 hartal freee days.

    So karachiites pull your socks up , and put on your Qafn , because every day is a war for you , or you can change and denounce every single nationalistic party ,whether it be Altaf’s MQM, the Aman Committee’s PPP , or shahi Syed’s ANP . Karachiites its high time we decide to change cause if we don’t Karachi can one day be so sick that he wont stand up , imagine what will Pakistan do then. Recommend

  • Amjad

    Karachi needs people like you who have vision and passion for the city. Unless the people of Karachi take ownership of their city with pride, no development will take place. Look at how Lahore has improved – not only in terms of infrastructure but also in terms of economic development and education. Mind you Lahore has a Chief Minister who takes a personal interest in seeing Lahore and the Punjab develop. Unfortunately, Karachi cannot develop along the pace of Lahore until there is a similar level of stability which exists in Lahore.Recommend

  • Parvez

    I was wondering where you had disappeared to and then this comes along.
    I was born in Karachi and live here, this city is a dump of a city but its my city. If only the people responsible for managing this city would also ‘own’ this city as theirs and not look at it as one big machine to mint money from and then run away to Dubai or London, things would mprove.Recommend

  • Suarez

    I think Karachi should reduce it’s population drastically, by exporting people all around the world and country.Recommend

  • manish


    yes, you are way better than the girl here.

    but what she is saying is from a teenager’s perspective. and it’s very important that we should know what the younger generation is thinking.
    ET is right when it gives opportunity to youth to express their feeling. that way, if youth is wrong, you have an opportunity to correct them. and if they are right, one must appreciate them.Recommend

  • Vigilant

    Being a Civil Engineer myself and working in fields of project planning, environment and sustainable construction…..only thing which can make living places, neighourhoods and cities like your dreams or dreams of every patriotic Pakistani is education and awareness of common masses……no matter how beautiful, sustainable structure u plan & built…..if the user don’t aware… will make no difference Recommend

  • Ovais

    I am part of that generation … only 21 :(Recommend

  • pseudo intellectual— not

    and rather than doing something practical what do you do , oh write a heartfelt article about, karachi’s problem ? yah , as if that’s going to help out in a big big and create “awareness” by being forwarded and retweeted in different social forums such as facebook, twitter & what not. until finally a social forum petition will be generated in light of this article , which will have thosuands of names and then it will be printed and given to our competent leaders which will then do something about it in practical terms about what the article says…

    by point being, do something instead of just writing about it , you’re not kahil gibran !Recommend

  • Ali

    only one sentence

    AUTONOMOUS KARACHI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!Recommend

  • Muhammad

    Wonderful piece, Meiryum!Recommend