Save Lahore

“Other than many famous historical monuments, the city [Lahore] is also known for its beautiful gardens…,” says the official website of the City Government Lahore. The website should instead say that in the good old days, Lahore used to be know for its greenery and was called the “city of gardens”, but today many of its old parks and gardens are gone – even those that were a vital part of the city’s identity. For instance, the Circular Gardens that ran alongside the walled city were turned into a stormwater drain, but it actually serves as a stinking sewer. The leftover green patches of the garden provide a sleeping area for the homeless working class and it would be nothing short of an insult if these patches are called a ‘garden’. Successive governments in Lahore seem to have been sold on the idea that development and modernisation mean turning the city into a concrete jungle. Lahore has been taken over by commercial bedlam, which has destroyed the true essence of the city’s traditions and history.

Traditionally, Lahore’s architecture had a flavour that was horizontal rather than vertical – with the exception perhaps of the old inner city – as vertical living was not part of our tradition. But with the advent of high rises in Lahore, this trend changed. The high rises are not just limited to commercial areas, but have now moved towards residential areas too, resulting in the concentration of people and vehicles at these given points. Failure of proper planning for traffic and parking has reduced access to road space and led to sheer chaos. On top of the excess load on roads, the incremental entry of vehicles due to the new leasing schemes introduced by the banks has added to the problems. Car leasing is a good measure, but only if we have sufficient public transport, which is missing. It is not possible any more to travel around the city without a vehicle, which has added to traffic congestion and pollution.

Ironically, this pollution could have been mitigated by trees, but they are the first victims of urban development. The felling of an estimated 3,600 trees to facilitate the proposed remodelling of both sides of the Canal Road from Dharampura underpass to the Canal View Bridge speaks of how nature is being sacrificed at the altar of development. The authorities must remember that trees are the lungs, water filters, and air conditioners of any urban environment. Research has proved how effectively trees clean the air, purify surface water, and cool urban heat. Obviously the planners had no concept of conservation of trees and it is evident that the protection of the environment is not a matter that is taken seriously by the authorities. The only people who have risen to the task and protested against such an impending environmental disaster are public spirited citizens. The ‘Lahore Bachao’ (Save Lahore) committee is one such constructive group and this platform has a lot of credibility due to the track record of some of its components as conservationists, urban planners and environmental experts.

The pertinent question that arises regarding the wholesale tree felling is whether the widening of roads would help solve the traffic congestion problem? It may prove to be no solution even in the medium term, as the increasing traffic would have overtaken the additional road space by the time the widening is done. The government must look for other options to address the traffic chaos. The time to save Lahore from the looming catastrophe that seems to be its fate is running out. If such disregard for the environment and the city’s traditions continues, Lahore would turn into an urban nightmare.

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