Creating Urban Villages


About 40% of the people in Pakistan live in Cities and an estimated another ten percent in peri-urban areas that have all the characteristics of an urban area but are not legally urban. People living in rural areas keep on migrating to cities in search of better employment, better health & education facilities and a better quality of life. This would continue to be so, till almost 70-80 of the people in this country start living in the cities, ranging from small towns to megacities of Karachi and Lahore.

This migration makes good economic sense, not only for individuals and their families but for the nation as a whole, since it’s the cities that are engines of growth. There is a direct correlation between the level of urbanization and the per capita GDP of a nation. There is hardly any country that is less than 65% urbanized and is a developed country.

However, the quantity of urbanization is not enough. We need quality as well. Unfortunately, Pakistan has not been very successful in maintaining the quality of cities in terms of infrastructure, housing, air quality, and services of transport, water, sanitation, waste management etc. In most of the large cities, the situation gets more complex, as the capacity of urban institutions doesn’t match the challenges.

We have been struggling with solutions…. But with little success. The best model we think is the DHA, Bahria Town, and similar private gated communities for the rich. But these colonies for the rich won't solve the problems, associated with large cities, as slums and ghettoes shall keep on developing side by side. What we lack and need is more inclusive & Sustainable development.

There is a large segment of society, including decision-makers who believe that urbanization needs to be contained to minimize the negative impact of cities. The answer they find is in integrated rural development to reduce migration. But this strategy is not likely to work, as villages would remain villages.

A city is defined by densities (upto 30,000 per sq km) and better-paying jobs, pucca and better housing, services of water, sanitation, waste management, transport, education, health and entertainment etc. While villages have more community living, better air quality, no congestion, and easy access of vegetables, milk, food etc., but little potential for wealth generation.

There could be a win-win situation. We can create a model of human settlements that has the positives of both villages as well as of cities, while avoiding the negatives of both? The answer is an Urban Village.

In simple words, rather the people migrating from villages to cities, let’s take the city to the rural areas. The concept can be explained better with a couple of examples:

A city is dependent upon jobs. So a small city / urban village could be established close to a center of jobs that would act as the magnet.

Key Features of An Urban Village:

A city is identified by density. More people living and working in a limited space adds value and has a multiplier effect in terms of wealth & knowledge creation. Usually, upto 30,000 people live per sq km of most of the urbanized Asian cities. Thus an urban village of the size of 1sq km, having 247 acres is a good enough size for building houses. We need urban villages with medium-density housing, allowing up to 6 stories. However, we need to provide all types of accommodation, including villas and semi-detached housing.

Internally the streets should ideally be pedestrianized.

The urban villages would be built closer to the points of employment, being the primary magnet for rural-urban migration.

Each Urban Village would have a buffer of at least half a km on all sides that would always remain agricultural land and its land use would not be allowed to change.

Each Urban village would be a Local Government Unit, as a neighborhood council. The villagers would directly elect the head of the neighborhood council, who would be called Village Headman. (Let’s keep our traditional name instead of mayor /chairman).

The urban villages would be linked to the major city/cities through high-speed Bus

Rapid Transit corridors, while different villages would be linked through local buses.

In most cases, there would be a number of urban villages in a region. At strategically located places, for every 6-10 villages, there would be a large village of up to 30,000 population. This central urban village would serve the adjoining villages in terms of relatively bigger facilities like hospitals, Colleges, shopping areas etc.

Bhera Service Area:

Bhera the largest motorway service area on M2 has a significant number of commercial establishments offering a variety of services and goods. The result is around 4000 to 6000 jobs that are providing these establishments. Where do these people live? In nearby villages and cities. Most of them travel on poor services public transport, take lifts or live in congested makeshift rooms.

Let’s assume, the government or a private builder takes a piece of land adjacent to the M2 service area and develops a small town of a population of less than 20,000. This means around 3000 -4000 houses. These would be mostly occupied by the workers of Bhera Service Area and hence need to be low-cost apartments. Initially, the builder might provide these on rent to speed up the colonization of the town. Once these families migrate to this town, additional services of markets, schools, clinics, banks etc would be set up, adding still more population. And a small town would be established in due course of town. Neat planning and quality services would make it an attractive place to live.

Out of City Retail Parks:

Another option to create jobs is to establish an out of city Retail Park along the motorway.

Along most of the built Motorways, we can have this kind of Retail Parks at almost every 200km. The concept is that it should be located close to a Motorway Interchange, within a ‘days trip’ of the major cities/towns. What we need is around 100-300 acres of land close to an interchange. Needed would be basic development of road network and plotting, into 1-3 acres plots, with ample paved surface parking, (paved with pavers like we have on the M2 interchange areas).

The kind of stores: Clothing stores, factory outlets, furniture shops, handicraft stalls, door/windows, and bathroom/kitchen accessory stores, supermarkets, farmer markets/ itwar bazaar, used car sale markets, car boot sale areas are some of the businesses that would jump to these places, being much less expensive than city center malls. Added would be food courts with outdoor (shaded & open) sitting areas. Even marriage halls can be built for nearby towns & villages.

In addition to the food court areas, there is a need to develop attractive public spaces, with ample free parking and free seating, where people can just sit & relax. On weekends and holidays; there could be other outdoor entertainment opportunities, like Street theater, Musical concerts, Outdoor movies, and much more. The entry would need good controls to provide security and avoid beggars and drug addicts. Shopping addicts would be welcome…. The architecture of the park and especially the entrance gates etc should be reflective of the regional & local culture and not bland western style.

Industrial Corridors,

like Lahore Sheikhupura Road

In Punjab, a number of inter-city roads leading to and from Lahore and other major cities have industries along the roads. An example is Lahore Sheikhupura Road, Sialkot Daska road, Lahore Pattoki road, etc. these roads need to be declared as “Industrial Corridors’. We all know that these industrial areas provide thousands of jobs and the workforce for these industries live in cities and villages nearby. What if we establish a number of urban villages at a buffer of half a km from the industrial corridor? (Fig 2)

The distance between Lahore sheikhupura is around 50km. If we create villages on both sides at suitable places, we may be able to have up to 40 -50 villages, with 15,000 – 20,000 population each. Thus almost a million urban population could be accommodated, without creating the issues of a large city.

Another key feature of Urban Villages would be a city center, with a shopping area and large public spaces, where people can gather, sit, relax and enjoy. The public space would be a place, where people can sit and enjoy, without having the obligation to spend money. These spaces and city center should be fully paved, brightly lit with abundant trees. Parks and grassy areas are not recommended.



Dr. Nasir Javed

Head of Public Sector Consulting | ACS Consulting | An ACS SYNERGY Company

He can be reached at|

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