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Going High Rise in Cities

CONTRIBUTED BY: DR.NASIR JAVED Prime Minister Imran Khan has directed the cities to save agricultural land from further urban development and focus on building a high rise instead of urban sprawl.

In principle very good guidelines for smart urban planning.

As in most cases, translating a policy principle into corresponding zoning & building regulations is a challenge. It is highly probable that without much expert advice or any kind of analytical work, the Local Governments and Development Authorities would amend the existing bye-laws, relaxing the height restrictions in many zones across the city…. The result might be a bigger problem.

It is also probable that some experts and NGOs would start lobbying against this change in bye-laws and insisting on low-rise developments, in the name of poor infrastructure, environment, and culture. And one conclusion is for sure that both would be just lobbying, with little data or evidence.

The current blog doesn’t offer space for a detailed discussion on the subject, being a complex one and requiring much work. However, I would like to highlight just 2 relevant points.

1: The issue of urban services & utilities: The argument against going high is the lack of urban services and facilities, like road, water, sewerage, drainage, and parks, etc. Yes. That is a constraint. But in most cases of urban rezoning & redevelopment, the most critical constraint is that of road and mobility, especially in car-based cities. All other services can be managed/upgraded.

2: How to prioritize high-rise zoning. Currently, the LDA regulations permit height on the basis of road width…. Unfortunately not a very efficient formula. The solution is to link high rise zones with the routes of mass transit. The Orange Line and the BRT lines have the capacity to carry thousands of passengers per hour. However, the most probable commuters on these lines are people who can walk to and from the BRT / OL stations, while commuting from their homes to offices/shops. The evidence suggests that if people have to take multiple vehicles, they are not likely to use the BRT.

Almost all over the developed world, areas within the walking distance of BRT stations are most expensive for this reason and are permitted mix-use high-density development. The Ahmadabad BRT lines are a classic example, where building bye-laws were revised and within five to ten years, the entire landscape transformed into medium to high-rise redevelopments. So did happen in Vancouver and in many other cities.

Lahore has more than 50 BRT/OL stations. The area within a circle of 0.4 -0.6km radius is the golden zone. What the LDA needs to do is to carry out a survey of the existing land use for each of the zones around these stations and make a proposal for allowing up to no limit height constructions in this zone. Each of the 50 circles would need to be identified and selected as residential, commercial, or mix-use, depending upon the location and other factors of urban planning. Each of these zones would be around 1000 -2000 canals, of which at least half could be the built-up area.

Thus we get a high Rise zone of almost 20 - 40,000 canals of high-rise mix-use buildings. And the beauty of this development is that since it would be very close to these mass transit lines, would make passenger counts attractive and won’t cause as much car congestion, as would be if high rise are allowed across the city.

Last but not the least, the government won’t have to spend money, as enhanced taxation on these lots should be more than enough to pay for the infrastructure upgrade. In fact