Nothing perhaps characterises the struggles of the Global South better than the quintessential image of a boisterous, over-crowded city in the developing world. Environmentally unsustainable, racked with anomie and on occasion at the brink of civil war, these cities in a microcosm highlight the inequality and biased planning that lie at the heart of neoliberalism. Just as it has come to dominate nearly all facets of modern-day life, neoliberalism has also significantly shaped urban planning the world over, including Pakistan. Lahore, for instance, with its dazzling lights redolent of Times Square, and its ‘signal-free’ corridors that Pakistan’s acclaimed architect Arif Hasan calls a ‘nightmare’ for pedestrians, highlights how neoliberalism has come to dominate urban planning and policy. To move towards better city planning, therefore, it is crucial to first understand what constitutes neoliberal urban planning and how this has impacted peoples’ lives in Pakistan and the world over. The neoliberal city: A city for investors As academic Wendy Brown argues, neoliberal rationality aims to transform individuals and societies into human capital and into physical spaces that generate investment and growth. This line of thinking naturally impacts the way neoliberal policy envisages urban planning, and has given birth to the modern city which is seen as a hub of finance and of ‘entrepreneurial’ activity. At the heart of this neoliberal city is the belief that the state encumbers economic growth. A neo-liberal city, therefore, has very little state control and instead relies on experts that make important decisions. Thus, an ideal city should have industrial and tax-free zones, and should be a top recipient of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Neoliberalism’s desire to attract investors in turn gives birth to the other features that define a modern neoliberal city, or what Arif Hasan calls ‘the world class city.’ As policymakers and investors descend on the neoliberal city, the city undergoes a complete transformation that sees its lower-income neighbourhoods pushed to the margins, while high-rises, commercial buildings and garish advertisements come to define the city’s centre. Again, Lahore with its affluent restaurants, wide expansive malls, and electronic billboards embodies this form of planning. Neoliberal urban planning’s most pernicious impact, however, is the inequality it gives birth to, and how it marginalises those who already function on the fringes of society. Lahore, sadly, once again serves to exemplify this phenomenon. The city is already too difficult to navigate on foot, and with the proliferation of flyovers and signal-free corridors, pedestrians find it increasingly challenging to move around the city. These flyovers also tend to bypass older and under-developed parts of the city, and connect affluent segments with one another. This connection is a blatant example of neoliberal planners trying to hide away the squalor and inequality that exists, and showcases how neoliberal planning creates the false mirage of progress in the world class city. Neoliberalism’s penchant for commercial buildings and for centres that generate the most revenue also tends to push lower-income households and commercial enterprises to the outskirts of a city. This displacement of long rooted communities in fact gives birth to pockets of racial and ethnic minorities emerging in different parts of the city. Large urban areas such as Los Angeles, New York and indeed Karachi highlight this phenomenon. These places also become centres of crime and violence, not because of any racial or ethnic characteristics, but because of how neoliberalism extirpates these communities and completely destroys the economies these communities relied on. The impact of adhering to a neoliberal mode of urban-planning Neoliberal urban planning has severe ramifications on the social fabric and on individuals living in neoliberal cities. The stratification that neoliberalism engenders in society, for instance, gives birth to ethnic, racial and class tensions. This stratification emerges on both a physical and mental level. The physical aspect occurs when minorities are pushed into small pockets and colonies, while the psychological stratification emerges when people find solace in religion, race and ethnicity to ameliorate the debilitating impact of losing one’s identity and sense of self under neoliberal rationality. This stratification also plays out on an environmental level, and in the wake of natural disasters. As Razmig Keucheyan highlights in his book, ‘Nature is a battlefield’, localities belonging to minority groups and the downtrodden are far more prone to damage and to loss from natural disasters, simply because the affluent classes take the prime land and the land least susceptible to damage. Housing colonies and communities belonging to the rich also tend to have more green spaces and open parks, which naturally results in their areas having cleaner air and less pollution. These pockets that are off limits to all but the rich stand in sharp contrast to the highly dense and concrete spaces where the cities’ downtrodden reside. The poorer segments of society, moreover,also lack the water and sewage facilities found in high-end residential areas, thus giving birth to diseases such as cholera and diarrhoea. The inequality lying at the heart of neoliberal urban planning leads to immense psychological trauma and pressure for the marginalised. Pushed into cramp spaces, forced to navigate and commute increasingly threatening roads in far longer journeys, and stopped at every check post, the world class city’s oppressed classes bear the psychological brunt of an urban policy that caters solely to the rich. This psychological trauma, in fact, explains in large part the belief many elites have of how the common Pakistani is highly ‘irrational’ and prone to anger. This idea then gives birth to how the upper strata of society demonises and dehumanises the poor, calling them ‘irrational’ and ‘prone to sin’. Both Engels and Fanon, in fact, addressed this demonisation, and claimed that it stems from the elites’ own fears of those they oppress, and from the psychological impact poverty has on the poor. Looking beyond neoliberalism: Urban planning for the majority Neoliberal urban planning’s debilitating impact on society and on individuals makes it necessary that we as a state look beyond the contours of this urban policy, and move instead towards city planning that truly benefits the masses and those whose voices continue to remain trampled upon. The first step the state must take in re-planning cities is to establish housing schemes for the middle and lower classes. This, however, involves an uphill battle against landowners and speculators, and requires bursting the bubble that has led to land prices and rents soaring in cities like Lahore The first step the state must take in re-planning cities is to establish housing schemes for the middle and lower classes. This, however, involves an uphill battle against landowners and speculators, and requires bursting the bubble that has led to land prices and rents soaring in cities like Lahore. The state must, therefore, take steps that end land speculation in the country. The incumbent government’s decision to revaluate property prices in Pakistan’s major urban areas was a good starting point. The government must take this measure to completion and follow it up by charging a tax on land in urban areas that continues to remain idle after a certain amount of time. This will ensure people do not invest in the real estate market solely for speculation. Provision of low-cost housing itself should take into account the income and size of families, as well as factors such as the number of breadwinners and disabled in the family. The United States, for instance, has different income and family size slabs that determine the size of the house each family will receive. In Pakistan’s case, it is absolutely crucial that we assess the number of handicapped as well because Pakistan has too often ignored the handicapped and those too infirm to work. Pakistan’s cities are also increasingly resembling concrete jungles, with a penchant for large housing societies eroding green spaces in the country. This policy has severe ramifications on personal well-being and on Pakistan’s environment. Adequate urban planning will therefore, place a strong emphasis on developing parks and on planting trees in Pakistan’s urban areas. A drive to make cities green, in fact, must go hand in hand with the provision of low-income housing. Societies that provide public housing, for instance, must have a cap on maximum land density, with the remaining area left for parks. In London, for example, thirty percent of the city’s total area is covered by green spaces. Pakistan too must adopt a similar figure for its cities. Each housing community must have a park that is easily accessible by foot for those residing in these communities, and open spaces must not be restricted solely to the wealthy. Newly constructed houses must also adopt the model of green architecture that incorporates factors such as the placing of windows and planting of trees so that houses remain cool in the summer, and insulated in the winter. We must also ensure that quiet places sheltered from the commotion and the din of traffic exist in our cities. This is once again crucial for the mental welfare of people, because noise pollution has a significant impact on peoples’ emotions and behaviour. This can only happen, however, if we prevent commercial enterprises from encroaching on residential lands, and ensure that noise levels are closely monitored in our cities. The European Union has in fact made ‘quiet places’ a central part of its urban planning, with city authorities closely managing noise levels in different urban areas. This project involves setting noise thresholds for different areas, and ensuring these quiet places are easily accessible to all from their places of work and from their houses. It is also high time that we rethink our approach to traffic management and to public transport in the country. As already mentioned, flyovers and signal free areas do little to assist those on foot. Thus, we need to plan our roads in a way that allow for greater mobility on foot and that prioritise public transport. The government therefore must impose strict laws to ensure people respect cross walks, and must also develop overhead crossing points for pedestrians across main roads. Public transport, similarly, is not solely to improve traffic congestion, but also provides mobility for those who find themselves living far from the city centre and from their workplaces. For this reason, the Orange Line project and the Metro Bus project in Lahore are excellent public transport schemes that will ensure people living on the fringes of the provincial capital have easier access to the city’s centre. It is evident that challenging the hegemony of neoliberal thought is a daunting prospect. It is, however, high time that we recalibrate our approach to public and urban policy, and develop physical and public spaces that cater to all, and not just to the privileged few. The writer graduated from Aitchison College and holds a double Bachelor’s degree in economics and history from Cornell University. He also studied at Oxford University, and his interests include studying the politics of class, gender and race, and the political economy. email@example.com Published in Daily Times, June 1st 2018.