Karachi needs creativity-led urban development

LONDON: Globally, rapid urbanisation in the past two decades has led to a considerable proportion of population living in urban centres.

The UN-Habitat report for 2016 suggests that cities today are home to 54% of the population – a figure which will rise to 66% by the middle of the century.

Cities have played a crucial role in promoting global growth. Currently, the top 600 cities, which house a fifth of the world’s population, generate 60% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP). These cities are mainly in developed countries.

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By 2025, the contribution of the top 600 cities will most likely remain the same but the composition will change as there will be more cities from the developing world mainly from India, China and Latin America.

Besides being engines of growth, urban planners have argued that one of the key characteristics of leading world cities is that they attract the best and the brightest of minds, foster innovation and are foundations of prosperity.

Besides offering educational and professional opportunities, they also offer places for creative expression in the form of theatre, art galleries and restaurants. Academic literature has pointed out that greater population density, diversity and societal tolerance can drive creativity diffusion in cities and thus enhance economic productivity.

Creative cities: the case of Karachi

Karachi has galloped from being the smallest megacity in the developing world to witnessing a population boom, making it the 11th largest city of the world. It has widely been regarded as a microcosm of Pakistan with representation of all ethnic, political and religious groups.

This extraordinary growth momentum has been accompanied with severe pressures on public service delivery systems and deterioration in the security situation. Poor security situation over the years has led to spatial segregation with both ethnic groups and economic classes separating themselves in their respective zones.

With peace and normalcy returning to the city, several initiatives have been taken to reclaim public spaces, encourage engagement of the community with art and culture and make them inclusive for all.

Recently, the Pakistan Chowk Community Centre was inaugurated near the landmark cultural and heritage site as an initiative to uplift old town Karachi and provide a space to the public. Could steps like this herald creativity-led urban development for the city?

This has been the subject of a Pakistan Strategy Support Programme working paper which analyses the underlying factors which inhibit creativity-led urban development in many cities of the world. Taking the specific case of Karachi, they analyse the policy mix that can foster the emergence of creative clusters.

The paper uses a creative city model which operationalises three key policy parameters which are believed to foster creativity-led economic growth – mixed land use, greater public transportation access and improved societal tolerance.

The paper used survey data from Karachi on educational attainment, brain drain, high levels of creativity, income distribution and tolerance levels amongst the 18- to 34-year age cohort.

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Their model has indicated a positive relationship between mixed land use and emergence of clusters of creativity.

The same sensitivity has, however, not been observed in the case of greater urban mobility fostering the spread of creativity. The authors applied different scenarios to their model and found that relaxing urban zoning to mixed land use leads to city development.

They also found that higher societal tolerance levels are found to be positively associated with the proportion of creative agents.

Conclusions

Human diversity in large physical areas fosters the diffusion of creativity through the production of novel ideas.

With diminishing relevance of the traditional land, labour and capital paradigm, academics have argued that human ingenuity has become the central force behind economic progress in the 21st century. This leads to the crucial point that the key source of success in modern cities is their ability to attract and retain the most creative talent.

It is with vision, planning and financing that can help cities retain the brightest of minds, foster creativity and innovation and hence provide solutions to the numerous problems urban areas face today.

The writer is a doctoral candidate at The Bartlett, UCL

Published in The Express Tribune, August 28th, 2017.

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