Urban Development on the Dying Ravi?

Invisible Cities | BLOG

Over the past two years, the Punjab government has picked up plans to develop the Ravi Riverfront as a mega project and has hired international consultants to prepare feasibility and detailed plans for the aforementioned project. In fact, just three days ago, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif pressed concerned agencies in Lahore for an “early completion” of the first phase. As listed in the rather ambiguous “Scope of Works” document published by the Urban Unit in August 2013, the overall scope of the proposed project entails:

  1. A major cleanup of the Ravi including provisions for wastewater / sewage treatment according to National Environmental Quality Standards (NEQS – 2000 & 2012) for water bodies; hydraulic studies, water availability & options for additional inflows in the Ravi, river training works etc.
  2. Development of flood containment area and to cater to different levels of flood scenarios.
  3. River channelization for an estimated length of 33 KM.
  4. Master plan for riverfront and urban development including residential, commercial, academic, recreational, mixed use and light industrial zones.
  5. Master plan for all public infrastructure and services including transport and utility.
  6. Establishment of institutional and regulatory frameworks to govern and manage the new riverfront urban development.

The project was first conceived as early as 2006, when a design charrette was conducted amongst local and international architects and academics (results unknown). A concept video on ‘River Ravi Boulevard’ then appeared on the internet in 2008/2009, which resurfaced again on PML-N’s YouTube page in 2012. The video may have been recorded for “concept clearance only” but it offers an insight into the administration’s aspirations for making Lahore a world class city through the development of golf courses, commercial malls, financial cities, industrial estates, hotels, clubs, etc. – all ingredients of exclusionary urban development that is designed to cater to, and benefit, a very limited segment of the population. If one may discredit the video documentary as an unreliable piece of evidence for where the intentions lay, there are more recent developments to suggest similar aims. A panel of members from the Ravi Riverfront project team recently visited the Sabarmati Riverfront in Ahmedabad, India, to establish the project as a direct precedent on which to base the model of Ravi’s riverfront development on. While Sabarmati, Indian prime minister Modi’s brainchild, is “close to the heart” of our current prime minister, officials in India are already rejecting the model for its unsustainable and superficial “restoration” of the river, as well as its massive displacement of the urban poor. If this precedent is followed, which it will be in all likelihood, the “restoration” of the river will mean an expensive plan for the channelization of the river with hard edge boundaries, which will effectively turn the river into a canal (and only God knows how the required volume will be provided consistently, let alone how the problem of flooding will be effectively reduced); set up an unsustainable wastewater treatment system; and most importantly, develop a large scale urban project that will effectively claim the entire riverfront strip for real estate tycoons and their favored kind of ‘development’ at the expense of the urban poor.

This Fall, a group of students from Razia Hasan School of Architecture at Beaconhouse National University (BNU) are working on a studio project which takes on the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project currently being pursued by the Lahore Development Authority (and its special cell unit). The studio has been positioned directly in response to the rather arbitrary ‘scope of works’ document published by the Urban Unit, which is understood as the basis on which the project will be envisioned. This studio project (as part of the academy) has been developed to channel the focus of the project towards healing the river rather than parceling it off as private property under the guise of restoration of the river. This is just one of the means through which the real pressing issues currently facing the river can be highlighted. There need to be many, many additional platforms actively pursuing the development and proposing alternative models for riverfront development if Ravi is not to be damaged beyond repair.

However, it is important to understand and acknowledge the problem before arriving at a solution. As the project picks pace, this photo essay is being published with the intention of highlighting just a few glimpses of the actual conditions of Ravi and its banks. This simple exercise is important so that Ravi’s condition is understood for what it is, and not for what it once was. Ravi, for all intents and purposes, is now Lahore’s dumping ground. It is hoped that these pictures will bring to fore the realities of the dying river so that when time comes to ‘develop’ this riverfront, the common consensus is to approach the river with the intention to heal, rather than to ‘design’ — where design is often a violent intervention on to the land and its landscape to reflect the aspirations and motivations of the decision-makers.


This is the Ravi that one sees when driving at high speeds across the Ravi River bridges right outside Lahore. A Ravi that looks rather alive – suggesting that the Ravi etched in the collective consciousness of the Lahore still thrives – especially during the months of monsoon. But one needs to slow down, or better yet, park, and observe how the river – historically known to be the lifeline of the city of Lahore – is now its dumping ground.

This is the Ravi that one sees when driving at high speeds across the Ravi River bridges right outside Lahore. A Ravi that looks rather alive – suggesting that the Ravi etched in the collective consciousness of the Lahore still thrives – especially during the months of monsoon. But one needs to slow down, or better yet, park, and observe how the river – historically known to be the lifeline of the city of Lahore – is now its dumping ground.

 

The river has effectively been cut off from the larger urban perimeter of the city of Lahore due to the construction of the Lahore Ring Road; it has been permanently relegated to the city’s periphery – a periphery that is conveniently out of sight, and thus, out of mind. Entering Lahore from Shahdara, on the old Ravi Bridge, one is greeted with a massive wall, almost like a fortification meant to demarcate the edge of the city. Through a tiny gap in that wall, one enters Lahore – a city guarded by a massive wall and a moat full of toxic water.

The river has effectively been cut off from the larger urban perimeter of the city of Lahore due to the construction of the Lahore Ring Road; it has been permanently relegated to the city’s periphery – a periphery that is conveniently out of sight, and thus, out of mind. Entering Lahore from Shahdara, on the old Ravi Bridge, one is greeted with a massive wall, almost like a fortification meant to demarcate the edge of the city. Through a tiny gap in that wall, one enters Lahore – a city guarded by a massive wall and a moat full of toxic water.

 

It is true that Ravi has suffered extensively due to geopolitical demarcations and its subsequent division of water in the subcontinent, but what is choking it is more than just that. There are approximately 12 main drains that directly pump untreated wastewater (including industrial waste) directly into the river. In addition to these 12 main drains, smaller drains throughout the length of Lahore and Shahdra on Ravi add to their toxic quantum. Lahore’s direct contribution to the river is an estimated figure of 3304 cusecs of untreated wastewater.

It is true that Ravi has suffered extensively due to geopolitical demarcations and its subsequent division of water in the subcontinent, but what is choking it is more than just that. There are approximately 12 main drains that directly pump untreated wastewater (including industrial waste) directly into the river. In addition to these 12 main drains, smaller drains throughout the length of Lahore and Shahdra on Ravi add to their toxic quantum. Lahore’s direct contribution to the river is an estimated figure of 3304 cusecs of untreated wastewater.

 

A large number of livestock farms as well as an equally large number of informal settlements form part of the landscape along the banks of the river. Most of them are positioned behind embankments; many of these embankments are occasionally cut through to drain out the wastewater that feeds from smaller drains. Livestock usually bathes and drinks from this wastewater, and waste from the livestock is often carried into the river through manmade wastewater channels, or when the river swells up enough to flow over and onto these areas.

A large number of livestock farms as well as an equally large number of informal settlements form part of the landscape along the banks of the river. Most of them are positioned behind embankments; many of these embankments are occasionally cut through to drain out the wastewater that feeds from smaller drains. Livestock usually bathes and drinks from this wastewater, and waste from the livestock is often carried into the river through manmade wastewater channels, or when the river swells up enough to flow over and onto these areas.

 

This is not water from Ravi. This is wastewater from the Mehmood Booti drain that has found its way to a pocket within the floodplains. Unmonitored earth excavations for construction purposes on the floodplain of the river create such pockets of low-lying land. For many drains that channel freely through the floodplains to eventually join the river, these pockets allow for wastewater to collect into them until the water eventually dries up, leaving behind extremely toxic residue on land that is then used for agricultural purposes.

This is not water from Ravi. This is wastewater from the Mehmood Booti drain that has found its way to a pocket within the floodplains. Unmonitored earth excavations for construction purposes on the floodplain of the river create such pockets of low-lying land. For many drains that channel freely through the floodplains to eventually join the river, these pockets allow for wastewater to collect into them until the water eventually dries up, leaving behind extremely toxic residue on land that is then used for agricultural purposes.

 

From Shahdra – behind the once-island of the celebrated Jehangir Baradari – the main outfall drain collects all wastewater from the town and pumps it directly onto what was once the river path.

From Shahdra – behind the once-island of the celebrated Jehangir Baradari – the main outfall drain collects all wastewater from the town and pumps it directly onto what was once the river path.

 

Depending on the time of the year and the level of the flood, this part of the river plain behind the Baradari island acts as either the river path or the main outfall drain for wastewater from Shahdra. Part of this former and occasional river plain is now shared by the outfall drain, extension of the neighboring settlement, and agricultural plots, most of which occasionally get washed away with the annual flood.

Depending on the time of the year and the level of the flood, this part of the river plain behind the Baradari island acts as either the river path or the main outfall drain for wastewater from Shahdra. Part of this former and occasional river plain is now shared by the outfall drain, extension of the neighboring settlement, and agricultural plots, most of which occasionally get washed away with the annual flood.

 

Informal settlements flank both sides of the banks throughout the entire length of the river in the larger region of Lahore. By virtue of being located directly on the floodplain, they are under constant threat of being flooded, as is visible here in a picture of the Ravi in high flood in 2012. This is not to suggest the relocation of these settlements elsewhere, especially when future proposals will most probably entail high-density construction on these sites. There are many sustainable solutions that can be adapted for the benefit of these informal settlements.

Informal settlements flank both sides of the banks throughout the entire length of the river in the larger region of Lahore. By virtue of being located directly on the floodplain, they are under constant threat of being flooded, as is visible here in a picture of the Ravi in high flood in 2012. This is not to suggest the relocation of these settlements elsewhere, especially when future proposals will most probably entail high-density construction on these sites. There are many sustainable solutions that can be adapted for the benefit of these informal settlements, and many lessons can be drawn from their living patterns that adapt to the ever changing conditions of this urban periphery.

 

The river swells beyond its narrow path and affects squatter settlements that have been constructed on the flood plain. In such a situation, hard edge conditions (such as concrete walls – refer to Sabarmati Riverfront project) almost always fail to curtail the rising water levels. While people residing in these informal settlements simply move up to higher ground during times of flood, it may not be as simple for those for whom this riverfront project will be developed.

The river swells beyond its narrow path and affects squatter settlements that have been constructed on the flood plain. In such a situation, hard edge conditions (such as concrete walls – refer to Sabarmati Riverfront project) almost always fail to curtail the rising water levels. While people residing in these informal settlements simply move up to higher ground during times of flood, it may not be as simple for the high-cost urban interventions that the riverfront project will introduce.

 

Rather than attempting to contain the river within a confined hard channel, those ‘developing’ the riverfront should pursue solutions that allow for the river to breathe as a river does every year. Seasonal agricultural patterns, for example, can be incorporated together with constructed wetlands in a soft landscape design to accommodate for the rise and ebb of the river flow.

Rather than attempting to contain the river within a confined hard channel, those ‘developing’ the riverfront should pursue solutions that allow for the river to breathe as a river does every year. Seasonal agricultural patterns, for example, can be incorporated together with constructed wetlands in a soft landscape design to accommodate for the rise and ebb of the river flow.


Photo credits: Hala Bashir Malik, and students of RHSA-BNU: Emaan Shah, Hamid Ali Khan, Hamza Saqib, Isfandyar Khan, Zayneb Ali Naqvi, Usman Saqib, Zeeshan Abid, Zoya Luqman, Faiza Khan, Mughees-ur-Rehman, Huzaifa Jillani Khan, Naqash Aslam, Mehdi Raza, Ahmed Tariq, Talha Humayun, Nayab Babar, Hashid Sarfaraz, Raheem Dad, Amtul Mateen Ayesha, Ali Hussain, Maeda Nisar, Anosh Nadeem, Maryam Shahid Khan, Muhammad Arham, Sultan Akbar.

Invisible Cities is a Tanqeed blog, edited by Fizzah Sajjad and Hala Bashir Malik, that seeks to explore alternative discourses on the urban question in cities of the Global South. For pitches and submissions to the blog, please contact invisiblecities@tanqeed.org and editors@tanqeed.org.

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22 Responses to Urban Development on the Dying Ravi?

  1. Khurram on Nov 2014 at 5:01 AM

    Can anyone think the peoples who are living along the bank of Ravi River where they can go.This Project only create problems for Poor Peoples.No Benefits from this Project for Pakistani peoples.

  2. jameel on Jul 2015 at 3:44 AM

    Can anyone update when exactly rive ravi project will start and landlords will get any gov communication?

  3. Ali on Jul 2015 at 1:56 AM

    Kabi Haar jagah lahore mein haryali thi in manhooso ne sare haryali khatam kardi di .jo log wabasta the agriculture se woki to jeene haram hogae hain in logo ke waja se jao lantiyo kashmiriyoo tumhe kia pata ho zameen ke shan rakhti hai ..laeeno

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