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Urban transit – A future for Gunj Bakhsh Town

The idea pitched, of transit-oriented development, must be located within the specific context of Lahore. The argument of this model shall centre around the Data Gunj Bakhsh town forming the central business district of Lahore. The area starts outwards from the Lahore High Court, spanning the Circular Road and The Mall, swelling out to five to seven minutes walking distances.

Forming the centre of the city’s business activity it is faced by a peculiar phenomena: while the city’s exterior has expanded it is still catering to the city as commercial hub. Not only that, in terms of population statistics, the Gunj Buksh town area is expected to face the steepest population increase by 2012. Its population is expected to rise by 28%.

This rise in population means the load on the commuting system shall increase. The existing masterplan: high-density areas: There are two ways of accommodating this rise in population -infill development and outward spill-over resulting in sprawl. The existing master-plan after locating empty lots in the city proposes high density regions of upto 550 persons per hectare. However, mere allocation of empty lots is not enough as in the case of Gunj Bukhsh town the total absorbed incremental population in this manner is only 12 % of the total; resulting in the other 80% left at the whim of the land developers sprawling outwards from the existing boundaries of the Lahore Metropolitan Area.
POPULATION NEED FOR AREA: Data Gunj Bukhsh Town is surrounded on all sides by other municipality divisions. However, the amount of high density areas in the town required by 2021 are said to 384 hectares to accommodate the populate rise. The increase in population between 2001 and 2021 expected for the Ganj Bakhsh town is: 916722. The expected absorption within is 116,089, which means a spillover of 800,633. This means only 12.66% shall be absorbed, with 87.34% of the new population spilling over.

The need to increase residential density: Increasing the residential density in inner city cores is essential; accumulating near important nodes closer to commuter routes is pertinent. This calls for detailed land use analyses revealing not only the current scenario but also under-utilised and redundant sites. The chief demand in Central Business Districts is office space. Lahore in particular needs to address this issue, by giving opportunities for mixed-use developments towards the city center so as to minimize home to work commuting distance.
However, smaller office units, less than five thousand square feet, are more in demand for the area itself. In order to avoid empty tower blocks running short of multinationals to take over the entire floor plates, designers need to deliver a more compact and buyable office size leading to multiple owenership within these towers. This shall inevitably lead to a higher population density and mixed-use buildings. With the educational hub of the city adjacent to the civic center, university hostels are always going out of place, giving more market opportunities for compact living options.

The target group for this area, students and young professionals for residential development allows more flexible small-size living units that will allow the user to participate in the public activity in and around the area. However, a severe lack of public entertainment spaces in inner city areas will make this a destination for all transit and pedestrian users. Homes and transit together: Conscious placement of homes in proximity to transit is crucial to building a region that it both equitable and efficient.

In a region that is dependent on owning a car, individuals with limited resources are at a particular disadvantage. Owning a car is the second largest expense, behind housing costs, for most Pakistanis.
Taking stock of the pedestrian: So much has been said about the transit destinations – however, the one agent that cannot be left unattended is the person who lives and works in these developments and commutes on the said transit routes. He is the pedestrian afoot, hoping to find a safe between destinations. Places should be easy to get to and should be integrated physically with their surroundings.
This requires paying attention to how people can get around by foot, bicycle, public transportation, and the car – and in that order. Transit has been around since the advent of the horse-drawn streetcar, and cities have always been at least partially shaped by their transportation mode -whether walking, streetcars, or automobiles. In fact, many of urban design patterns that we seek to restore were common before the advent of the automobile; they simply arose spontaneously in cities for pedestrians. While transit-oriented development may not be a new thing, “the challenge of adopting it to the auto-oriented metropolis” is.
Rather than leaving residents with no option than to live in a single-family home, shop at an auto-oriented retail center, drive to their workplace, and chauffer their children to activities, transit oriented development can offer shopping choices that range from small specialty shops to large retail outlets, and allow residents to get around on foot, bicycle, or transit, which greatly enhances the mobility of children and seniors.

– Ayesha Batool is a practising architect and urbanist and a graduate at the National College of Arts. The article is part of research conducted for her undergrad thesis, ‘Live, work and play at Lahore Central Staion – A case for transit-oriented development.’

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