History of urban planning in Pakistan

Both, the term and profession, of urban planning is still new in Pakistan, although its history dates back to Paleolithic and Neolithic periods of the world’s history. In Pakistan, this term is still ambiguous; for people city and town planning is alike to family planning and urban planning doesn’t carry any weight. Urban planning has a vast history; it evolved at different times in different styles. In the pre-classical period, empires were found to have planned cities, mostly in a grid-iron pattern, having amenities at different scales. Cities of Minoan, Mesopotamian, Harrapan and Egyptian civilizations of the third millennium BC were the epitome of urban planning. Pakistan is home to one of the oldest and finest civilizations, Indus Valley Civilizations, which had one of the planned and managed cities of the time. The cities of the Indus Valley Civilizations included: Mehrgarh, Harappa, Mohenjodaro, and Lothal; among these Mohenjo Daro was, in fact, an epitome of urban planning in the classical era.    
During Classical and Medieval Europe, plans of cities were prepared for the first time and transformed into ground. Hippodamas (498-408 BC), who is considered the father of urban planning, introduced the orthogonal urban layout of the city of Piraeus (A city in the Greece), laid the foundation of the urban planning in history.  
Urban Planning went through a paradigm shift at the start of the 20th century. Centralization of the resources and agglomeration of cities in the 19th century had put the life of populace at risk. Excessive industrialization, overpopulation of cities and lack of planning had resulted in the issues like the spread of diseases, backlog of shelter and environmental degradation, etc.  Around 1900, theorists began developing urban planning models to mitigate the consequences of the industrial age, by providing citizens, especially factory workers, with healthier environments.
During the 20th centuryurban planners presented different theories and models for urban settlement some of them were implemented worldwide, but few remained confined to certain geographical localities. But these theories regardless of their outreach put the urban planning on new horizons. Some of the prominent theories and urban planning movements during the 19th century included:  Machines-Linear City Idea, City Beautiful Movement, Garden City Movement and New Communities’ Movement. Garden City Movement, presented by Ebenezer Howard, was widely adopted urban planning models around the world. Even present day Model Town of Lahore is based on the Garden City Movement model.
Although the world’s history regarding the urban planning is centuries old, but in Pakistanit is still in limbo. The first act regarding the urban planning in the UK was formulated in 1909, but in Pakistan hundred years later still there is not a state level legislation regarding the urban planning; except respective acts formulated by provincial governments and development authorities. After independencethe only legislation regarding the town planning in Pakistan was Municipal Administration Ordinance (MAO) 1960. Later acts were formulated at the provincial level by respective government and development authorities.  
In Punjabthe MAO 1960 was replaced by Provincial Local Government Ordinance (PLGO) 1979. Some of the laws in Punjab relevant to urban or town planning included: Land Acquisition (Housing) Act 1973; LDA Act 1975, Development of Cities Act, 1976, Punjab Local Government Ordinance PLGO 2001, Punjab Land use (Classification, Reclassificationand Redevelopment) Rules, 2009,  Punjab Local Government Act 2013 and LDA Land use Rules 2014 etc.  
In KPK, the North-West Frontier Province Urban Planning Ordinance, 1978 was formulated.
Others included: The North-West Frontier Province (Provincial Urban Development Board Validation Of Actions) Ordinance, 1980, The North-West Frontier Province Urban Planning (Amendment) Ordinance, 1980, The NWFP Urban Immovable Property Tax (Amendment) Act, 2005 etc.
In Pakistan urban planning has been regulated and controlled by Development Authorities; where there is any because not every region is that fortunate to have a development authority. But the problem is: not every Development Authority has been functional, although few were established long ago; KDA, CDAand LDA were established in 1957, 1960 and 1975 respectively. The reason for the failure of the Development authorities is; these bodies have never been free of politicization. These entities are not given the authority to drive the cities in the direction where it should go which results in the consequences like China cutting, slum formation, squatter settlements and above all; the environmental degradation. Secondly, Master Planning of the cities is merely limited to documentation instead of implementation, the reason is again the unavailability of legislation to exercise the power and implement the plan.
Some cities have reached the verge of failure from where it’s almost impossible to restore it in an organized form. Cities once settled; it is almost impossible to erase and built from the very beginning. Can one imagine of erasing the area of the Walled City area in Lahore, if yes, is it possible to do so? Likewise, there are dozens of areas in Karachi which is in worse form than the Walled city of Lahore. Ignore the facilities for these communities like Community Park, wide and planted roads, playgrounds, community halls, but what one would do if a fire erupts there or a high magnitude earthquake hits the area? Is there any way to carry out rescue operations there? Certainly no.  The Same situation was faced by the British government because of the uncontrolled urbanizations and unplanned growth of cities. It was first and second world wars which erased everything and they started from the very beginning. But in the case of Pakistan, my anticipation is that there would be no third world war to erase the slums of the country.  People mostly argue that cities like Karachi having twenty million population are not that easy to control; if it’s so, why not one finds heaps of garbages, open manholes, open sewage lines, hanging wires, and encroachment on streets in cities like Tokyo or New York? So, what matters is not the population; it’s planning. One of the biggest problems in the modern age is the environmental degradation due to urbanization; that too uncontrolled urbanization.
There are certain things which are fueling the environmental problems. One of which is the conversion of agricultural land into the urban area settlements. Statistics reveal that estate dealing has become one of the most profitable businesses and now the settlement of new housing schemes, the inclusion of rural area into an urban area is no more a wrong doing. Destroying the agricultural land and chopping the trees are a common phenomenon across the country.

Urban Planning in Gilgit-Baltistan
As Gilgit-Baltistan is one of the environmentally sensitive areas of the Pakistan and it needs a special emphasis on urban planning.  About 15,000 square kilometers of the region have already been declared National Parks by the government; which accounts for about one-fifth of the total area of the region. But the mere declaration would not work, planning and management are more important than a declaration. Lack of proper urban planning would not only affect the area, but the whole Pakistan would suffer. The region is home to one of the biggest glacier ranges outside the polar region and the biggest and longest river of the Pakistan, Indus River, flows downstream intersecting the region. Climate change has already engulfed Pakistan, but more carelessness would result in the consequences like the flood of 2010 when one-fifth of the area of the country was inundated. Glacial lake outburst, the recession of glaciers and eruption of avalanches have become a common phenomenon in the region due to climate change.  
As yet, there is no proper urban planning and management system in the region. As mentioned earlier, urban planning is regulated and managed by the development authorities in Pakistan, there is not any functional authority; although according to some sources there are Gilgit and Skardu development authorities as well. Cities are sprawling in a un-haphazard manner. For now, the cities are almost in an unaltered form which can be molded into any desired form. But if any planning is not insured, then at the current pace of the city expansion; in the coming decade, both the cities would be converted into slums.

So far, about fifty percent of the land in Gilgit city is covered, it would have been consumed by clusters of unplanned houses, but the peace issue gifted by Zia’s regime has saved the city from population and migration boom.  Skardu city, on the other hand, has more potential for planning because the area is large and the population is comparatively less. But the problem is, the city has recently attracted a large number of outsiders, almost people from all the regions of GB have settled over there, even people from Punjab and other provinces have permanently settled in the city. In this contextthe city is melting point of the GB, if not Pakistan’s.

Gilgit City

As development authorities are not functional, lack of legislation, delay in the preparation of the master plan is fueling in deterioration of the city environment. Planning of the cities in the region has to be carried out beyond traditional planning. As it is a fact that with expansion and growth of the city different industries emerge to fulfill the need of the city, but rapid industrialization and giving free hand to them would yield fatal outcomes. Industrialization and discharge of the effluents into the river without any treatment would not only affect the region, but polluted Indus would threaten the aquatic life of the Indus, livelihoods of people, agricultural production and drinking water treatments across Pakistan.

Controlled city growth is dire need of the time.  More emphasis needs to be put on environment-friendly livelihood resources like tourism industry, livestock industry, mining and indigenous fruit production etc. rather than pure industrialization. For this provision of the basic facilities to the peri-urban areas and other rural areas are necessary, otherwise, people cannot be stopped from migration to cities. Also, these industries need to be practiced as a profitable livelihood source and necessities whatever needed to boost the industry should be provided at their door sill. Most important of all, awareness regarding the urban planning and impact of environmental degradation on life needs to be conveyed to common masses.


  1. its time to give a chance to urban planners without political and military influence to make our city prosperous and livable for future generation, especialy more emphasize on GB due to its tourist attraction and unique ethinicity.

  2. its time to give a chance to urban planners without political and military influence to make our cities prosperous and livable for future generation with special emphasize on GB ( Hunza,Gilgit) due to its tourist attraction.


Your comments are welcomed. Feel free if you want to ask anything.