Karachi Going High: 1947 ft Building on the Horizon

Posted on February 28, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Architecture, Economy & Development, Environment, Politics
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Adil Najam

Speaking at inaugural ceremony of the Bagh Ibne Qasim in Karachi, General Musharraf announced that one of the tallest buildings in the world is planned to be built in Karachi.

How tall, you ask? Well, the word from the top is all of 1947 feet. One assumes that this number is no coincidence. I guess there will be something special on the 14th floor and somehow August will also be commemorated.

According to the Daily Times (Feburary 28, 2007):

One of the tallest buildings of the world will be constructed in Karachi, President Pervez Musharraf told a ceremony in connection with the inauguration of Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim here on Tuesday night. The president referred to a project pertaining to a beach and island’s development, and said this would be a mega project of international standard. He said that land for the project would be reclaimed from the sea and added that the centre of the project would be a 1,947-foot high building. “Inshallah we will make it. We must show the world that this is an emerging, progressive and dynamic country and we are second to none. We know how to handle ourselves. We know what progress and prosperity means and that is what we need to show to everyone,� Musharraf said. The project would not affect the environment, he added.

There has been, of course, much fanfare about the Centaurus 7-star Hotel project in Islamabad, and I remain skeptical about the hyperbole accompanying these projects until I actually see them completed. I will reserve my comments on the trumpeted building itself until I see actual plans and designs for it and until it actually materializes in reality. One has heard of too many such grandiose projects that never transpired to get all excited about them just yet. In this case, the legality and appropriateness of the sale of the island where this is to be built remains in question.
However, I find the logic presented by General Musharraf to be rather confusing, even disturbing. I certainly share his desire to be seen as “an emerging, progressive and dynamic country” that is “second to none.” However, it escapes me how building a huge tower will make as any of the above. Moreover, I have absolutely no idea what he means by “we know how to handle ourselves” or how constructing such a building will demonstrate that we do. Most importantly, I do know that “progress and prosperity” is to be measured by means other than the height of one’s buildings.

I do not wish to sound cynical. I really do not. If this actually happens, and if it is well designed and well executed, I will join with my fellow-Pakistanis in a collective bhangra. But, until then, I remain skeptical mostly because the motivation to build this seems misplaced. There could be many good reasons to build such a grand project. And there are many good ways to achieve the objective of demonstrating that Pakistan is “an emerging, progressive and dynamic country” that is “second to none.” But neither is the best match for the other.

To be fair, I think the other things that Gen. Musharraf said in the speech – which were not reported in the story about the tall building – were more on the mark on how to demonstrate that “we know what progress and prosperity means.” For example, according to The News story on the same event the President did show a deeper understanding of the city’s challenges and priorities:

President Musharraf listed a lack of clean drinking water, the electricity shortage, and a lack of cleanliness as Karachi’s current problems. He said the electricity problem would also be resolved, and that the city had required 2200 megawatts of electricity per year but now with a population of 15 million its power requirement has risen to 3300 megawatts. Karachi’s demand has increased by 50 percent, he added. But he said We will resolve this problem. Referring to the city’s water problem, he said he had provided K-III for 100 mgd water and now he would back up the K-IV water project. President Musharraf said that Karachi city should also be cleaned and for this purpose negotiations were be held with a private firm for a solid waste management project which would resolve the cleanliness problem.

However, the same story also points out that the President “directed environmental experts not to create hurdles in the development of the city” and went on to say:

If we have to make roads for the development of the city and for this if we have to chop the trees, we will do it but then we will also plant more trees.

He was obviously referring to environmental objections to the development of the islands off Karachi. This attitude of seeing environmental concerns as ‘hurdles’ to development does not bode well and is at least two decades outdated in the policy thinking on sustainable development. Having environment and development go together is not only possible; it is absolutely necessary for countries like Pakistan and cities like Karachi. So, President sahab, have your tall building if it pleases you; but, please, do not pit environment versus development in this way. It serves neither the interests of development, nor of the environment, and certainly not of Karachi or of Pakistan.

75 responses to “Karachi Going High: 1947 ft Building on the Horizon”

  1. HJ says:

    Pretty interesting debate.

    Why is constructing a tall structure equated to westernaization or so called-modernity? Afterall, Muslim history – or any other for that matter – in full of grandiose, mega-projects, isn’t it?

    Sure, Karachi or any other city can have as many skyscrapers as they want – as long as the building and fire codes are updated (which will not be the case, I assure you), and there is demand for such projects (maybe). Also, as long as the project is private-sector funding and no public money is involved (which can be better spent on looking after the millions of people living in slums), whats the issue?

    The Petronas Twin Towers (88 floors each in two towers) is almost fully occupied and is the most expensive real estate in the the city. At 1483 feet, it was once the tallest building in the world, and Mahathir build it for the same reasons Musharraf is keen to have one in Karachi: ego and to show the world “we have arrived.” Never mind that the one of the Petronas towers was built by a Japanese firm and the other by an American.

    Malaysia clearly is leaps ahead of Pakistan; the question is “Have we arrived?”

    Having said that, one thing is for sure: Iconic structures do give large urban cities a focal point – visit Kuala Lumpur and you’d know what I mean. Thousands line up every day to see the Towers. Karachi really lacks a focal point – I hope the new park is but a few well constructed, thoughtfully designed buildings will do the city no harm.

    One thing that does really bother me is how Karachi’s coastline is being destroyed. On a recent visit to my childhood beach, I was horrified what I saw. More and more land is being created for projects that only the mega-rich can afford. The beach is so messy that its hard to think about stepping on to the sand let alone relive childhood memories of building sand castles and collecting shells. There are no shells left anymore!

    Development at the expense of the enviornment is no development, as far as I am concerned.

    HJ

  2. Eidee Man says:

    [quote comment=”36262″]I remember kids singing this song on the streets of Karachi when Zia was in power. It seems to apply now as well:
    Yeh tera Pakistan Hai
    Na Mera Pakistan hai
    Yeh jis kaa Pakistan hai
    woh sadr-e-Pakistan hai!

    For another view on this government’s gradiose (and ill-thought out) plans, read Hoodbhoy recent article in the Daily Times: http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=200733\s tory_3-3-2007_pg3_2 [/quote]

    Haha….by the way, I recently came across some interesting blogs. Apparently, the grandson of Zia-ul-Haq has a blog. It seems like all of these cruel laws were aimed at the common man and don’t apply to the rich elite:

    http://omarulhaq.blogspot.com/

  3. Adnan Ahmad says:

    I just read Hoodbhoy’s article and I agree with his analysis. In fact I have been questioning the feasibility of these absurd plans at a practical level. What’s the point in building new infrastructures with no quality professors with such huge amounts instead of modernizing the existing universities. But politically that would mean little for the current govrenment..

    On a side, people must be shocked as I was, to hear from a credible source, that dr. Atta ranks quite low when it comes to integrity. In fact many downright consider him a corrupt person. I wonder why the general couldn’t pick someone like Hoodbhoy to run HEC? And about dr. Atta, again, in the words of Cawasjee.. “where do you find these asses, Mr. President?”

  4. Bilal Zuberi says:

    I remember kids singing this song on the streets of Karachi when Zia was in power. It seems to apply now as well:
    Yeh tera Pakistan Hai
    Na Mera Pakistan hai
    Yeh jis kaa Pakistan hai
    woh sadr-e-Pakistan hai!

    For another view on this government’s gradiose (and ill-thought out) plans, read Hoodbhoy recent article in the Daily Times: http://dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=200733\s tory_3-3-2007_pg3_2

  5. Sobaan says:

    Musharraf as always is trying to distract people from main the issues and making them dream of senseless projects as this one…..this is so typical of all Pakistani politicians!

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