Shifting Lahore

Once the best address in Lahore was “the Lahore Fort,” now it is “the Defence. Only in past few decades, Lahore has grown rapidly (doubling in size in last ten years) to become an impressive cosmopolitan metropolitan. From a walled city — the posh locality of the time when Mughal Kings, Princes and Princesses used to roam about there, Lahore has grown into new localities like Defence Hosing Society and beyond. Though promenading along the canal, between the Mall Road and the Jail Road, shining in pristine glory at night through the heart of city,Main Boulevard or the Mall gives an idea of architectural style, prosperity and aesthetic sense of its citizens but it does not give all.

Lahore’s urban expanse has expanded into adjoining suburbs and has consumed many villages and agricultural land. The expansion, unplanned at that, has converted Lahore into a city where all civic amenities are over burdened left with no more carrying capacity. And a plethora of city development agencies, LDA, WASA, TEPA, WAPDA, PTCL, the Lahore Horticultural Authority, the Cantonment Board, the Model Town Society, the Defence Society, MCL, and District Administration (and more) with overlapping and ill defined roles and no body to oversee and coordinate their work, seem helpless to do any thing for the worsening plight of its residents. The officials of different departments blame every thing on lack of funds and lack of co-operation from other departments or accept the problems as hazards of urbanization,” say a political activist.

Lahore started expanding during the reign of Shah Jahan (1628-58) but declined in importance during the reign of his successor, Aurangzeb. The old city, now called Walled City or Undroon Shahr has narrow winding alleys and bazaars. It is unique in the sense that its layout is not geometrical and its winding alleys end abruptly at some intersection. Houses are adjacent to each other with balconies towards the street and courtyards in the middle. Rooftops are used as sitting places or now for flying kites on the eve of Basant.

The city started spilling out of the wall in the British time. In 1846, the British army entered Lahore after defeating Sikhs at Challianwala and Gujrat. The British troops were stationed in Lahore Fort and in the barracks left by Sikh Khalsas in an area that later came to be known as Lower Mall — from Tollinton Market to Punjab Secretariat. At that time, that area was known as Anarkali Station. The present day Anarakai Bazaar was then known as Sadar. British troops were also housed in Taxali area.

The British demolished the fortification wall around the city of Lahore and filled the protective trench circling it. They also razed three historical gates (Lohari, Shah Alami and Delhi) and widened the street to install artillery on top of them. Lange Mandi and Gumti Bazaar are considered to be the most ancient part of the Walled City. The old city is spread over 2.5 squares of land and Cantonment was the first intervention of the British in the old city, which drastically changed the face of Lahore: the layout of streets, architecture of buildings and houses and the way people lived.

Among the first modern buildings of Lahore was included Combined Military Hospital built in 1854. Close to cantonment, towards north, a “new” Sadar bazaar was established where locals could open businesses to provide services and goods troops and their families. In Sadar, houses were built with bricks in straight streets with sewage lines on two sides. Later, the middle class of adopted this layout and architecture for their new housing colonies: Gowalmandi, Krishan Nagar and Muhammad Nagar. The influential class followed the style of British officers’ bungalows and Dewan Khem Chand founded Model Town on this pattern.

The Mayo Gardens and GOR (government officers’ residences) were established for civilian officers. This area was called Civil Lines. The Civil Lines in Lahore is spread over area from McLeod Road to west of the city and on the east of the canal and from railways station to Jail Road. In Chauburji, quarters for low ranking civilian officials on Sadar’s pattern were built.

The concept of Civil Lines brought a major societal change in the city’s culture. But when after the independence, local officers occupied these bungalows, the area got crowded. The wide tree-lined streets at the Queens Road, the Egerton Road, the Davis (Sir Agha Khan) Road, the Lawrence Road and the Montgomery Road became busy and congested commercial centres. After 1947, the Lahore Improvement Trust followed the tradition of Civil Lines and founded new housing schemes on the pattern of colonies. Samanabad and Gulberg were two such residential districts established in the 1950s.

Since the establishment of Civil Lines, Lahore’s middle class also started coming out of the Walled City and established new neighborhood at that time such as what is known as Old Anarkali, Gowalmandi, Shalimar Town and Misri Shah. In the beginning, civic amenities were not provided to them. Now almost half of the city is consisted of such residential areas. They are different form the old city in that they have wide roads of 10-15 feet where cars can go and the layout of these areas is geometrical unlike that of old city. Houses in these colonies are a mix of old and new. They have courtyards but unlike bungalows they are adjacent to each other. Shops are located in streets near houses unlike isolated houses of the civil lines. These houses are rightly said to represent the historical ‘neighbouring’ concept of the Subcontinent. As these residential areas sprang up without any planning, they also represent an important trend of ‘unplanned growth of cities in this region.

Electricity was introduced to the city in 1920. In 1930s came another change in the development of middle class localities and areas like Krishan Nagar and Sant Nagar were established. They were planned, geometrical in layout and had parks, sewage and drinking water facilities. In the houses in these areas, roofs of the rooms were high like British bungalows. These housing areas were an improved version of the old architecture of Lahore.

The partition brought a radical change in the culture of Lahore. At that time, 40 per cent of the population of Hindus and Sikhs migrated from the city to India. Now some low-income residential areas of Wasanpura, Gujarpura and Mohni Road came into existence, which were inhabited by low income class.

Although the official regulations prohibit commercial activity in residential areas, the government itself is big violator of these laws and provincial and federal departments established their offices there and private sector came up with every type of commercial concern and the old concept of residential-cum-commercial area, which is deeply rooted in our culture and tradition, sprang up in neighbourhoods.

Along side these, in 1980, Lahore’s 23 per cent population lived in katchi abadis (slum areas). In 1986, the government tried to regulate them and provided ownership rights and civic amenities to these areas but not all of them could get them.

So far the soul of the city has survived though open spaces, greenery and peace are vanishing from the city. We can reverse the process through planning, preservation and by looking forward.

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