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Designing Cities

A Great Metropolis | Part 1 

Jinnah's Ideals

"For all freedom-loving people, Karachi will on that account not only be a symbol of special significance but will occupy a place in history for which there is no parallel and I feel it my good fortune that I have the honor to be the first to receive this civic address. Karachi is no ordinary town. Nature has given it exceptional advantages which particularly suit modern needs and conditions. 


That is why starting from humble beginnings it has come to be what it is, and one could say with confidence that the day is not far hence when it will be ranked amongst the first cities of the world. Not only its airports but the naval port and also the main town will be amongst the finest. 


There is one especially pleasing feature about Karachi, while most of the big cities are crowded and cramped with over-towering structures, Karachi has large open spaces and hill-station style roofs which give to the visitor a feeling of space and ease. It has also got the advantage of a salubrious climate and is always blessed with healthy and cool breezes throughout the year. I visualize a great future for Karachi, it always had immense potentialities. Now with the establishment of Pakistan's Capital here and the arrival of the Pakistan Government and its personnel and the consequent influx of trade, industry, and business, immense opportunities have opened out for it. 

So let us strive together to make this beautiful town a great metropolis, a center of trade, industry and commerce, and a seat of learning and culture.

- Mr. Jinnah / Quaid-e-Azam

Speech: Karachi, City with a bright future

- Context: Speech in reply to the civic address presented by the Karachi Corporation | 25 August 1947

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Deeper reflections

The citizens of Pakistan resolve to complete our historic task of designing, building, and transforming Karachi into a great metropolis. 


Karachi is Pakistan’s economic hub, it’s the primary source of revenue and home to a majority of university graduates in the country. Karachi boasts the largest urban female work-force and the highest concentration of skilled labor across both genders in Pakistan.


Despite Karachi’s national importance, it’s a city ravaged by city politicians, provincial waderas, national leaders, bureaucrats, and even the army leaders. The city suffers self-created man-made problems that compound by systematic depredation and willful mismanagement. 

Here is the condition of our great metropolis after heavy monsoon rains in August’2020: 


After every rain outpour, the city experiences prolonged power outages, roads get flooded and water collects knee-deep that typically lasts for several weeks. Stagnant rainwater, uncollected garbage, and disgorging open manholes have turned Karachi into the world's largest sewerage network. People regularly die in Karachi from electrocution by simply touching a pole or receiving electric shocks from the rain accumulated water. Every time it rains, the city’s traffic slows down, increases the risk of accidents, and takes residents more than an hour by car to travel less than two miles.  


This deplorable condition has been going on for decades. Political parties (in particular PPP and MQM) and modern industrialists have pillaged the city in inconceivable ways, grabbed land, generated illegal profits, evaded taxes, and defended their vested interests. Karachi is an irrationally decentralized city with a hodgepodge of overlapping administrative authorities. The decentralization is not accidental, it is easier to manipulate and rob a fragmented city. While corruption penetrates deeper into the soul of Karachi, there’s a certain misguided segment of our intelligentsia that is quick to come at the defense of corruption and attempts to manufacture the opinion that an anti-corruption stance is, in fact, another form of populism. 


The patriotic duty to defend the city and the spirit to build a metropolis is entirely missing from dominant political parties, the intelligentsia, and the capitalist class in Sindh. Certain people are influencing the nation in a manner that draws the people into passivity in the face of every catastrophe and leaves them no energy for action. 


While Karachi’s population grows exponentially, the infrastructure has remained stagnant. This gap between population growth and infrastructure development will continue to grow as long as Karachi is starved of the wealth it generates. We all know that only a tiny fraction of tax collected from Karachi is reinvested back into its infrastructure. 


The freedom-loving people of Karachi have been subjected to perverse conditions but they continue to prevail. Karachi continues to go through hell but refuses to die, it’s a resilient city. The recent heavy monsoon rains have exposed that Sindh is failing and has certainly heightened our sense of urgency to act and build a great metropolis. The citizens of Pakistan are revitalized by their historic duties and national aspirations to transform Karachi into the city it has always meant to be. We will be triumphant in this endeavor. 

Solving the Storm Water Problem 


High-level approach: The fact that our systems are underdeveloped is an opportunity to push towards green infrastructure and reduce gray infrastructure.


  • Gray infrastructure relies on hard infrastructures — such as storm drains, concrete, and pipes — to collect and channel stormwater into waterways. To reduce street flooding by channeling rainwater run-off to fixed capacity drains is not effective because as the city expands and non-porous surface increases, the amount of water the pipes must handle also increases, which always runs the risk of overwhelming the pipes and of a subsequent flooding

  • Green infrastructures include vegetated rooftops, roadside plantings, absorbent gardens, and other measures that capture, filter and reduce stormwater. Green infrastructures allow cities to become sponges and prevent the water from ever reaching the drain.  


Understanding the ecological threat: We will develop a modular pipe network where storm sewer system and sanitary sewer system are not combined in the same pipe network. Combined sewer systems are problematic during very intense storms because when the system becomes overwhelmed by stormwater runoff, a combined sewer overflow occurs. Overflow discharges more than just stormwater during an overflow event – industrial wastes, human waste, and other pollutants are discharged. Monsoon rains are ecological disasters and we need to plan and build for them. 

Key metric: On-street water run-off. 

  • We must manage stormwater, which may otherwise wash pollutants into our waterways or overwhelm our sewer system. This is critical to protecting water quality, wildlife, and public health.

Case study: 

  • Portland’s green street pilot: Reduced on-street water run-off by up to 85% after major 25-year storm events. The Green Street pilot absorbs the rain run-off from 8,000 square feet of paved roadway and sidewalk. It can handle 180,000 gallons of water in any single rainstorm before directing water to the existing storm drain.  


  • Portland’s Green Streets are retrofits of existing city blocks. The Green Street design diverts stormwater into a series of street-level planters through small openings in the curb. If the storm produces more rain run-off than the first planter can hold, the excess water flows out of a curb cut on the downhill side of the planter, back into the street, and then is re-channeled into a second planter. Run-off that exceeds the capacity of the first and second planters flows into the third and so on.

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  • Only run-off from storms that produce more rain than can be handled by all four planters enters the traditional storm sewer. Each planter (3 feet by 18 feet at the biggest) is designed to hold up to 6 inches of water and is lined with porous materials that allow the water to infiltrate into the ground at a rate of up to 4 inches per hour. In addition, the planters are planted with native plants that can filter out sediments, limiting the amount of debris that can reach, and clog, the traditional storm drain. The plants are chosen for their ability to thrive in a variety of conditions, thus ensuring that the planters stay green and attractive.

Fortunately, Prime Minister Imran Khan is already doubling down on creating a clean green Pakistan by hitting a billion tree goal in August 2017 and planting over ~3MM tree saplings in 2020 thusfar. We’ve got the right man for the job, the only climate champion from the entire political spectrum who has taken serious proactive measures to combat climate change:

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At the same time, let us be cognizant that social and economic progress are not received from a state or a leader but a possession to be won every day by the effort of each and union of all. We must use private enterprise to solve the great challenges Karachi is facing to build it into a great metropolis. 

Part 1 of Great Metropolis focuses on solving the Storm Water Problem 

Part 2 of Great Metropolis will provide a broader Manifesto for Designing cities 

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