Category: Karachi

Revisionist history: Karachi changed maps to support illegal housing development

I’m still reading Instant City: Life and death in Karachi, the book I reviewed a little over a week ago.

It seems that Winston Smith from 1984 works for the Karachi city government. Author Steve Inskeep describes his investigation into the life of activist Nisar Baloch and the alleged encroachment, a common occurrence, on a public park, Gutter Baghicha.

Nevertheless the investigator did find houses under construction in several of the acres that were in dispute. Now it became a matter of dry law, or so it seemed. One of the simpler questions was whether the construction was inside the national park or outside of it.

A map of the national park from 2005 clearly included the land where construction had begun. A map from 2009 clearly excluded the land where construction had begun.

Curiously, both maps were produced by the Karachi city government, which seemed to have altered the shape of the national park to accommodate the new settlement. That was how the city managed to claim with a straight face that the settled was outside the park. When I compared the two maps with Google images of the national park under construction, it was clear that Shehri [a local environmental protection and advocacy group suing the city about this encroachment] was right: the park’s boundaries had moved. The 2005 design of he park could not possibly fit in the remaining land now designated for it.

You’ll have to read the book to know the end of the story (buy it on Amazon and Kindle), and the end of Nisar’s life. The map below shows the park in the center of the city.

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Book review of Steve Inskeep’s “Instant City: Life and death in Karachi”

Bear with me, this is my first book review since high school when the majority of the work was summarizing parts of the book and how you liked it. I feel that a book review at this age should be add in a critique about the book’s topic, strengths, and shortcomings. (Numbers in parenthesis are page numbers.)

A bus in Karachi carries more passengers than seems safe. The photographer’s accompanying essay is worth reading. Photo by Ejaz Asi. 

Buy the book on Amazon.

The premise of the book is that it’s about an “instant city”, one that grows from 500,000 to 13 million in 50 years – probably what you thought it would be like. I felt that the author never defines the instant city in a single sentence, paragraph, or page*. He instead uses the stories and interviews and little explicit mentions here and there. His approach, though, is more interesting and readable than what you might find in a book about urban planning or theory.

The instant city Inskeep refers to is Karachi, Pakistan, on the Arabian Sea. It used to be the capital of Pakistan until an army general tried to create his own Brasilia at Islamabad (no word in the book on if this was accomplished). Continue reading