SANA SHAHID For the relatively well-off people in Pakistan, Islamabad seems to be a great city to live in: Minimal traffic, scenic views, quiet lush green neighbourhoods, decent weather, some nice restaurants and a generally slow-paced but peaceful vibe. Beautiful, wide roads and new avenues cropping up have reduced travel times even further. But, what is the city like for the not so well-off? It is evident to most of us, that the city is only friendly to the automobile driving population. How about the non-automobile driving population - where do they live? Where do they work? If they want to start up a small business, where do they set up? If we look at just the basics - housing, schooling, business, and leisure - how does the city fare? Lets start by looking at the overall planning. The zoning laws of the city seem to be beset by an anti-commerce bias, as they disproportionately lean towards residential housing - specifically large houses for the elite. Coupled with the restriction on conversion (to commercial) of residential areas, a large number of offices, restaurants and small businesses are illegally operating through houses in these areas. Commercial areas are allocated just 5 percent in the schemes compared to 55 percent for residential houses. The maintenance of the current commercial areas has been severely neglected resulting in a deteriorated outlook - explaining one reason for the reluctance of these businesses to move to commercial areas. If maintenance standards exist, they lack efficient implementation. The more important reason, of course, is that businesses save time and money. That is a huge revenue loss for CDA and a loss of opportunities for the business not being situated in a commercial area. Mixed-use areas are also conspicuously missing from the zoning laws. City productivity and employment generation needs the growth of entertainment, hotels, shopping areas and offices in large complexes. Moreover, mixed-use areas and city centres ideally contain high-rise buildings, as land prices are at a premium, making tall buildings economically favourable. Height restrictions imposed by the development authorities discourage high-rises, thus pushing up the cost per square foot. It is clear that the current commercial areas are not adequately catering to the needs of businesses and offices. Upcoming business ventures find it near to impossible to afford the exorbitant rental rates of commercial areas. Are these regulations then, restricting innovation, entrepreneurship and the resulting economic benefits? In the case of housing, the focus on large single-family homes has resulted in a shortage of housing and has especially highlighted the absence of affordable multiple-family homes, flats and apartments. Furthermore, the lack of adequate rent control legislation makes it difficult to maintain flats and apartments. The real estate market in Islamabad is based on massive speculation, with properties often purchased, but not developed and resold for profit. A vacant land tax or property speculation tax could be implemented to counter speculative property purchasing. The lack of adequate property rights protection, on the other hand, is leading to increasing incidents of land grabbing in the suburban areas of Islamabad and giving rise to qabza groups. Looking at the schooling system, schools are part of the 4 percent allocated to public buildings in the zoning laws. Public buildings include schools, mosques, community centres, hospitals, dispensaries, and post offices; yes all that in only 4 percent. Can we be surprised then, that some of the best private schools are operating through houses in residential areas? With the public schools standards deteriorating, the demand for private education is on the rise, but these schools have not been provided space. They continue to operate through illegal encroachments and cause massive traffic jams and parking problems. But when it comes to anti-encroachment drives, it is the rehriwalas (street vendors), the poor entrepreneurs, that bear the brunt. What about the space for community, leisure and entertainment? Islamabad has no cinemas, theatres or space to facilitate people to come together and share ideas. There are also no public libraries of any significance. These places are essential for learning, bringing people together, increasing interactions and stimulating community discussions. What social or economic opportunities does the city provide to the youth? If we continue to stick to our mindset of 'small is beautiful, the opportunities will continue to dwindle. These are just some ideas scratching only the surface of a problem that is not only limited to Islamabad. Urban planning and city development is an under-researched area in Pakistans economic and development spheres. The Planning Commissions New Growth Strategy developed under the guidance of Dr Nadeemul Haque, for the first time in Pakistans growth strategy, includes cities as an essential ingredient to the countrys economic growth and development. It is time for communities to take a stance on what they want from their cities. Physical infrastructure is being built without first analysing the governance and 'software issues. This strategy attempts to identify laws and regulations that are preventing cities from realising their true potential and presses for deregulation. It will be the first step in bringing these issues to the forefront of the countrys policy spheres and get a dialogue started between the community, upcoming entrepreneurs, youth and policymakers towards a more inclusive and tolerant society. The writer is working as an economic consultant in Islamabad. Email: