With the advent of spring, an average city girl was pleased to bid adieu to a relatively harsh winter here in Lahore. To manifest her exultation she was tempted (read: attempted) to go for a walk. It did not seem like asking for too much, but upon setting foot out the door she was unkindly reminded that walking out as one pleased was not exactly an option.

She could go into many arguments for this case, blaming her patriarchal surroundings, terrorism, interminable summers, but ultimately it boiled down to one basic and very practical point – a lack of sidewalks. An ardent advocate of pragmatism, it struck her as quite an odd fact about the city of Lahore. Indeed, the city’s organically developed center was once your quintessential walking city. Distances were shorter, neighborhoods like cavalry ground were simply fields. However the Lahore we know today is increasingly encroached by newer and more organised urban agglomerations. These developments are in fact so large and densely populated that they are sub-cities of Lahore, aptly labeled as ‘towns’; Model Town, Wapda Town, Iqbal Town, Township etc. This is not a bad thing. Cities need to grow outward to sustain the nucleus. Downtown or the city center is never self-sufficient and usually needs a residential safe-zone or suburbia which offers an escape from the daily grind and vice versa. To connect these two co-dependent city organisms, highways, bridges, underpasses and extended lanes are crucial. Lengthy, narrow at some parts, thicker at others, they pump regularity into the city system like veins in a body.

However, a network of highways alone is not enough to sustain the life of an average citizen. Not everyone can afford a vehicle. And while the subject of motor-culture is somewhat of a controversy, the cons surpass the pros in number. Cars, motorbikes and heavy-duty public transport systems ultimately cause a number of issues over a given period of time; an increase in the rate of accidental death, social isolation, an increase in health problems such as obesity and pollution related respiratory problems, urban decay and global warming. But while these are long-term issues – only visible to later generations — the more astute urban planner would be able to point out that cities with a predilection for motor-culture are considered less happy, than cities with a higher pedestrian population.

Pedestrians can only exist in a space where they feel protected by subtle urban-design techniques. We as city-dwellers, usually in cars and on motorbikes overlook these subtle details and often take them for granted when actually walking from one place to another. These techniques mainly consist of fastidious design choices, such as higher paved paths, creating a distinction between the motor territory and the walkers’. Pathways are generally designed to be well-lit in order to dismiss the possibility of lurking danger, visually and metaphorically.

Tree lines are planted between roads and sidewalks to act as a safety barrier between cars and pedestrians, while simultaneously providing shade, flora and fauna to all pedestrians. Another crucial requirement to make pedestrians feel safer is by maintaining equally sized sidewalks from street to street. As a rule of thumb, a sidewalk should be wide enough for two people of opposing directions to walk with a distance of about 12-18 inches apart from each other and the boundary. This is perhaps the biggest complaint I have when specifically discussing the city of Lahore. While sidewalks do exist, they are inconsistent in size and sporadically emerge and disappear. There is no connectivity in the city center from Ferozepur Road to the Canal, or from Liberty to the Mall, or cavalry to Cantonment, forget a connection to the outskirts. Furthermore, the new signal-free corridor connecting Lahore’s urban sprawl to the city center has deepened the wound of pedestrian culture, making it completely inaccessible and dangerous to walk back and forth. The lack of signals has made crossing streets virtually impossible with speeding cars and careless lane switches.

While the new wider green belts in the center of these roads are pleasant to anyone flying over Lahore, they are redundant to me and the next pedestrian because sidewalks and zebra crossings don’t connect us to them. The liberty roundabout is just a green island in a sea of cars, inaccessible and useless. And unfortunately, there are countless examples of such green inaccessible “public” spaces such as the ones along the Ring Road.

We have to work towards retaliating against such development schemes that continue to cater to motor culture. If we consider DHA for this specific point – it is generally more compact and organised than Gulberg. Distances are shorter and walkable. Every now and then a park emerges from one neighborhood to another and most residential areas are green-lined with ample trees. Insert sidewalks, zebra crossings and a speed limit on cars (already present), walking from H block to Y block won’t seem too tedious. In DHA alone, if each household chose to walk to the nearest grocery store, the usage of cars would lessen a great deal. Additionally, neighborhood congeniality would increase; creating pockets of community much needed in a country festering in cageyness which is accelerated by cars, acting as vessels separating the haves from the have-nots and the men from the women.

We are unaware but our major cities are becoming increasingly harder to live in. Actions need to be taken to make our cities livable, the “signal-free corridor” will have to revert back to its original form, imitating the older and iconic Mall road, allowing pedestrian traffic to increase over motor traffic. For this roads will have to lessen in width to accommodate sidewalks, trees will have to be planted along the banks of roads and speed limits will have to be asserted. These measures are necessary to build towards a promising pedestrian culture.

Albeit cars, motorbikes, buses and rickshaws are important. However lessening them in number should be a priority of our local planning municipality, especially with so many development plans on the horizon. As an urban planner and average city girl I wish to open the discussion of urban design towards a strong pedestrian culture in Lahore. We have to attempt to make Lahore a livable city.