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Ahmad Tahir

  • Faculty of Architecture
  • Urban Studies
  • MA
  • Understanding Recent Transformation of the Walled City Multan: A Case Study of Chowk Bazaar Area
  • Tutor: Maroš Krivý and Keiti Kljavin

In recent decades, the Walled City of Multan has witnessed a rapid social and physical transformation due to rampant commercialization. An example of this phenomenon is the Chowk Bazaar area, where, due to many factors, the residential population is decreasing, and warehouses and other commercial functions are replacing historic houses. This transformation affects the built and social fabric of the area, and commercial activity is growing at the expense of historic structures. This thesis aims to understand various mechanisms of this transformation, such as heritage mentality, legal deficiencies, market pressure, and economic conditions. The work will also investigate the changes in land use patterns and urban structure of the Chowk Bazaar area to give an in-depth view of transformation and its effect on locals.

Transformation, commercialization, warehouses, historic structures, heritage mentality, legal deficiencies

This research presents the dismal transformation of the Walled City as a conflict between different conceptualizations of the built environment. As a result, historic neighborhoods are caught between the heritage mentality of the authorized heritage discourse, commodification through tourism, and market appropriation. These issues are rooted in historical, legislative, economic, and social conflicts.

The primary issue is the Authorized Heritage Discourse, which rationalizes historic buildings as heritage, and antiquity necessitating different goals to pursue them, such as preserving them as remnants of the past and undermining local rights by various regulations. The limitations imposed by various legislations are not intended to preserve “heritage” as such but rather to limit people’s engagement in order to commodify the aesthetic value of historic buildings. The legislation makes no distinction between residential buildings and monuments, resulting in factors that favor transformation. Rather than playing a facilitative role, these limitations challenge residents, jeopardizing their cultural and private property rights.

Secondly, saving the aesthetic value of historical buildings allows governments to position the built environment as something desirable and valuable through tourism. Therefore, when historic neighborhoods are revitalized, the aim is to draw tourists rather than facilitate residents. As a result of this type of revitalization, commercial functions for tourist attractions are induced in historical areas, driving up property value higher and poor people are displaced. Thus, before undertaking a revitalization project, it is essential to consider whether the work would benefit or displace residents and make decisions accordingly. Rather than forcing proposals on residents, it is vital to take into account their needs and concerns before planning such projects.

Furthermore, among various revitalization projects carried out in historic neighborhoods in the name of sustainable development, the goal of sustainability is limited to what will generate more economic gain rather than what will sustain residents. This approach limits all the funding to a few monumental buildings resulting in uneven development by focusing on the political economy of a place rather than the territory. Due to this uneven development, sustainability agendas linked to commodification deprive locals of the required attention by the state. Simultaneously, historic residential buildings are also excluded from projects’ funding.  As locals are not involved in the decision-making process, conservation efforts also fail, and the community does not own such projects resulting in substantial debts and little local benefits.

Another issue concerning historic neighborhoods is the market appropriation by economic forces. By restricting legal possibilities to alter historic structures, the heritage mentality of current legislation protecting historic buildings in Pakistan depreciates their residential value. To save buildings from the threat of enlistment, users look for other opportunities to move out of these buildings and save their investments. The informal sector exploits these factors, and the economic benefits move away from residents to commercial forces.

Since the Walled City’s land value and land use do not equate in residential zones, transformation is inevitable until the disparity between capitalized ground rent and potential ground rent exists. Right now, warehousing might be a temporary advantage extracted from historic buildings, but it may shift to another method of profit maximization because, under the market logic, the goal is to extract more value from the land. Therefore, uprooting warehousing is not a permanent solution until the rent gap exists.

It is essential to take care of the rights of residents and the informal sector linked to wholesale markets. One way to address this problem is to increase the Walled City’s ‘residential value’ by focusing revitalization efforts on addressing resident’s concerns and offering them social and financial incentives such as upgrading these areas to higher living standards and providing modern facilities that are locally suited rather than following the trajectory of tourism. Better management of services and inclusive planning that ensures public participation may be a starting point. The conflict between locals and professionals will reduce if local community concerns are considered and integrated into the planning of any developmental project. Simultaneously, wholesalers have to be given better alternatives for business activities that complement their needs and do not jeopardize the economic balance and livelihood of communities connected with commercial activities.

Moreover, the financial hardships in a developing country like Pakistan are a setback from the maintenance of historic neighborhoods. These problems also exist due to a lack of coordination among various government organizations operating in the same area but with different goals. Different government departments have separate budget allocations for particular areas, which are insufficient on their own but may yield more substantial results if pooled together and geared toward a common target (Qureshi, 2021).