Cities and Sustainable Development

Cities Development: A win-win proposition

Zahid Asghar[1]

21st is not only a century of cities but also century of dense cities. Cities have played remarkable role in rapid economic development both in developed countries and developing countries like China, India, Vietnam and Brazil. Pakistan can also make its cities as engine of growth by following suit. Cities are important for many reasons particularly for economic growth and job generation. Primary sector is already labor surplus; our young population will seek jobs in cities in future. These jobs can only be made available if our cities thrive. Despite rapid urbanization we have not yet fully organized ourselves into making our cities to thrive. Our policy makers still think it as anti-rural. Cities development is not anti-rural since latter’s prosperity is strongly linked with the former. Cities having culturally modern shopping malls and densely situated retail shops, cold storage and warehouses, a market for fresh agriculture foods in nearby neighborhood greatly help to reduce post-harvest losses. Due to increased demand for cold storage and warehouses, there will be more investment in modern infrastructure and will lead to economic growth. Prosperous and dense cities coupled with better connectivity will increase demand for agriculture produce and will help in reducing the transportation cost for the agricultural goods.  Urban economy with high productivity can generate jobs in non-agricultural sector which are important eventually for increase in income and agricultural productivity as well.

Why we have failed to recognize the potential of cities? Policy makers and people in Pakistan are still confused whether cities are good or bad. Cities are considered as origins of problems like crime, pollution, disease etc. But cities are also origin of solutions of problems. Pakistani cities unlike many other cities of the developing countries have not served as origins of solutions of problems. Due to crude expansion and lack of investment in cities infrastructure have contributed to make our cities inefficient and less productive. Current trend in urban sprawl is making cities’ basic amenities like security, drinking water, transportation, sewerage etc, very costly. Crude expansion and urban sprawl have made cities as origins of problems like crime, pollution, traffic congestion, disease etc. Moreover, this has led to end of street life because old social bonds of neighborhood have broken down.

Cities are origin of solutions of problems we are facing. Cities are places of ideas, knowledge creation, innovation, creativity and diversity which are important components for a city to thrive.  There is need to understand how these problems and solutions are interlinked. Some archaeologists and anthropologists state that cities are one of our main inventions. It is highly desirable to invest in infrastructure development i.e. better quality network.

Cities investments are win-win propositions. They reinvigorate our old centers and make our cities centers as hubs of business activities. They take the pressure off the new ones and result in a stronger system of cities. Cities generate job and attract poor and not the cause of poverty. Rural population is growing faster than employment in primary sector, so there is need to generate employment in non-agriculture sector. This will require institutional environment mainly in urban area that is conducive to multiple sources of employment and income generation. Cities are key to our health and welfare besides as engines of growth. The New Growth Strategy (NGS) Framework by Pakistan Planning Commission forecasted that Pakistan needs more than 7% economic growth in order to absorb the flow of workers into the labor force.

It is no more secret that cities increase economic metabolism of a country. Nevertheless, all cities are not equal. Dense/walkable cities with sufficient investment serve as engine of growth since they have economies of scale, benefits of specialization, diversity and large cooperation opportunities among economic agents. Cities are for densities. Due to zoning restriction and considering density as something highly undesirable, policy makers and bureaucrats who are in control of affairs encourage urban sprawl which makes it difficult to reap the benefits of cities. There is strong correlation between densities in cities and productivity. Since creation of jobs and high economic growth are the two major macro-economic indicators which needs to be improved. So when it comes to economic growth and the creation of jobs, denser the city better these indicators are.  Denser/walkable cities have scale effects due to presence of large number of consumers and lot of turnover in business. Economists estimate workers in denser/walkable places are more productive and earn higher wages when other variables are controlled. These estimates in productivity range from 6 percent to 28 percent and some economists have claimed that half of the variation in output per worker across the United States can be explained by density alone. According to Ryan Avent in his book The Gated City “What makes a city a city and a not-city a not-city is the fact that a city is dense and a not-city isn’t.” Unless there is a change in the mindset of public policy makers, urban planners and general public from a typical dispersed city to modern uprising and mix-use city with an optimal density near its center, our cities will not become harbinger of growth.



[1] Author is faculty member at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. Email:


Date posted: January 1, 2014
Categories: Blogs Cities and Sustainability

Comments (3 responses)

  • Maryam says:

    Couldn’t agree more on this. To my understanding the problems that we actually face are due to the lack of policies that ensure an equivalent expansion of all cities rather than abnormal expansion of fewer ones. once, we are able to devise ways of doing so, we’ll be able to work out solutions t many f our economic problem.
    China proves to be an excellent case study in this regard.

  • Land-value taxation, with no tax on buildings, promotes compact urban density.

  • Uzma says:

    Good and interesting Writing….
    Dense cities not only provide job opportunites, good wages, basic facilities but also helpful in building communities. where people know each other, as we see in Muhalas… but if we visit Islamabad posh areas, we can see big houses, with all luxuries but no one knows who live in their neighborhood….
    from economic point of view, suppose there is Sector X, which is newley established…. where only three to four houses… it would be very hard to find any hospital, school, barbar shop etc. similarly in these areas there can be issue of GAS, Electricity, water supply. but with time when people move towards this sector, demand for clinics, schools, barbar shops, Gas, electricity, water supply etc increases .. so as this sector become dense, job opportunity increases as standard of living also improved..

    in cities housing is becomming a big issue, here at one side we can see big houses while at other side people lives in slums. i think if flat system are promoted, then it can accomodate many people.

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