Arif Hasan is an architect and planner working in Karachi, a city of more than 12 million inhabitants in Pakistan, with the associated problems of a lack of resources such as regular power cuts, water shortages and extremely high land prices. Hasan is well-known for his involvement in low-income housing especially the Orangi Pilot project, which built up a number of approaches to upgrading squatter settlements. Through research carried out in association with architecture students at Dawood College in Karachi, Hasan developed a framework for the Orangi settlement that acknowledged the central role played by the thallawala, someone who sets-up and manages a builders yard in the settlement. Typically, thallawalas make building components, give advice on building techniques, as well as providing water and credit loans for the embryonic settlements. The thallawalas therefore provide a minimum level of infrastructure required for a new settlement to be built, and the Orangi project worked by concentrating on improving the skills of the thallawalas and sourcing cheaper building materials for them. Spatial agency here takes account of the existing social infrastructure that allowed the settlements to be built in the first place. Hasan's approach is rare as it enhances and uses existing skills and knowledge rather than imposing other ways of doing.
Another strategy employed at Orangi was to organise the inhabitants to finance and build their own sewage systems, where each lane of the settlement took responsibility for its own part of the network. They also ran a credit programme for small businesses and health and educational programmes. During the course of the project specific sanitation and construction technology was developed which was compatible with the sociology and economics of low income groups. Once again agency occurs through giving importance to local knowledge: the strategy of residents building their own sewage system would only have worked in the context of self-building and the existence of the thallawalas who provided an effective way of disseminating specialised knowledge. The emphasis on developing not only the physical infrastructure but also a social infrastructure makes the project sustainable. This model of a micro-level planning approach is now being replicated in other settlements in Pakistan.
Orangi Pilot Project; http://www.oppinstitutions.org/
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