The Watch

Historic Karachi

Karachi, Pakistan

2018 World Monuments Watch

Growing urbanization is a global phenomenon that manifests in every aspect of life in the 21st century. One such result is the development of megacities, urban agglomerations that now house tens of millions and continue to grow. Few cities illustrate this trend more dramatically than Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city and only port. At the time of the partition of British India in 1947, Karachi was a major center of commerce, with a population of approximately 450,000. Since then, the port city has seen an almost 50-fold increase in its population, a soaring growth rate set in motion by the population exchange between the two new countries and subsequently fueled by continued internal migration from rural parts of Pakistan.

This massive growth imperils the preservation of Karachi’s historic fabric, depriving its citizens of a unique cultural legacy that is visible from the imposing former offices of foreign and local businesses, to the grand residences of merchants, industrialists, and army officers, and to the landscaped open spaces that surround them. Even though a large number of historic sites have been granted legal protection, the results of a recent survey were dispiriting: out of a sample of 700 buildings that were landmarked during the 1990s, 10 percent were demolished and 30 percent were found in a state of abandonment and neglect—a shocking rate of attrition. In recent years, the relaxation of zoning regulations has exacerbated the pressure on the historic urban environment, as urban planners try to address the mounting need for housing, infrastructure, transportation, energy, and employment. The 2018 World Monuments Watch calls attention to a slowly unfolding crisis and urges stakeholders, including property owners and development agencies, to seek new solutions for the revitalization of Karachi’s built heritage.

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