Politics of Urban Water and Urban Landscapes

August 10, 2017


The urban water and landscape scenario has changed considerably since the middle of the last century. During the transition from industrial production to service-oriented economies, waterfronts emerged as prime redevelopment sites in many Western countries. City builders transformed non-operational factories into festival marketplaces and mixed-use neighborhoods. These changes marked an important paradigm shift in the context of economic functionality of shorelines. This paradigm shift appeared quick and decisive, dominated by large-scale infrastructural redevelopment that integrated some sites into the changing economy by creating new themes of water-oriented living and leisure. The social and material production of urban landscapes has recently emerged as an important area in urban studies, human - environmental interactions and social studies. It has been prompted by the recognition that the material conditions that comprise urban environments are not independent from social, political, and economic processes.

The perspectives on politics of urban water and landscapes have been evolving over the span of time. In the current era, new perspectives in the context of political economy and policy framework have led to new developments that may be judiciously exploited in the best interests of humanity.


LEAD Pakistan invited Dr. Daanish Mustafa to shed light upon the evolving urban water and landscapes paradigm, which is facing increasingly difficult challenges when it comes to sustainable living. The talk explored how urban landscapes are a manifestation of humanitys’ relationship to the non-human world and the political economy. Urban water and urban landscapes, which are closely interlinked, should be analyzed through the lens of utilitarian, cultural and political aspects. The interactive session had participation from a diverse set of stakeholders, all of whom actively participated in the proceedings.


Dr. Daanish Mustafa gave an enlightening presentation on the prevailing trends for urban water and landscapes, covering the adverse effects of transitioning to non-native horticulture practices. In Pakistan, the absence of any regulatory frameworks or incentives for the horticulture industry to promote native plant species has led to a sharp increase in imported varieties of ornamental plants for urban landscaping. These plants often have limited life spans and poor survival rates.

Globally, Japan and Italy are the biggest suppliers of hybrid seeds. Pakistan is the second largest importer of hybrid seeds. The horticulture business has flourished in Pakistan over the past few years, to the point where it is now a multi-billion rupee industry. It was highlighted that Pakistan mainly imports horticultural products from Thailand, Indonesia and Italy and specifically imports flowers from China and Japan. Pattoki, in the Punjab province, is home to an infinite number of nurseries that supply plants to all other cities in Pakistan. These nurseries do, however, promote exotic plants as opposed to native varieties that are well-suited to our climate. The mushrooming private housing societies account for 60% of the horticultural industry’s client base, while the remaining 40% is taken up by the nurseries.

Drastic changes in the horticultural trends have been brought about by the private housing societies in Pakistan since the year 2000.Private housing societies have focused on beautification of landscapes through ornamental plantation, which has caused a balloon in the horticulture economy. Now, plantation authorities of these societies are receiving profits because building properties with aesthetically pleasing gardens and green structures has a good opportunity cost. People are willing to pay more to live in a green, leafy and beautiful environment, but when it comes to civic responsibility and regulation, the government is not solely responsible for maintaining urban water and landscapes. Rather, it is the duty of every citizen, within their means, to work collectively to bring the city’s waterscapes and landscapes to life.

The politics of urban landscapes include the role that is performed by city authorities to maintain these areas not only for humans but also for wildlife, and to create a healthy atmosphere for generations to come. Green structure planning strategies and policies, nature conservation, peripheral landscapes and maintaining green belts should be the key principles of this approach.

With the rapid rise in population and urbanization, it is critically important to ensure urban water supply remains at the top of the government’s agenda. Providing adequate sanitation services, ensuring timely water supply and efficient water distribution, reducing water theft, leakage and waste and controlling pollution should be the goals of all relevant water authorities and companies.

Major cities in Pakistan such as Karachi add more than 600, 000 people to the country’s population every year, while water resources become increasingly scarce. The supply has been static at 550 million gallons per day with less than one-third of consumers paying their water bills. In addition, the bottled water business continues to thrive without any regulatory oversight. Proper regulatory frameworks for utilization of water resources would help in dealing with this, as well as preventing unsustainable exploitation by commercial water suppliers.

Accentuating the politics of urban water and landscapes, it is important to take into consideration the fact that the shorelines and parks of a city not only create a healthier and more pleasing environment, but also tell us more about how effective the city’s governance is. Creating a better and more livable environment for citizens should be a priority for the local, district and national governments of any country. This is especially true given the impact of climate change, especially in a country like Pakistan which is vulnerable to climate-induced hazards.

Dr. Daanish concluded the session with the observation that it is vital for Pakistanis to appreciate the natural beauty of their country and to, rather than follow Western trends in horticulture and landscaping, invest in our native flora.