A sensible approach needs to be adopted instead of trying to stomp out all commercial activity in residential areas
ISLAMABAD: There is a push for the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to ensure all houses in Islamabad are only used for residential purposes. Although this is something that is apparently required by some master plan drawn up in the 1960s, it would be a clumsy step when it comes to enforcement, as it will not be in Islamabad’s interest in present times. The capital needs more versatile accommodation to cater to the needs of the broad spectrum of businesses (schools, clinics, showrooms, offices and restaurants). Free market forces have found accommodation of businesses by using houses. To date, the CDA has tacitly permitted these businesses to grow in certain areas and the capital’s population has been, generally, grateful for this. A more sensible approach needs to be adopted instead of trying to stomp out all commercial activity in residential areas. Apart from being impractical and costly to abolish businesses already set up in homes, if this aim were to be achieved, its consequences would be negative.
Rates of commercial property in the sub-sector markets would jump, forcing out small businesses and shops, which residents have come to rely on. Congestion and the parking situation in commercial areas would further exacerbate. Also, where there is supposed ‘planned’ parking, such as in the pricey new tower blocks in Blue Area, vehicles are regularly parked in long queues on the main roads. As a result of elevated rent rates, the cost of doing business would increase, reducing the viability of some businesses. In a time like this, businesses should be nurtured in Pakistan rather than being further discouraged. In the case of schools, while there is some sense in encouraging them to be moved to purpose-built campuses, it should be realised that Islamabad relies heavily on nurseries and junior schools that are readily accessible.
Of course, untrammelled commercial activity is not desirable and peaceful neighbourhoods should not be disturbed by traffic congestion or large billboards. A logical solution would be to permit commercialisation of those houses that are close to commercial areas — and in all reality, those stretches have already lost their residential feel. By permitting certain houses to be commercialised, there would be more flexibility in the accommodation for schools and other businesses, whilst preserving harmony for the wider community. These houses could be given a secondary commercial categorisation such that they may be used for commercial purposes as long as the structure remains in the proportion permitted for a house. That way, houses close to the commercialised property would not suffer. Restrictions could then be imposed, such as the requirement to have internal parking, limited size of signage and restricted occupation levels. Furthermore, by legalising certain stretches to be used for commercial purposes, the CDA could earn revenue by charging commercial rates, in the same manner that the Lahore Development Authority does. Other cities in Pakistan, as well as other countries, permit some commercial activity within houses, for good reason. There is no reason for Islamabad to be any different.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 2nd, 2015.
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