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The Role of Streets and Citizens

In the light of Lahore, Pakistan

by Neha Fatima

Abstract: The essay explores the role of citizens and streets in defining the quality of communal living in an urban setting and the facts that affect, make or improve the social and cultural living of a society. This exploration is achieved by comparing three different residential urban streetscapes within the city of Lahore.

walled city map lahore pakistan

[Image 1] Map of old/ancient Walled City of Lahore with boundary marked in red dotted line

lahore map

[Image 2] Location of selected streets on the map of Lahore


Who owns the city? And on what basic factors is this ownership dependent? There are two essential types of physical ownership involved in building up a society or living in any system i.e. ownership of a house and ownership of an area or mohallah that leads to owning the city, district and country. The ownership of a house consists of the first fundamental rule i.e. financially owning it, either temporarily or permanently, rental or property passed on through family. Then the second step is when the house turns into a home by physically living there or spending some time of your life that you associate yourself emotionally to in that very place. This second phenomenon of “emotional association” is basically the very foundation of the ownership of a city which is dependent on three basic factors of building a society

a) safety

b) contact and 

c) assimilation of children [2]


Lahore, once a city guarded by walls, has always been planned and lived-in in a way that provided neighborhood living.


The organic growth and the winding narrow streets with squares every now and then of the old Walled City is a true example of this neighborhood living. Later the modern new communities, built around a small central park, were designed to increase the ever interaction of communal living and increase the sense of security, but over the years, this communal living has decreased. This shift in living has drastically changed our perception of Lahore.


Urban fabric, streets


Lahore, now a progressive metropolitan city, is a promising vision. We look at this city as a hub of economic growth, a city where everyone comes with dreams of “big-city life”, life that will allow us to make a good living for our families, a city that would provide a home for wife and children, a good school, a good neighborhood. But do we mean a good neighborhood where no one pays heed to what is happening next door, or a neighborhood where the children and housewives find friends and comfort? A neighborhood with a sense of communal security and safety or a house that requires guards, cameras and security bars running around the walls?

All these questions are merely facts derived from literature, storytelling, narrative and observations from my own childhood. The childhood that I lived in Gulberg [3] included us children of the neighborhood playing from asr to maghrib. Maghrib, the time of sun dusk, was a curfew time for every child to return home. We would spend all this day-time playing, walking around the fence of the park, or catching tadpoles from the little pond created around the tap of the park, ringing bells of each other´s house and if nothing else idly laying down on grass and telling each other chronicles of our great grandparents. This communal living that was yet restricted to only the limits of streets or the park in front of the house has now been reduced meticulously. The interaction among children has narrowed down to only a few play dates at home or outdoors planned by parents with greater politics in mind than their children’s own benefit. It is reduced to its own circle, with the hierarchy of class and creed that leads to isolation and formation of social introvert groups. 


I once happened to find a picture of Lahore from the 1930s in which I saw a woman chaining her bicycle at Kinnaird College and I would like to imagine the liberty, trust, confidence of that era in its society to allow such independence. We may call our society a progressive modern now because of technology and facilities but we must ponder on this concept for a second: What does progressive society really mean? Does that mean efficient vehicular roads? Does that mean better road networks for the mobility of private cars around the city? Underpass, overhead bridge and the like? Or is a progressive society a society that trusts and relies on public facilities that allow people to walk and talk?


We can blame technology to be overwhelming and distracting but the truth is, it is our own efforts of making a society strong because we are unable to trust and be trusted. The continuous sprawl of parasitic metropolitan cities of Pakistan like Lahore not only disillusions the perception of utopian living but eats away the natural environment for humans to have a healthy living. This absence of natural environment plus the longer commute and traffic has tended to abstain a neighborhood from communal living. The cricket matches that we once played every night out on the street have shifted to cricket courts that require planning, finances and 





The transitional urban space like streets defines the quality of life of not only of those blocks but in fact of the city. Streets not only define the paradigm of the neighborhood but make or break the communal living. Streets are one step ahead of ownership, from owning a house to owning your  city.  


The streets or blocks in focus to comprehend the sense of community and limitations because of vehicular traffic in Lahore are selected as follows:


A) Street 6, BB Block, Phase 4, Defense Housing Authority

B) Chaudhry Muhammad Yusuf Road, Gulberg III

C) Kucha Hussain Shah, Androon Lahore near Wazir Khan Mosque


The streets selected above are different in context, wage group and design,

 however, the selection is done on the basis of similarities in urban fabric i.e. the streets are purely residential thus they share a commercial context at the intersection and an adjacent public space. Chaudhry Muhammad Yusuf Road and Street 6 BB Block DHA both have public parks at the cross section of the streets and a commercial shop i.e. dhaba or small-scale sector market whereas Kucha Hussain Shah shares the similar context of a commercial shop at the intersection and a small square on the other end. The following sketches explain the criteria of selection and the urban fabric of these streets.

Street 6, BB Block, DHA


The location of the selected street is near to one of the main roads cutting through Defence Housing Authority i.e. it is highly accessible with a central public park at one cross-section, a sector mosque and a primary school on the other cross-section.

[1] Mohallah is an Urdu language word meaning immediate neighborhood, it refers to a very close communal living.


[2] Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage Books, 1961).

[3] Gulberg is a city central area in Lahore known for good connections around the city, a close communal residential sector and one of the busiest public spaces in the city.

dha street section copy.jpg

[Image 5] Typical section of the street

lahore map street

[Image 4] Street and the main arteries marked along with the public park, school and commercial area

lahore street map

[Image 3] Location of street marked on the plan along with the reference of the main road and hotspots of the city

Chaudhry Muhammad Yusuf Road, 

Gulberg III


The location of this selected street is adjacent to a main road leading to Ghalib  Market area and it is near to the significant Hussain Chowk in Gulberg. This street has the context of a public park at one cross- section and a small tuck shop (parchoon dukaan) on the opposite cross-section.

gurlberg MASTERMAP.jpg

[Image 6] Location of street marked on the plan along with the reference of the main road and hotspots of the city

Gulberg map2.jpg

[Image 7] Street and the main arteries marked along the public park and commercial area

gulberg section copy.jpg

[Image 8] Typical section of the street

Kucha Hussain Shah, Androon 

Lahore near Wazir Khan Mosque


The location of this street is in the Old Walled City of Lahore near Wazir Khan Mosque, Delhi Gate. The street, also known as Kucha in local language, is directly linked to the main street coming from the mosque and opening into a small square.

androon mastermap.jpg

[Image 9] Location of street marked on the plan along with the reference of main road and hotspots of the city

Androon map 2.jpg

[Image 10] Illustration of street location adjoining small square and meat shop.

Street Section copy.jpg

[Image 11] Typical section of the street


[Image 12] 



Spatial quality is a term in urbanism that is used in the framework of “Place Making” i.e. designing a better place. Following are four criteria for place making.


Accessibility and connectivity, a place that is easily accessible and well         connected.


Image and comfort, the place provides the image and sense of comfort for users to be feeling welcomed.


Use and activity, it should provide a platform for uses and activities.


And sociability, lastly the place instigates social interaction, security relativity.


The urban streets observed above are best explained through a short visual narrative ahead:

Street 6, BB Block, DHA


An x-ray of the street on a normal sunny day.


[Image 13] 

The only active traffic on the street is the motor vehicles and finally ... 


[Image 14] 

... I pinpoint children. But as I come closer to the kids I see they are as bored as the street seemed to be too by itself. The kids belong to the servant of the house. So, they do not even feel at home to enjoy the street.


[Image 15] 

Chaduhry Muhammad Yusuf Road, Gulberg IIII

As I see the street, full of life i.e. the people, as much as the vehicles. 


[Image 16] 

And yet I see the street hawker pulling out women and children on the street with all the ongoing vehicular traffic.


[Image 17] 

All Images

And so, the little tuck shop on the corner becomes the center of gathering but in the midst of vehicles.

1 copy.jpg

[Image 18] 

Kucha Hussain Shah, Androon Lahore near Wazir Khan Mosque

Only motorcycles can be seen with people moving around.


[Image 19] 

I started to notice the walls with posters advising to “not to throw away garbage in the open as you are watched”.

3 copy.jpg

[Image 20] 

And when I look up, I realise that really everyone notices as a lady on her balcony keeps an eye on the alley like a cop.

The three short pictorial narratives summarize the way of life of the blocks, the streets and the community. From DHA to Kucha in Androon Shehr we see the fusion of not only the human activity but the vehicular activity as well. It clearly defines the loci while designing this urban fabric and the sociability of the community.


[Image 21]  

Sign by the 

municipal authorities of DHA for a safe neighborhood


[Image 22]  Signage by the communal residents of Kucha Hussain Shah. 


Layers in society

There are three basic layers that make a society i.e. the


Natural layer

The natural layer refers to the presence of flora and fauna in the area for a healthy environment.


Cultural layer

The cultural layer is the most dynamic layer that refers to the lifestyle, culture of the society and human interaction.


Urban layer

It includes the physical envelope i.e. manmade infrastructure essential for living. [4]


Now apart from the structural urban layer i.e. roads, houses and utility, we see a disconnection between the layers mentioned above. This disconnection between the layers and user interaction is due to the lack of accessibility of these streets i.e. either they are more accessible for vehicular traffic or they are encouraging pedestrian movement. The most influential cultural layer on these streets are the ‘street hawkers’ [5]. The subcontinent culture has been prevailing in our societies since urbanization which compels the residents to come out and initiate the human interaction and this way builds trust and a respectful relationship between the poor and the privileged. Sadly, our most advanced housing authorities have eliminated this basic cultural layer like in DHA as the example of the street above shows.


Not only this, the neighboring municipalities greatly influence the quality of life and thus the streets under scrutiny above are influenced by the ever-increasing private vehicles in the city as you can refer to the short narrative above. It is not only these streets but every residential and public street in Lahore now caters or at least tries to serve the vehicular traffic by compromising the pedestrian accessibility and generating pollution in the environment. 


Hence, we can conclude that our dependency on private vehicles is greatly affecting our ownership of the city which is attained by safety, contact and assimilation of children.

Sustainable neighborhood


The sustainable neighborhood that I want to highlight in my analysis is the culturally sustainable neighborhood. The intangible subcontinent culture of Pakistan, or may be even before, is expressed in “mohallahdari”. Mohallahdari is a simple one-word term in Urdu language meaning relations with your neighborhood, used in a positive social way, featuring empathetic relations with your neighbors. And these neighbors do not restrict to only the immediate neighbors but to the whole block like Kucha in Androon Shehr (old Lahore). The indigenous growth of the old Walled City of Lahore can be observed as containing small nodes, intersections and blocks as the module spread and developed over-time following this intangible component. As the urbanization allowed better conditions and started to cater for motor-vehicles like in Gulberg, the Mohallahdari remained but with utter traffic and polluted environment making it perilous for the residents to interact. Nevertheless, the adaptive nature of the neighborhood lives through it. Whereas the module followed in DHA of methodical strategy, the urban system articulates in a way that even little eradication of cultural norms (street hawkers) distant the residents. The sense of ownership of the community can be understood by the following evident examples of the two streets below.


We can see the disconnection of the community with authorities in the first signage whereas the involvement of neighborhood in the second signage is evident. This involvement is the actual “ownership of the city” that we require which is directly related to personalization and the ability to relate. Gulberg and many other societies in Lahore operate by following the same module and forming welfare societies in which residents come in together and work for their neighborhood. The precedent for a healthier cultural neighborhood is present in our own cities, though these neighborhoods are not perfect having poor infrastructure and limited resources, their communal behavior is commendable. We, as citizens, designers, dwellers and modern men, settled in our better infrastructure and larger resources need to learn from the cultural values of Kucha and adopt them to develop the true sense of ownership of our society.

[4] Reference from Strelka Institute online urban course. 

[5] A person who offers goods for sale by shouting in the street or going from door to door; peddler. 


Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Vintage Books, 1961).


Kevin Lynch, The Image of the City (Massachusetts, London: The M.I.T. Press, 1960) pp. 46-90.


Mostafa Behzadfar, Public arena and urban space (Tehran: Iran University of Science and Technology, 2008).


Soheila Zare, Recognition of Social Interaction in Urban Spaces as an Index for Social Sustainability 

(Zarghan: Islamic Azad University, 2015).


Online References


‘Dialectical Materialism, On the human being and being human’, (accessed 25 September, 2019).


‘Human Society’, 

(accessed 25 September, 2019).


‘Understanding Social Interaction’, (accessed 25 September, 2019).

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