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Notes on the Geography of Pakistan: Lahore: Modern

Tired of old stuff?  There's a modern Lahore, too.

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Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 1

But what do you make of this? The sign can be read by only a minority of even literate Pakistanis. Are we looking at the master language?

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 2

Off the mall: a shopping district for electronics.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 3

Cell phones are especially popular.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 4

Enough sign porn. We've moved six miles south of the Fort to Model Town, created in 1919 as the brainchild of a British-educated lawyer, Diwan Khem Chand. Familiar with Ebenezer Howard's work, Chand decided to build a garden city in Lahore. He set out to secure a thousand acres on which to build a thousand houses; in fact he secured 1,963 acres, on which 6,000 houses have been built.

(This and the captions for the following pictures rely heavily on Chand's "Scheme for the Model Town and Its Realization," 1930, summarized by Aijazzudin's Lahore Recollected, 2003, pp. 206-212.)

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 5

Model Town is designed in eight superblocks surrounding a ring road, which is two miles in circumference around a central park with a lake that was never built. On the ground, the central park tends to scrub, although the parts hugging the ring are in various public uses, including schools.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 6

One of the radial superblock streets: houses were limited to covering no more than one-third of the lot.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 7

The office today of the Model Town Co-operative Society; originally, it was the Club Building, from 1930. We're on the inner rim of the inner circle and on the side facing away from Lahore. This became the most exclusive part of Model Town.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 8

The layout is complex but tidy.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 9

Houses were divided into Class A, B, and C, with respectively larger and smaller lots. The Society itself acted as a builder and offered a hundred plans from which members could choose; many were designed by the Society's architect, M.C. Khanna. The result is not so far removed from Khem Chands's original idea of a town where "each house would be detached from the others and would be built Bungalow-like with some garden around it."

Prakash Tandon writes, in Chapter 16 of Punjabi Century that Model Town "was almost entirely populated by retired government officials, who all addressed each other as Rai Sahib, Rai Bahadur, Khan Sahib or Khan Bahadur, Sardar Sahib or Sardar Bahadur. One after the other, old engineers, army doctors, retired civilians and session judges arrived on the spot and started laying their foundations. The results of their efforts were all curiously alike, because they were all patterned on the government bungalows which had been their homes, and the dak bungalows which had been the scene of so much of their activity."

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 10

Prakash Tandon continues: "Having spent their lives as officials, [the Model Town Residents] now all tried to run the Society office and its poor secretary, who usually never stayed in the job for long. The retired conservator of forests took him and the malis to task about the trees and road hedges; the engineers, depending upon the branch of Public Works Department (PWD) they had belonged to, forced their advice about the roads, buildings, canal water ditches and electricity; while the retired ICS [Indian Civil Service] just laid the law down about everything."

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 11

Many of Model Town's 6,000 homes are new, including some very high-style properties.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 12

Model Town's commercial district, on the side of the ring facing Lahore, is much less stylish. If you want modern retail, you'll have to go to the nearby neighborhood of Gulberg.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 13

And that's where we've come. The name Gulberg ("flower meadow") is farfetched, but here's where you'll find Lahore's upscale shopping.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 14

Plenty of new construction.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 15

Won't win any medals.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 16

A more restrained building.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 17

These malls are shiny but filled with tiny shops, as though a typical South Asian shopping street had been sent indoors.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 18

A fair-sized shoe store.

Pakistan: Lahore: Modern picture 19

The boys from Oak Brook are adaptable. Here they sell McArabias, a hamburger in soft flatbread. My judgment: better than the back-home version.

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