Some call it the Berlin Wall; others describe it as an unwelcoming, disconcerting barrier. A third group sees it as a muffler, tightly – rather, forcibly – wrapped around the neck of a seemingly unwilling metropolis and its residents.
These are the different ways that the residents of Lahore see the elevated pathway being built for a bus rapid transit (BRT) service between the southern and the northern ends of the city. Most of the 27-kilometre-long pathway has been completed in less than a year — all except for two components: a small stretch connecting Niazi Chowk on the southern side of the RaviRiver to Shahdara on the northern side, and an overhead bridge across the river dedicated for the bus service.
The provincial government, which is funding and overseeing the construction of the pathway and related expenditure, claims that the bus service will provide a transport facility that the people of Lahore could only have experienced abroad. Residents of the city, however, appear unable to appreciate the promised benefits, at least not until the buses can start running. From the city’s most eminent people to its most ordinary dwellers, everyone so far can only be heard complaining about the project.
“They [government officials] have not taken into consideration the peculiar character of Lahore’s heritage nor have they consulted artists, historians and social scientists [while planning the project]. All of them would have said: ‘Look, what you are doing?’” says Salima Hashmi, former principal of the National College of Arts, Lahore. She is also a member of the advisory committee of Dilkash Lahore, a project recently initiated by the Punjab government to protect the city’s history and heritage.