Posts Tagged ‘Urban’

Delimitation and Equal Representation of the Urban Vote

January 21, 2018

By Anjum Altaf


It should be obvious that alternative ways of drawing constituency boundaries can significantly influence electoral outcomes. An historical example can make the point: the 2003 redistricting (the term used in the U.S.) in Texas, spanning the 2002 and 2004 elections, changed the composition of its delegation to the U.S. Congress from 15 Republicans and 17 Democrats to 21 Republicans and 11 Democrats (1).

It is no wonder that redistricting is a hot issue in the U.S. whose fairness has been the subject of repeated Supreme Court reviews. There the deliberate manipulation of boundaries to influence electoral outcomes, termed gerrymandering, is along two lines – favouring one party over another, as in the case mentioned above, or attempting to reduce the representation of racial minorities (2).

In this context it is surprising to find no analysis of past practise in Pakistan nor much interest now that we are undergoing the process after a gap of nearly 20 years. This could suggest universal agreement on the fairness of the delimitation process in the country. Even so, one should be curious to know if any biases exist in past exercises and how they have evolved under changing demographics over time.

Continuing urbanization suggests the issue could be important with the distinct possibility that the urban population is under-represented in the legislature. Historical parallels can be employed again to underscore the relevance. The 1919 election in Germany is considered the first truly fair one because it was the first held after scrapping constituencies that grossly over-represented rural areas (3). In India, where about a third of the overall population is recorded as urban, only about 85 of the 543 constituencies for the Lok Sabha, or under 15 per cent, have a majority urban population (4, 5).

How can such under-representation of the urban electorate come about? Simply, by “splitting” the urban population into a number of seats most of which have rural majorities. This can be shown easily with an hypothetical example. Imagine a district with a population of 4 million including a city of 1 million and suppose the population per electoral seat is also 1 million yielding a total of 4 seats for the district. Constituency boundaries can be drawn such that there is a constituency with an urban population of 1 million and 3 constituencies with rural populations of a million each. On the other hand, the urban population can be split to yield the following 4 constituencies (populations in millions with U and R representing urban and rural shares, respectively) (i) .3U, .7R; (ii) .3U, .7R; (iii) .4U, .6R; (iv) 0U, 1R.

The urban population is fairly represented in the first case – 25% of the population having 25% of the seats. With the second set, it is completely unrepresented with no seats at all. The actual situation in Pakistan is likely to be one, as in India, where the urban population is considerably under-represented in the legislature.   

Asides from the fact that urban-based political parties have much to lose from dilution of the urban vote, there are other negative consequences of such under-representation, if it exists. First, the constitution guarantees each citizen a vote of equal value and under-representation devalues that of the urban citizen. Second, Election Commission guidelines stipulate that constituencies be demarcated such that homogeneity of the community is ensured. Urban and rural communities are, however, very heterogeneous and one can expect a representative dependent on a rural majority to neglect the interests of the rump of urban voters in his/her constituency (6).

It can be inferred from the above that unless cities and towns acquire a political voice commensurate with their numbers they will lack the attention they need to serve their residents nor get the resource allocations needed for national development. The latter is relevant since almost three-fourths of gross domestic output of the country now emanates from urban areas.

Over the years observers have noted the persistent dominance of “feudals” in legislatures, the term used loosely to denote members of notable families repeatedly elected on the basis of dependent clienteles that are much more a feature of rural than urban demographics. Since such rural clienteles are easier to control it is natural that the beneficiaries would not want the status quo to change in their constituencies. It is therefore reasonable to speculate that medium and small urban centers would be split almost entirely into constituencies with rural majorities, a speculation supported by their condition. Only a rigorous study can provide the evidence for a correction like the one that marked the beginning of fair representation in Germany.

It is also of interest to consider why delimitation or redistricting is so contentious in the U.S. and so ignored in Pakistan. It could be because there are easier alternatives available to the establishment and political parties to influence electoral outcomes in Pakistan – these include, rigging, bribing, inducing military takeovers, and outright dismissals of governments. No such measures are available to political parties in the U.S. forcing them to rely on indirect methods like redistricting and the Electoral College. It is therefore not a surprise that in the US the redistricting process has been retained under the political control of state legislatures while most other countries, including Pakistan, have  transferred it to the jurisdiction of neutral commissions.

This last observation raises a related issue meriting attention in Pakistan. Election laws stipulate that electoral constituencies should preferably lie within district boundaries which means that creating new districts perforce necessitates delimitation. Since creating new districts is a political prerogative in Pakistan one can speculate that it could have had underlying electoral imperatives. A retrospective study could test this hypothesis since the stated rationale of better governance advanced for the creation of new districts cannot bear the weight of objective evidence.

An analytical exercise seems warranted with the objective of ensuring that election outcomes reflect the popular will and that the preferences of voters are translated faithfully into policy outcomes. Both these are dependent on unbiased representation (7).


1. Handley, Lisa. “Challenging the Norms and Standards of Election Administration: Boundary Delimitation”  in Challenging the Norms and Standards of Election Administration (IFES, 2007), p. 59-74. Accessed at:

2. Roth, Zachary. “Will the Court Kill the Gerrymander,” New York Review of Books, January 11, 2018. Accessed at:

3. German Federal Elections, 1919. Wikipedia. Accessed at:,_1919 

4. Lall, Rajiv. “AAP and the Politics of Urbanization,” January 15, 2014. Accessed at:

5. Kumar, Sanjay. “Delimitation of Constituencies,” in The Hindu, September 17, 2001. Accessed at:

6. Election Commission of Pakistan. “How to Demarch Constituencies,” 2017. Accessed at:

7. Verma, A.K. “Delimitation in India: Methodological Issues,” in Economic and Political Weekly, March 4, 2006. Accessed at:

The writer was dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at LUMS and is currently a fellow at the Consortium for Development Policy Research in Lahore, Pakistan. This opinion was published in Dawn on January 20, 2018 and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

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Metropolitan Labour Markets and Urban Productivity

July 8, 2016

By Anjum Altaf

Urban productivity is determined by a number of variables, including population size and urban sprawl. With effective infrastructure investment, cities can enable more workers to access available jobs, creating integrated labour markets and increasing urban productivity.


From an economic perspective, the concept of a metropolitan area is related to the existence of an integrated labour market. If the labour market extends beyond the municipal boundaries of a city, it becomes part of a metropolitan labour market.

Metropolitan labour markets are important because output per worker increases with the size of the labour market; increased population density leads to a higher number of economic interactions per unit of area.

However, the population size of a city is only one determinant of its productivity. The other critical determinant is urban sprawl, which takes into account how far jobs and residences are located, and the speed of transport, which influences access to jobs. The speed itself is a product of the transport system and infrastructure investment management. In this framework, one key objective for an urban area is to increase the size of the labour market, which becomes a useful indicator to measure policy effectiveness for increasing urban productivity.

thumbnail_Fig 1.2-1

Factors Explaining Productivity of Cities

Source: Prud’homme, R. 1997. Urban Transport and Economic Development. Revue Region & Developpement.

One measure of the ‘effective size’ of a labour market is the average number of jobs available to city residents within a travel time of 60 minutes, using a mode of transportation available to the majority

Research suggests that the agglomeration effects on labour productivity die out almost completely beyond the one-hour commute boundary. Studies show that 100% of the total jobs in cities like Los Angeles, Chicago, District of Columbia and Atlanta are accessible to every worker within a one-hour commute, i.e. these cities have fully integrated labour markets. This high access, despite the well-known sprawl of these cities, is due to the combination of high-speed public transit (DC, Chicago) or reliance on the personal automobile for commuting (LA, Atlanta).

One would expect the effective size of the labour market to be smaller in South Asian countries, where not all workers will be able to access every job easily, because high-speed public transit is limited and most households do not own motorized transport. This matters from a policy perspective since without an integrated labour market a city does not benefit from its large population size but only bears all the well-known disadvantages. In effect, a city with fragmented labour markets is really a set of smaller cities juxtaposed to each other. To access a higher paying job in a non-overlapping labour market, a worker would need to relocate.

The case of Lahore

This hypothesis was tested in the 40th largest city in the world, Lahore, which has a metropolitan population of 9 million. We limited ourselves to one aspect of the size of the labour market – access to the presently existing number of jobs leaving aside the equally important employment creation aspect, which aims to increase the total number of available jobs.

Formal estimation of the average number of jobs that can be reached by the typical worker in one hour requires sophisticated modelling and a rich data source. With sparse data and budget constraints, a proxy measure can be used – the population that can access a particular node in the city within a one-hour commute as a proportion of the total city population.

Taking Lahore city centre as the relevant node we first measured access to it from three small cities within a 30 mile radius of Lahore. We found none within a one-hour commuting distance to Lahore using public transport. Hence, Lahore does not have a metropolitan labour market. We then investigated the labour market within the municipal boundary of Lahore. Using the main industrial and service sector hubs and residential housing concentrations as relevant nodes, we confirmed that the Lahore labour market is highly fragmented.

Potential solutions to the fragmented labour markets

Increasing the economic productivity of Lahore requires the integration of its fragmented labour markets. A time-bound target would require strategic investments in high-speed public transit and improved traffic management along particularly congested corridors. The unambiguously measurable indicators of effective labour market size would allow progress to be easily monitored over time.

Such an intervention would simultaneously augment the metropolitan labour market, since our study revealed that the commuting time from the neighbouring small cities to the municipal boundary of Lahore was well within 60 minutes. The main delays occurred in the segments connecting the municipal boundary to the city centre.

Our study showed that the prevalent policy of road investments does not support the labour market integration; rather it enables the affluent to move out to less dense suburbs and commute back on new roads using private automobiles further congesting city centres. The mobility of the lower-income majority within the dense quadrants of the city continues to worsen. The perverse outcome is that while the area of some one-hour commute circles increases over time their population densities drop significantly.

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A Typical Traffic Jam in Lahore

Such an infrastructure investment strategy caters to the convenience of the affluent and does virtually nothing for economic growth. It promotes a rapid increase in the number of private vehicles and prevents the city from staying ahead of the demand for road space. A strategy that is focused on urban economic growth needs to reorient itself to infrastructure and traffic management investments that positively impact the speed of movement in the dense areas themselves, rather than in facilitating access to the dense areas.

A unique approach for South Asian cities

While the focus should be on high-speed public transit in dense areas of cities, we do not recommend emulating developed cities by extending the network outside municipal boundaries (e.g. as in Washington, D.C., where outlying cities within 30 miles are a part of the metro-rail system). This is because the wage differential for the majority of workers between the outlying locations and the primary city is not sufficient to cover the incremental transport costs.

This conclusion raises the much bigger question of whether South Asian cities at their present levels of economic development and per-capita incomes should aspire to be compact or connected. This issue has not received adequate attention and real estate imperatives have caused most cities to spread out (sprawl) without adequate connectivity. They have become automobile-centric cities, even though less than 10% of their households own automobiles and compensating investment in public transport has been insufficient.

While it is too late for cities of the size of Lahore to undo their sprawl, the question should be taken seriously for smaller cities that are urbanizing rapidly, but still have time for intelligent spatial design interventions.

thumbnail_Fig 5.4-1

A Scene on the New BRT Line in Lahore

While recent investments in Bus Rapid Transit are ostensibly moves in the right direction (the completed BRT line in Lahore increased the size of the contiguous labour market by about a third), the orientation must be reassessed in the context of the compactness versus connectedness debate, necessitated by ability to pay realities. This would force much needed attention to issues of land use efficiency and how to enhance it using planning tools such as Floor Area Ratios, Transferable Development Rights, and Urban Growth Boundaries. These tools are currently not being leveraged at all in the urban planning of most cities in South Asia.

This article was published in City Voices,Vol 7, No 1, 2016 and is reproduced here with permission of the author. The article was written when the author was Vice-President and Provost at Habib University. Earlier he was Professor of Economics and Dean, School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.

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What’s Happening in Karachi?

November 16, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

What’s happening in Karachi is obvious for all to see. Why it’s happening is less obvious and, for that reason, the cause of much speculation.

Karachi’s ills are complex in nature and beyond the stage of simple prescriptions. This article looks at only one dimension of the problem: Why and how have conflicts in the city taken an increasingly religious form? For that, it is necessary to look at events that took place many years ago outside the city itself. It is often the case that the present cannot be explained fully without recourse to seemingly unrelated events that occurred in other places in the past. (more…)

Karachi is a Small City

November 15, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

City size is back in fashion as a variable of interest and this time bigness is being viewed as an advantage. This is quite a change from the perspective that prevailed for years when countries, specially developing ones, were decidedly anti-urban and wished to retard migration to prevent cities from increasing in size. Size was seen as a handicap and served as an excuse to explain away the problems of big cities. How should we see Karachi in this new perspective?

Of course, well-managed big cities have been around for a long time – Tokyo, New York and London are obvious examples. But somehow it was felt that such success could not be replicated in developing countries. (more…)

Lahore – What is to be Done?

January 26, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

In two earlier posts I had made the point that there are evidence-based methods to resolve the conflict over the proposed construction of an expressway along the Lahore Canal to reduce traffic congestion. In this post I suggest two specific approaches to achieve this objective.

Before proceeding to the concrete suggestions one should note that the judiciary, having intervened in the controversy, has given both sides time to resolve the dispute through mutual discussions. I feel this approach would prove inconclusive because this is not the kind of market transaction that is conducive to negotiations that are aimed at striking a deal, e.g., an agreement to sacrifice a number of trees that lies somewhere in the middle of the range mentioned by the two sides. (more…)

Lahore – The Wisdom of Jane Jacobs

January 22, 2010

By Anjum Altaf


The proposal to transform the greenbelt along the Lahore canal into an expressway in order to relieve the congestion of traffic has predictably divided citizens into two camps. The environmentalists bemoan the damage to nature while the developmentalists consider it the price for progress. Both sides rely on highly emotive sentiments and there seems no prospect of either convincing the other based on refutable evidence or logical argumentation. This outcome would be understandable in the Age of Faith but seems strikingly bizarre in the Age of Reason.

In the previous post I proposed one way to resolve this dilemma. In this post, I use the work of Jane Jacobs, perhaps the wisest urban scholar of the twentieth century, to further advance an analytical approach to the issue. (more…)

Lahore – A Canal Runs Through It

January 20, 2010

By Anjum Altaf

This is an essay about Lahore but it could be about any city in South Asia because it deals with an issue that is common to them all – traffic congestion. How do we propose to deal with traffic congestion that is growing all the time, what do we hope to achieve, what is the price we are willing to pay, and how do we know what we are doing makes sense?

The controversy in Lahore centers round the fate of a branch of the Bambawala-Ravi-Bedian (BRB) Canal (a 37 mile long waterway built by the Mughals and upgraded by the British in 1861) that runs through the city and is more than a cultural heritage for the citizens. The Lahore Canal is a unique linear park that serves as one of the few public green belts and the only free swimming pool for the majority of the city residents as can be seen in this photo essay. (more…)

Democracy in India – 9: Who Speaks for India?

May 24, 2009

Every five years there is an election in India and we interpret the results to conclude what we think the majority of Indians want. But what happens between two elections? How do we know where the majority of Indians stand on the various issues that crop up between elections?

Let us take an issue like the relationship of India with any of its neighboring countries that might become salient because of some random incident. What determines the policy response of the Indian government to such an incident?

If we are not Indian and are outside India, all we have to go by is the English language media. How representative is this of the voice of the majority of Indians who are rural? (more…)

Ahmedabad: Life in the City

January 18, 2009

What is the problem some might ask – Isn’t Ahmedabad still among the most dynamic cities in India growing economically at double-digit rates?

True enough, but there is something special about Ahmedabad; and the city is also changing in ways that warrant watching by those who are interested in the long term.

One person who has wondered about these changes is Professor Vrajlal Sapovadia who teaches in Ahmedabad and who has studied the impact of communal conflict on the life of the city.

The first fact Professor Sapovadia points out is that there are over 3000 urban locations in India but half the deaths in communal riots have occurred in just 8 cities that account for 18 percent of the India’s urban population and 6 percent of its total population. Of these 8 cities, Ahmedabad is among the main contributors. Given that Ahmedabad is the home of Gandhiji, the apostle of non-violence, this is a bit odd, isn’t it?

The conclusion is that communal conflict is not inherent in just the proximity of two communities. There are some places where, as Professor Sapovadia puts it, ‘sparks’ ignite much more readily into ‘fires’. If that is indeed the case, there is a clear need to study the reasons that abet this ignition more readily in some places than in others. Perhaps some useful lessons can come out of such a study.

The second point that Professor Sapovadia notes is that communal riots are changing the shape or the morphology of Ahmedabad: “The Muslims feel safer in their own ghettos and the same in true for the Hindus. The communal divide became more pronounced after each riot, but major riots of 1969, 1985, 1992 and 2002 made the divide much sharper…. There is a constant migration of Hindus and Muslims into the ghettos making the separation more apparent…. Segregation is not confined to the poor and middle classes. Even the elite areas are ghettoized.”

The effect of the communal conflict is reaching even further down to affect urban architecture: “The construction of houses is done in view of providing protection during communal riots. Therefore clashes along communal lines have been accepted and the people of the two communities are now mainly concerned about protecting themselves…. Often, ghettoization is promoted by the fact that Hindu/Muslim landlords simply refuse to rent out their houses to Muslim/Hindu tenants.”

The third impact on the city is the atmosphere of fear. Professor Sapovadia cites a study in Juhapura, now the largest Muslim settlement in Ahmedabad, where 56 percent of the respondents interviewed had been living in the area for less than 10 years: “This indicates a high level of migration or ghettoization in recent years.” Of the in-migrants, 46 percent had moved in from Hindu-dominated localities and 22 percent from areas with a mixed Hindu-Muslim population. “This clearly implies that fear and insecurity was the most important reason for their shifting of residence from one locality to another.”

This relocation has had a negative impact on the life chances of over 10 percent of the city’s population: “Migration and consequent ghettoization seems to have had a particularly deleterious impact on the economic condition of the [interview] respondents in Ahmedabad. Some 52 percent of the respondents in Ahmedabad said that their conditions had markedly declined after migration.” And this has consequences for future generations because “ghettoization of Muslims appears to have extremely deleterious impact on their overall economic and educational conditions.”

So, is the writing on the wall for all but the blind to see? Because, as Professor Sapovadia remarks on the consequences of segregation, “the lack of joint activities among the two communities has reduced the level of tolerance making Ahmedabad more prone to riots…. A large number of Ahmedabad respondents said that while before their migration they had frequent and fairly cordial relations with non-Muslims, this had markedly declined after migration.”

Professor Sapovadia refers to research by Ashutosh Varshney in suggesting that the antidote to communal disputes is an increase in ‘bridging’ capital (ties between ethnic groups) rather than ‘bonding’ capital (ties within ethnic groups). This is the factor that explains the marked difference in the incidence of communal violence across the various cities in India. But the dynamic that has been underway in Ahmedabad continues to erode the bridging capital in the city sapping the ties that hold people together.

So, what is in store for Ahmedabad? Double-digit growth that blinds the authorities to the changes beneath the surface till one day the city burns itself down in flames?

Given a choice, would you wish to live in a city with rapid economic growth but where sizable groups belonging to various communities live in ghettos in fear? Is it acceptable in the twenty-first century to have citizens of a city subjected to the insecurity and uncertainty of terror? Have we learnt nothing from the history of Europe in the twentieth century?

The paper by Professor Vrajlal Sapovadia (A Critical Study on Relations Between Inter-Communal/ Caste Ghettoism and Urbanization Patterns vis-à-vis Spatial Growth and Equity: A Case Study of Ahmedabad, India) is available here.

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Ahmedabad: The Power of Labeling

January 16, 2009

We turn our attention closer to home and discuss if Ahmedabad is a successful city.

If one looks at the pronouncements of international development agencies there is little to doubt. Ahmedabad is one of the most dynamic cities in India with 5 percent of the national population but 14 percent of its export, an average annual growth rate of 9 percent and industrial growth rate of 15 percent. Every few months there are presentations about the city and visiting delegations extol the multiplication of municipal revenues and the successful launch of municipal bonds. Rating agencies swoon and investors salivate over the prospects.

And yet, within a few miles of the forums where such presentations are made one can also listen to civil rights groups showing photographs and statistics and narrating stories that can churn the stomach and make one sick with despair. One can read announcements from international human rights organizations that can make one lose faith in humanity.

So, is Ahmedabad a successful city?

Clearly, both processes are going on at the same time and one’s verdict would depend on which dimension is given more weight. This, as they say, is a value judgment.

But this also brings us to the power of labeling. The accolades of the international development agencies carry a lot more clout than the protests of civil rights groups and so, to all intents and purposes, Ahmedabad is a successful city. When the leaders of Ahmedabad and India see this global verdict propagated they feel little need to pay attention to that other dimension that is relegated to an inconvenient footnote.

This demonstrates the power of labeling. Imagine that international development agencies were to say that livability conditions would be a factor in lending and rating agencies were to refuse to rate cities with particularly egregious excesses against human rights. What do you think the response of the leaders of a city like Ahmedabad would be if a minimal attainment of human rights became necessary for doing business?

For a concrete example, recall the 1994 plague in Surat, not too far from Ahmedabad.  Because the global tourism industry let its negative ratings of India be made public, there was an immediate response not just by the city and the state but by the national government as well. For a while, Surat was even reputed to have become the cleanest city in India.

Consider also the fact that imposing minimal conditions for doing business is not an impractical or utopian idea. There are industries where consumers have had enough impact to eliminate manufacturing in sweatshops and the use of child labor. And there were instances where college students were able to generate enough awareness of human rights to force global corporations to divest their interests in South Africa under apartheid.

So why does a social plague that repeatedly kills more people in one city than a medical plague in another continue to have no impact? Because the power of labeling that deems Ahmedabad a successful city allows business as usual to continue and because activists have failed to effectively mobilize global attention to their cause.

Rates of economic growth continue to trump fates of human beings.

Does this make sense?

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