Anjum Altaf: Perspectives on Small Cities in Pakistan

Anjum Altaf is currently dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Lahore University of Management Sciences and will be joining Habib University in Karachi as provost in October. Altaf has a Ph.D. in engineering-economic systems and a M.A. in economics, both from Stanford University. He has been associated with the Applied Economics Research Centre at the University of Karachi, the Department of City and Regional Planning at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, and with the East Asia and Pacific Region of the World Bank in Washington, DC where his work was primarily on cities.

Abstract: What one sees depends on the lens one employs. We see small cities as societal units on the continuum between villages and metropoles and try to understand the roles they perform and how these roles have changed. Our interest was triggered by the rise of religious extremism in small cities as an outcome of meta-changes over time.

The narratives that emerge from this perspective guide us in identifying the issues we need to probe further to deepen our understanding and to formulate the hypotheses to be tested. We thus construct a research portfolio from below in preference to the approach that collects information to "solve" service-oriented problems believed to plague small cities.

We also take a different tack on how to catalyze change in a political environment characterized by disinterest in small cities at the national and provincial levels.