Lost in Lahore
Asim Fayaz, Omer Sheikh, and Khurram Siddiqi are helping those lost in Lahore find their way again by installing and maintaining old-fashioned road signs signage. Their hope is to demonstrate to government officials, as well as the local citizens, that the notoriously unmarked and unpredictable streets of Lahore don’t have to be so perplexing.
In some ways, being lost can be a good thing. Henry David Thoreau once wrote, “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” Getting lost in a city, no doubt about it, can be one of life’s greatest delights, and Lahore offers plenty of opportunities. This eclectic city—built by centuries of impulsive and short-lived “landlords” – is low on way finding and rich with winding roads.
While being lost can be an existential experience, let’s face it, sometimes you just need to get to an appointment. And you’re 30 minutes late. And you’re sweating and nervous. And you wish so desperately that you could look up and see a sign that would point the way.
A trio of impassioned mapmakers and technologists – Asim Fayaz, Omer Sheikh, and Khurram Siddiqi–are using the $10,000 from their City 2.0 Award to become the superheroes for those desperate and lost in the latter scenario. They have taken llama Iqbal Town, one of the most densely populated localities in Lahore, and are using it as a pilot, of sorts.
Being very passionate about form following function, the team knew that the sign design had to be designed for maximum usability for drivers in Pakistan. They studied traffic manuals from the UK and United Arab Emirates (both countries have very extensive guidelines on sign usability), and used an academic approach to setting the font height for readability at speeds representative of urban traffic in dense areas. The signs they put up will follow international standards and have road names in Urdu and English. In addition to installing the new signage, they will also engage a team of paid experts and passionate volunteers to maintain the signs for a trial period of three months, documenting the time and effort required.
So far, the team has experimented by putting up mock temporary signs onto existing poles in a llama Iqbal Town to see how useful the occupants of the pilot neighborhood find this project, mainly by surveying random drivers and passersby.
The goal is to convince government officials of the sustainability of a scaled-up effort to cover the most confusing parts of Lahore – many of which are also where the most interesting mosques and tombs are tucked away – with signage.
Lahore doesn’t lack street signs because its people aren’t interested in navigation. In fact, when Google Map Maker was launched, Lahore became the fastest mapped city in the world. But there’s work to be done and this trio is set on giving Lahore the only direction it needs: the ability to find it’s own way out of a mess.
A plan to install signage on the winding, eclectic streets of one of Pakistan's oldest cities.
Khurram Siddiqi is an electrical engineer with deep interests in design thinking for systems, products and services. His career has spanned technical and marketing roles at Cypress Semiconductor, higher education as a professor at FAST in Lahore, media production for the World Bank and currently as the creative director of a novel e-commerce startup, Shopistan.pk
Omer Sheikh is a telecommunications consultant based in Dubai. Omer’s prior work included strategy, business development and operations at a leading Pakistani mobile operator. Omer is a Google Map Maker Advocate, and has been a speaker at TEDx and Google Big Tent events.
Asim Fayaz is a graduate student at UC Berkeley, and is primarily interested in problem solving with ICT for developing countries. He helped found the Technology for the People Initiative at LUMS, before which he played vital roles at the World Bank Pakistan, CIDA and IGC. Asim has been an Acumen Pakistan Fellow and won the MAVC Global Innovation Competition. He curated TEDxLahore (Pakistan’s first TEDx) and co-founded SMSall.pk, Pakistan’s first group SMS network.