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Linking Young Minds Together
     Volume 2 Issue 99 | December 28 2008|


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An Architect's Dhaka

Part Seventeen

Dr. Mahbubur Rahman

Two satellite pictures of Lalbag Fort (top) and Satgambudj Masjid (bottom) showing special control areas of 40 acre around them, violated by dense and high buildings (images are in same scale).
IN the eighties the government reconstituted the DIT as Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkhya (Capital Development Authority or RajUK), run by an appointed Chairman and five Members. RajUK never had a structure commensurate with the responsibility it is expected to take in a mega city of the size of Dhaka. The civic society group that prepared the Building Construction Rules 2006, where I was the Editor, suggested that RajUK increases its manpower and resources manifold in order to enhance its capacity. We cited examples of comparable developing world cities like Bangkok, Karachi, New Delhi and Jakarta, each of which has hundreds of technical persons on pay roll. On the other hand, in Singapore and Malaysia, the city planning authorities outsource many activities to the private organisations. The Urban Development Committee empowered to oversee RajUK's activities is currently studying its staff requirement.

During 1979-1997 Dhaka had no Plan to guide and regulate its development. The 'Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan' (DMDP 1995-2015) for an area of 1528 sq.km. was adopted in 1997. Not to speak of the citizens, only a few officials and professionals are conversant with three tiers of Structure Plan, Urban Area Plans and Detailed Area Plans (DAP). When DMDP was first submitted in 1995, the World Bank hired seven reviewers who suggested many modifications, and thus a revised Plan was adopted two years later; I was assigned to look into the shelter-related issues. DMDP has provision for public hearing; all RajUK did was keeping the report/proposals/drawings at its building and asking people through newspaper advertisements to comment. Currently it is doing the same again on the DAP that seldom attracts popular attention or participation, and hence the purpose get defeated.

The Structure Plan and Urban Area Plans of DMDP are basically policies; DAP is the tool to implement development on the ground. As preparations of the DAP is still incomplete even after more than a decade of the adoption of the Structure Plan, RajUK is unable to implement many provisions of the Plan or control development; most urban planning and development decisions largely ignore it. The DMDP has made no difference to development in Dhaka business-as-usual, ad hoc and whimsical decisions responding mostly to vested interests. The authority does little by way of effective control on development.

Incompatible, insensitive and illegal constructions engulfing the two historic sites identified by the 1959 Master Plan the Killa(above) and the Masjid (below).

Heritage buildings and sites are to be marked on the DAPs; this may be in addition to those the Archaeology Department recognises. The DAP is expected to provide specific directions on the ways and means of conservation as the Structure Plan policy dictates. A consortium of consultants preparing the DAPs submitted its first draft for 13 zones in September 2007, and again a year later. Unfortunately the drafts did not consider even the existing heritage buildings and areas not to mention the new ones that might make the list in future. One of the drafts even suggested removal of the 'old dilapidated buildings' in Shankharibazaar the oldest surviving artisans' quarters with a unique pattern of long narrow shop houses, while a proposal is on board for the settlement to be included in the UNESCO Heritage List.

Most historic buildings and sites in Dhaka and its suburbs are fading into oblivion, decaying from neglect; encroached upon and abused, or destroyed for want of protection, proper planning and conservation policy and practice. Old buildings, open spaces, communities and historic areas are giving way to roads, apartments, offices and businesses. There is a race to build, each structure taller than the next. The old core of the city once replete with life, vigour and a cheerful chaos, is gradually transforming into concrete jungle as property owners wreck the old for the new.

Material greed sweeps away the spiritual, psychological and emotional demands of individuals and collective soul of a community.

Much has already been lost. The old buildings are fast disappearing; every day ushers in new destruction. New bland and faceless buildings without reference to the existing fabric or a guiding framework are frustrating the efforts of those who want only sensitivity and respect to the old urban fabric. The popular haunts of intellectuals, nobility and upstarts no longer exist. The special cuisines that made old Dhaka famous are now a rarity. The promenade on the Buckland Bund, the colourful processions that marked religious and social events, numerous stories that find expressions in novels and non-fictions are mere nostalgic tales. Roads and culverts have replaced the canals of the once 'Venice of the East'. What could be a living museum is gradually transforming into a jumble of soulless, sterile concrete and masonry.

"Leaving on a jetplane..don't know when I'll be back again"

Sarah Ismail Bari

WITH another academic year coming to an end, a fresh batch of international Bangladeshi students graduates in different parts of the world. With each passing year, however, more and more of them are opting to steer clear of packing their bags and returning home.

What is fascinating about this young lot is the fact that they are not the usual middle class individuals who took off to a foreign land to earn the dollars that they desperately need. These are young adults who hail from well-off backgrounds and have the option of going back to their comfortable lives at home. Their decision to thus give up the advantages of familiarity is mainly due to the lifestyle that the western world has to offer.

Tauseef Azad, a recent graduate from Macquarie University Sydney explains “Sydney lets you become anyone you want to be, ranging from a corporate junkie to a laid back fisherman. And no one judges you for what you choose to be in life.”

Students from Bangladesh who go abroad usually get their first taste of independence by living away from their parents and choosing their paths accordingly. Imran Chowdhury, a recent graduate now working in a recognized Wall Street firm in New York believes that “being able to live independently and not with parents” drives him to choose a life outside home. The severe lack of basic public facilities and environmental issues also urges these individuals to settle for their newly found life.

A law graduate from the London School of Economics, Aashna Musa states “the core amenities such as reliable public transport and a safe walk in the park is missing in Bangladesh”. Shiam Ahmed, an accountant in Sydney echoes Aashna's thought and says he needs “clean air to breath”.

Each year, an average of 3000 Bangladeshi students leaves the country in pursuit of a foreign degree. Previously, only a handful belonging to the middle-class settled in the foreign land post their degree, while the affluent came back to the comfort of their wealth.

There is no doubt that even these students from the affluent background consider the job opportunities available in the western countries a major attraction. Lana Costa who is in the verge of completing her degree in a renowned culinary institute in Switzerland feels that “there just aren't any decent hospitality management jobs at home. It is in fact an occupation which is looked down upon”.

All the students interviewed however feels that they definitely want to return home in the next 6 to 7 years with an aim to correct what is wrong with the country.


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