Bursting at the Seams
Tanwir Nawaz provides perspective on the role of the expanded citywith respect to housing and creation of (new) satellite towns
I discussed the issue of Dhaka's transportation in a recent article in The Daily Star (Fixing Dhaka, Feb. 4). In this article I will discuss the issue of Dhaka's growth options beyond the DMDP (Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan) area and the rationales for the creation of new satellite towns.
The two issues of urban transportation and growth are intricately linked and intertwined. If you have urban growth, both within and outside, you need a proper transport system. Dhaka is currently growing, both inside through densification as well growth in its outer fringe areas. But the growth of Dhaka is not limited to such areas only. Being the heart of Bangladesh's growth, Dhaka is sprouting and pulling growth to its adjoining areas that are beyond the DMDP Dhaka 1995-2015 plan.
Growth of Dhaka
DMDP area is currently growing at the rate of 4.33 per cent per year. Over the next twenty years, this is expected to slow down to a level of 3.43 per cent per year. But numerically the total growth numbers in Dhaka and the adjoining areas will continue to increase dramatically.
The STP (Strategic Transport Plan) Dhaka (2004-2024) studies put the population of Dhaka (DMDP area) in 2024 at 19.83 million and the population of Dhaka plus Gazipur, Manikganj, Munishiganj, and Narshingdi at 35.93 million. By 2031, the population of Dhaka would exceed 25 million and that of Greater Dhaka area near 40 million. So there is definitely a reason for managing the growth of Dhaka and this area.
Managing the growth of Dhaka calls for decentralising and slowing down the growth of Dhaka (DMDP area) proper. This means promoting alternative growth and directing them to other specific locations. This approach to urban growth management calls for moving much of the growth to adjoining new satellite towns. This approach has been successfully tried in a number of major growing urban areas, such as the greater Tokyo region, Seoul in South Korea, and is also being practiced in Mumbai, India.
Housing, Land and Environment
Growth in Dhaka relates directly to housing. Who has it, who gets it, who does not, and where and in what forms it ends up. Housing in undeveloped areas has led the growth of Dhaka. To understand the growth of Dhaka, one has to understand the phenomenon of housing in and around Dhaka.
Researching housing and growth in Dhaka, one thing that stands out is that there is a perennial shortage of all forms of housing, particularly for those at the lower end of the income scale. While Dhaka grows rapidly, it is people at the upper income end who are mostly the beneficiariesof this sector, both in quantities as well as grabbing most of the urban and rural lands in and around Dhaka.
For example, while at the bottom end of the housing spectrum, 3.8 million squatters and slum dwellers live on only 4 per cent of Dhaka's land, the land occupied by the (minority) upper income group exceeds 30 per cent.
The statistics point out a dangerous trend: the share of land occupation at the bottom end is gradually shrinking while their actual population is increasing. This is mostly because of the dynamics of low-income migration from the rural areas seeking jobs in the city.
The focus of this article is, however, to take urbanisation and urban growth in and around Dhaka beyond housing. It is to discuss the general approach to decentralising Dhaka using housing as one element of decentralisation, at the same time to providing options for its growth to surrounding new (satellite) towns. To get there, I will address the issue of housing and environment that will lead to discussion on new towns to areas surrounding Greater Dhaka. (i.e. areas beyond DMDP).
A recent study shows that the formal sector, the growing private market sector that provides housing to the upper income groups that is now gobbling up lands all around us, is actually contributing only about 5 per cent of the total housing supply. There is a lot of pressure being put by this group on the price escalation and supply of the land.
This group is also escalating much of environmental degradation by gobbling up land not only in the city and surroundings, but on all kinds of low-lying lands, lands subjected to annual flooding, and lands environmentally sensitive around the city. There is definitely a lack of planning and control on this sector. In the name of supplying housing to select few, this group is causing huge damage to the environment.
When I drive on the Dhaka Ashulia Road to Savar, what I see distresses me to the core. There are two major elements of environmental degradation that becomes obvious. From my car, I counted over 35 brick kiln towers, spewing out toxic fumes over the landscape in a span of only two miles. This is all geared to supply the insatiable demand of the building industry focused on providing housing to a very narrow group.
The other is signboards of different development companies announcing certain fantasy cities, all it seems to be placed on low-lying floodplain land and river drainage basin areas. Where is the Turag River, as I used to know even ten years ago? It is a dying shallow little canal, sorrowfully winding its way, not fit for navigation, let alone any other activities. It is a shame.
Where is the housing for the middle and low-income group? The question begs an answer. Where will the initiatives for housing development for this sector come? Statistically, the lower and the middle are the one largest group (more than 70 per cent) and most in need for housing. Who will frame policies for development and deliveries of housing to these groups? Rajuk certainly is not geared for it or is set up to provide housing in that fashion. Neither is the profit making developer groups. They have very little or no interest in such forms of housing.
Other Forms of Housing and Tenures
We need to develop more housing. But the bulk of the housing has to be for a different group. This is to meet the huge back-up demands. The growth and development of housing needs to be refocused. All the lands and assets cannot be given over to market-based developments. Further, this drive for more housing stock has to meet three other major criterions: environmental sustainability, housing tenures and accessibility, and affordability to the low-income sector.
When I worked for the City of Toronto Housing Department as a planning and development coordinator some three decades ago, one of the objectives of the City and the Department was, in addition to providing land for market housing, to provide for various mechanisms and schemes for affordable, accessible forms of housing with different kinds of tenure that were made available to other sectors of the society. This is an objective we need to pursue much more diligently here in Dhaka.
DMDP and Detailed Area Plans
Development of housing stock cannot be left in the hands of some unscrupulous private and land grabbing developers only. The minister of state for public works has recently correctly sounded the alarm and I applaud him. Let us put a plan in action.
I coordinated the DMDP (Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan) 1995-2015 Structure Plan in 1996 in a three-day national seminar on behalf of the World Bank. The directions were given in that structure plan. One extra year and additional budget were given to complete the Revised DMDP. Rajuk was to convert that plan into an implementable plan by developing the Urban Area and the Detail Area Plans (DAP) within five years. It has been 14 years, yet we do not have an approved Detailed Area Plan.
Further, the direction of the prepared Detailed Area Plans has also become controversial and is deemed by many experts as favoring developers at the expense of environment. The DMDP Plan is in its last quarter. There has been no implementation.
Meanwhile, the so-called development goes full steam ahead without a zoning and planning control and land use plan. Sensitive urban and fringe productive rural lands are lost every day. Forestland, or whatever we have left of it, is being lost every day to mindless urban growth.
It was reported that the Land Ministry even allowed the development of factories in the sensitive Bhawal forest areas to the north of Gazipur This was later reported to have been withdrawn on orders from the prime minister. But why should the PM have to deal with every matter, something that should be dealt in a normal and conscientious way?
Land use plans maps produced by architect/planner Salma Shafi for the STP Dhaka has shown that due to land use control, there has been at least 40 per cent encroachments on fringe lands surrounding Dhaka in a period of twenty years between 1984 and 2004.
These maps are very indicative and show an encroachment of land for urban use and loss of wetlands, drainage areas and lands devoted to non-urban use. At the projected growth rate by 2021 another 40 per cent land will be lost to urban growth within DMDP area unless other policies are put into effect.
Urban Growth and Satellite Towns
I come to the issue of decentralising and diversification of Dhaka Metropolitan Area.
True, Dhaka city needs to grow to meet the growing pressures. We should provide more and affordable housing to all sectors. But the growth should be managed, planned and it should be an environmentally sensitive, controlled, focused growth.
To meet the growth of Dhaka, let us decentralise Dhaka city as much as we can. The growth can be dispersed over a larger area in to nearby planned satellite towns. In this respect, I support the recent announcement by the government to build at least four new satellite towns around Dhaka.
Properly planned satellite towns will help reduce the growth pressures on DMDP area. These satellite towns should be well chosen by a set of criteria. They should be well separated by open and green space. These separation spaces should never be allowed to be built upon (through land use controls). These will be green space buffer between built up areas. The urban areas should not be allowed to be a continuous spread from horizon to horizon without break and devouring all productive lands in between.
Location and Linkages (Connectivity)
The obvious question arises where are the optimum locations for these satellite towns?
It is natural that the proposed location of satellite towns would be much guided by the projected growth centres around Dhaka as well as its connectivity. It is not necessary that all satellite towns be located exactly at the projected growth centres, because incentives for new growth centres can also be created given other favourable conditions.
In this context, however it is only natural that the proposed new satellite towns take in to consideration both the growth centres and the connectivity to these. In this context the selection and the location of these satellite towns is important on both counts. The recent announcement by the minister of labour that one or more new Garments Village areas should be set up is a good move, and may act as catalyst for the new satellite towns.
Contents and Substance
The composition and planning of these satellite towns are, however, crucially important.
The proposed new satellite towns around Dhaka should provide not only space and land for
housing. In planning the new satellite towns, housing will be but only one component of the make up.
It should have earmarked and definite spaces for open space, parks, schools, colleges, universities, health care and hospitals, commercial, business and factories. It should not be built on environmentally sensitive land, i.e. low-lying areas, flood and drainage basins. It should have room for growth at least two to three times its planned area. The housing in the proposed areas should cater to all income groups and not limited to the middle and upper income groups.
We must not repeat the policies of Rajuk of grabbing a piece of land, parceling it into small lots and allocating them to various individuals for housing purposes only. Rajuk as an institution is not geared for it and should not be entrusted with this task. It has no experience in any form of housing other than parceling land into small plots and selling them to the public.
This very land then changes hands to private developers and is built only for the profit making ventures. Those who are lucky enough to get an allocation fell delighted at the prospect of an windfall profit at public expense. Those who miss out are left despondent.
This situation must change and an area must within the satellite towns must be preplanned for development of a particular type of housing with assurances for affordability, accessibility. More than one type of tenure, ranging from tenancy to housing for middle income groups, from low-rise townhouses to walk up apartments, to housing for the poor and lower income groups, the support to market housing, and the high-rise apartments can only be delivered in a comprehensive planning and controlled way. There should be no individual dispensation or allocation s of plots. That is the only way we can make progress in this sector, and through the current policies pursued by Rajuk of individual plots as in Purbachal, etc.
Tenure should range from tenancy in public housing to acquiring middle-income flats through private sector financing. Private developer based housing is not the only form available. My experience with City of Toronto Housing Department and the Saskatchewan Municipal and Urban Affairs as well as my term with Physical Planning and Housing Sector, Planning Commission, in Bangladesh (1972-1973) gives me the confidence to make this statement. This is a sector I would like to elaborate in some future forum.
Satellite Towns and Proposal for a 20-Year Regional Development Plan
Many large and mega cities of the world have depended on planning and developing satellite towns around them, to lessen the pressures on them. Early examples were Milton Keynes and a number of new towns around London. Later in the seventies, eighties, and nineties a number of new towns have been developed around Seoul and Tokyo. But one example that is very close to us is the Navi (New) Mumbai next to Mumbai. Planned and developed from the sixties and seventies, Navi Mumbai on the eastern side of Mumbai Bay has grown from nothing in the seventies to a vibrant new town of 2.6 million people today.
Dhaka City and the Greater Dhaka Area (as in DMDP 1995-2015) is one of the fastest growing urban regions of the world. According to the STP projection the STP (including Naryanganj, Gazipur, Savavar, Manikganj, and Narshindi) region would have a population of 35.93 million in 2024.
With this growth, Dhaka is destined to become one of the densest urban regions of the world. This densification would lead to major problems. In almost all areas of urban environment, rivers will be polluted, wetlands and flood plains and drainage areas will disappear, transportation and movements would become almost impossible, unless we plan with care and implement the plans diligently.
The time is now ripe to think about the decentralisation and diversification of Dhaka through a Long Range Regional Development Plan. A major tool in this will be selection, location, planning, composition, and development of satellite towns around Dhaka. If we can select proper locations for these new satellite towns and plan and implement them properly, then we shall have achieved the twin purpose of lessening the pressures of growth on Dhaka and provide space not only for new housing but of place to work and grow. The location for these towns should be carefully selected for connectivity (road network) and environmental sensitivity.
Like the DMDP Plan 1995-2015 we should start working on a Greater Dhaka Regional Development Plan with a 20-year time horizon as a guide. We should complete this conceptual plan in less than two years and set about the planning of the satellite towns within it and complete the exercise in less than five years.
Let us discuss this further in an open forum and set up a proper planning agency and get on with work If this task is taken in hand with proper diligence and not on ad-hoc basis, by 2021 we could have four or more evolving new satellite towns around Dhaka, helping its decentralisation and by 2031 these combinedly could accommodate in excess of five million people. We could learn from the example of Mumbai and create a number of satellite towns like Navi Mumbai that will cater to the growth needs of the Greater Dhaka Region.
TANWIR NAWAZ coordinated a Review of DMDP (1995-2015) for the World Bank in 1996. He was also a member of the STP Dhaka 2004-2024, Advisory Committee.