<%-- Page Title--%> Slice of Life <%-- End Page Title--%>

<%-- Volume Number --%> Vol 1 Num 139 <%-- End Volume Number --%>

January 23, 2004

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Modern Concepts in City Planning

Richa Jha

One fine morning about a month ago, a big board appeared next to the school my child studies at. The school, which has been around for several years, was one of the first few buildings to have come up on a vast stretch of empty land, touted as a well-planned residential 'city' of the future. This recent board with an arrow pointing in the direction of a building under construction read the name of another well-known school. So, we thought, they are opening another branch here. Good for the students in this area to have a host of excellent schools in close proximity.

But nothing had prepared us for the chaos that ensued on the day they formally opened this branch. By some contorted reasoning, the new building opens on same road as the older school's side-exit. I do not know, and here I must admit that I have not verified it either, if it is meant as a permanent set-up, or was purely an arrangement to accommodate the surplus surge of parents on the first day of the school. Harmless as it may sound to many, and even if we assume it was only for a day, you'll cringe at this preposterous idea when you see that, with a little foresight at the planning stage, they could well have had the functional exit on the other side of the plot, to be serviced by the road running parallel to this one. Just that the other roads that could have been used by this school are narrow, and still not properly laid out. Nor is the one on the other side of my son's school, on which this school's traffic has been temporarily diverted. It shows our shocking complacency with makeshift ad-hoc arrangements. It is okay to have schools without roads in shape first! That's contemporary city planning for us.

With a non-existent school bus culture in Dhaka, you only need the blink your eyes to visualise the pandemonium this set-up has wreaked, as I said earlier, even if just on that one day. Two reputed schools, with near identical starting hours in the morning, with hundreds of students with their parents in the same number of cars, taxis and rickshaws, all descending on that one narrow stretch of road. That morning, we thought it was wiser to walk down that last stretch. It looked liked the safest thing to do, given that amid the dense nucleus of parents and new students outside the main gate, there was little room for the vehicles to wade through to the main entrance of my son's school.

But here's the positive side of it. As always, the fathers stand to gain the most. Variety wins over the ennui of having to see the same old set of mothers coming to drop their wards off. Even if just for a couple of days, a change is as good as a feast! I saw The Hubby leave a good ten minutes earlier than normal, and return half and hour late on the second day of the new school. If he wanted me to find out more about his irrepressible grin, I didn't oblige.

Modern day city planners have a bizarre sense of humour. They construct 'Lakeview' apartments with no lake's view, because the only stretch of lake that was visible was reclaimed to construct those very apartments. Planning for car parks don't feature at the blue-print stage, and therefore almost as an afterthought, the entire stretch of public road one kilometre on either side of the building becomes their 'private' parking space. As a special gesture of service-plus to their esteemed customers, offering valet parking is the hottest, most fashionable thing to do in the city.

The city planners also believe that unlike humans, concrete buildings don't need to breathe, so it makes little business sense to leave that extra inch between two buildings. After all, space is at a premium, and no one can afford the luxury of a well-defined boundary wall. But it is just as well, because you leave a couple of feet between two buildings and the next thing you know is, there is a multi-star hotel being erected overnight in that gap. If it's not a hotel, it will be a shopping mall. You could have planned one yourself, silly. Fusing walls, therefore, looks like an intelligent thing to do.

But at least, they have a sense of humour. You certainly need to have one to give your apartments fascinating names ending with Arcadia, Gardens, Riviera, Parks, Highlands, Bushes, and so on, in the middle of a concrete jungle. Yes, even a Lakeview is equally ironic.





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