Kajalie Shehreen Islam
city has its posh residential areas. Away from the bustling
city, quiet and serene, these are where the well-off dwell,
and where others drive by, dreaming of buying a house there
someday. Once upon a time, Dhaka too could boast of elegant,
quiet residential areas where cosy or majestic houses with
fragrant flower gardens lined the tranquil lanes adorned with
is a far cry from residential neighbourhoods of today's Dhaka.
Its so-called "posh", "residential" areas
have and continue to become anything but that. Dhanmondi,
Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara -- places where half the city travels
to every morning, to work in banks and restaurants, shops
and garment factories.
independent houses have been turned to high rise apartment
buildings, sacrificing the beautiful gardens. Lanes are now
thoroughfares where cars honk rudely and create traffic jams.
Roads are pot-holed, muddy and smell of rotting garbage left
in heaps in corners. Avenues of elegance have been turned
into lines of commercial establishments from banks to schools
to clinics. So what happened to the best neighbourhoods of
Even in the early '80s, Dhanmondi was a picture perfect residential
area with independent homes, lakes, and only a few corner
shops. Today, people sometimes forget that Dhanmondi R/A actually
stands for Dhanmondi Residential Area -- even those who live
there. "It's a commercial area," insists Khurram
Kabir. Offices and shops, schools and hospitals -- it is anything
road I live on in Dhanmondi," says Mahmood Ali Noor,
a student of IUB, "is one of the most crowded, busiest
and dirtiest. But it will fulfil all your needs," he
says very matter-of-factly.
giving birth to children (or for anyone ill), says Mahmood,
there are two hospitals and two diagnostic centres on his
street. Once the children are old enough to go to school,
there are seven English medium schools to choose from -- on
that very street. ("I wake up to the national anthem
every morning!" he says.) There are coaching centres,
colleges and two universities. And when the children grow
up and are ready to get married, no problem, because there
are also two community centres right there. Not to mention
the variety of apartments the newly-weds can choose from.
"All we need now is a cemetery here," he says simply.
are only five independent houses on his street, says Mahmood;
the rest are all apartments. Plots in which one family used
to reside now house 24.
has around 20 of the total of about 64 private universities.
Offices of political parties also cause problems, not to mention
the big markets and plazas on every main street.
can't go for a late-night walk on my own street without seeing
several prostitutes being picked up by people in passing cars,"
not all bad, however. The renovated Dhanmondi Lake has become
a popular hangout for many. The boating club, fishing club
and two sports fields also contribute to the entertainment
scenario. But, this bit of Dhanmondi that has not become mercilessly
commercial, has become recreational, and not only for its
residents but the whole city. Which leaves little peace for
the residents living around the area. Residents in fact have
little say in the residential areas.
roads of Banani is the foremost grievance of resident Sameer
Ahmed, visiting from the US. It takes all the powers of his
digestive system to get home intact after a filling lunch
on a rainy day. But he usually survives the grievous bumps
and puddles and even the lidless manholes. "You would
know how bad it is if you drove to my house," he complains.
broken roads and dangling wires do not do anything to add
to the beauty of the area, they also make it unsafe for people
to be out on the street. Those who can help it do not even
walk in front of their own homes.
a huge garbage dump right in front of my house," complains
Tanzila Zaman, who lives just across from the field of a festive
cattle market before Eid-ul-Azha. "It's supposed to be
near the bazaar, but that's close to the homes of some influential
people which is why it is randomly dumped in front of mine."
are no street lights here," adds her sister, Tasrina,
"and there used to be a big slum."
dwellers had their own businesses inside the shanties, selling
drugs and alcohol to elite buyers. Many of them have been
evicted, though some shanties still spring up in empty plots
of land while most are confined to one colony. Today, the
Zamans' next-door neighbours are a private university on one
side and a small shopping complex behind.
Forty years ago, houses in Gulshan (meaning garden) were at
least half a mile apart. Thirty years ago, people used to
go there to practice driving because a passing car could only
be seen every five or six minutes. Today, even during hartals
the roads are busy. Shops and clubs, schools and garment factories,
banks, restaurants and high-rise buildings are what today's
Gulshan is all about. Few independent houses remain, and even
their owners are beginning to tire of the area.
is not a residential area anymore," is the common complaint
of its inhabitants.
all shopping and banking and flats and restaurants,"
says Naina Karim, who grew up there as a child and returns
every year to visit her parents who still live there. "Which
isn't all bad, because it is sort of convenient to get things
done, but it's just too commercial."
even within Gulshan, it takes forever to get anywhere,"
she continues, "not to mention anywhere else in the city!
It's too congested, and even rickshaws aren't allowed in many
parts now when they actually helped to get around." Naina
remembers being able to walk down the road in front of her
house and down to the park nearby. "Now, even that's
not possible," she says.
is highly overrated," thinks Rayan Ahmed, a resident
of a flat in the area. "It's full of slums. Security
guards are always loitering around annoyingly. And the dangling
wires are only the visible side of the electricity problems
clubs and private schools in Gulshan contribute to the already
hectic traffic with people never following any rules while
driving and parking haphazardly everywhere. Guesthouses have
sprung up in many parts of both Gulshan and Banani. These,
along with the big markets, rent out their lucrative ground
floors as reception areas and shops, having no regard for
parking spaces to ease the traffic.
is no point in barring rickshaws, says Rayan, as people who
need to get anywhere just bribe their way through. According
to him, the rules are not strict enough and the traffic is
no better. To add to that is the new Gulshan circles-turned-signals.
While people are still waiting to see how they have helped
the traffic situation in the area, Rayan says it is the "worst
decision anyone could have made".
tragedy of Gulshan is its disappearing lakes. Even in the
'80s, there were lakes all around Gulshan and lake view houses
were the most envied of locations. But over the years the
lakes have been filled in with high rises indiscriminately
encroaching the water bodies.
also seems to have more than its share of Dhaka's mosquitoes,
think many of its inhabitants. Residents moreover complain
about sex workers lined up in front of their apartment buildings
late at night. Another common Gulshan scenario, especially
during the rainy season, are the flooded roads. Shanties are
next-door neighbours to posh independent houses, and garbage
lies around on every street. Rush hour traffic, besides school
closing times, include the lunch hours of garment workers
employed in large factory buildings throughout the area. So
much for the "diplomatic zone"!
And so the "diplomatic zone" gradually moves to
is, so far, relatively more peaceful, cleaner, and more "residential".
Now that is where many embassies are and where the affluent
choose to have their homes. But even here is the common problem
of traffic congestion.
takes a long time to get places," says Sonia Rahman,
a resident of New DOHS Baridhara. "And you can't always
get transport because empty rickshaws and CNG scooters aren't
allowed in the area."
not enough space to really do anything here either,"
says Sonia. "It's already congested. But even then, a
big mall is being built."
it begins. Is history repeating itself?
Roadmap to Nowhere
Rajuk Master Plan defines the well-planned residential areas
as 'development areas' and the rest as 'spontaneous growth
areas'. Kamal Ahmed, a graduate from the Institute of Fine-Arts,
Dhaka University, is the second youngest son of his family
that had a plan to build a house of their own in a third zone
'a private development area', which is Adabor. The family
inherited a small patch of land from the deceased father and
managed to save some money sent by Kamal's two brothers living
in the Middle East. Around the year 2000, they thought the
dream to have a house of their own would soon be a reality.
But it took Kamal, the sibling in charge of building the dream
house, two long years to get the plan through Rajuk. The plan
first got caught in the official procedural web and was later
faced with regulatory barrier as by then a new rule was introduced
that required a 12 foot wide entry path for any house. The
house that Kamal was set to build the entry road measured
only 8.33 feet in width, and it was in accordance with the
rule during submission.
is strict in passing a plan of people's dream houses, which
cost Kamal Ahmed not only two precious years but also a certain
undisclosed amount of money, how come the city's residential
areas are turning into concrete jungles unsuitable for living?
was a flood zone that fell in the hands of the private developers.
According to one of the town planners of Rajuk, the government
recognises the plans but they are chalked out by the private
developers. And the Rajuk planners approve them in accordance
with 'Town Improvement Act' of the 50s.
first Master Plan for Dhaka was put on paper in 1957, when
the population was 1,025,000, of which 100,000 lived in Naraynganj.
The only congested area was what the planners referred to
as 'Old central area' meaning Old Dhaka. After 39 years, in
1992 another plan that set the strategies for the years 1995
to 2015 came into being. Grappling with two sets of policy
issues, one of 'rapid urbanisation' and the other of 'effective
management of large metropolitan centres', it provided a map
for development of urban areas. "A huge amount has been
spent to create this plan which is a difficult read, you cannot
get a clearly defined set of rules from the text," opines
Saif-ul-Haque, an architect who believes that when planning
for a city one should also take into account the context of
the whole country, as did the planners of the city of Berlin.
"If the Bank authorities could hire experitise of the
MIT consulting team to plan their city, why did we have to
go for a private company that we never even heard of having
any experience in planning cities?" argues Haque.
Dhaka Metropolitan Development plan (1995-2015), approved
on 3-8-1997 and published in the Bangladesh Gazette on August
4, 1997, was the work of an American company -- Mott Mac Donald
Ltd. They were awarded the subcontract in 1992, and the plan
saw its completion in 1996. Although the plan includes a Master
Plan and even Detailed Area Plans and Structure Plan, the
issue of 'density control' remains a blurry area. The bulk
of construction, according to the plan, has to be consistent
with the demand that the area will place on its infrastructure
including roads and utility supplies. Even if this phrase
were taken into account the residential areas of Dhaka would
look different today.
plan is an incomplete one and a poorly detailed-out project,
many things are open to different interpretations," says
Haque. "If you plan for one crore people, you have to
decide where they will reside. Residences of the rich, the
middle class and the other classes have to be located. The
areas they will go to work and how they will even travel to
their respective work places, these things are addressed in
a master plan for any city," adds Haque. He believes
that one cannot expect a residential area to remain untouched
by other developments and can include conveniences such as
schools and market places provided that they do not encroach
upon the residential ambience of the localities.
looks back to the early days of Dhanmondi, when it was acquired
by the Pakistan government, he remembers, "The entire
area was a stretch of land for cultivation-- dhan
(Paddy) and mondi, the two words stand proof of that."
And Haque is emphatic about one thing, which has to do with
purity of a residential area.
now has too many schools, colleges and even universities,
all of them are private, and they cater to the recruits that
come from a much wider radius. And one of the unusual features
of this vast development area is that there were no allocated
zones for community centres and market areas in the real plan.
At present they are sprouting like mushrooms. As for the residential
buildings, since Rajuk had withdrawn the restriction on vertical
growth, (which was regulated to three stories before the time
when six stories were declared as the limit) residential areas
like Dhanmondi and Gulshan saw a rapid growth in large apartment
buildings courtesy of the private developers. "It was
in the late '80s, during the Ershad regime that the limit
was set to six stories," explains Haque.
last the fate of Gulshan Lake seems a bit on the brighter
side. As Gulshan Society, comprising of representatives of
Gulshan residents, recently met the Rajuk Chairman M Shahid
Alam, he promised to take all-out measures to save the lake
from deteriorating any further. Rajuk Chief Engineer Emdadul
Islam said a project is being planned to remove all the link
roads across the lake and construct six bridges in their place.
Although there was a Supreme Court ruling that urged Rajuk
to take immediate steps to protect the lake both from encroachment
and waste dumping the implementation of the plans that Rajuk
chalked out in 2000, did not receive the nod of the Planning
Commission. The Rajuk concept paper includes reconstruction
of bridges and culverts, drainage systems and relocation of
electric poles, which is estimated to cost TK 33.68 crore,
an amount, a recent newspaper report claims, will go to save
the lake. The 200 acres of total lake area became a centre
of attention when private encroachers threatened to fill out
the lake bed. It is alleged by many that even Rajuk has developed
several plots by filling parts of the lake that occupies a
vast region. In the meeting with the Rajuk Chairman, civil
bodies stressed the need to stick to the Dhaka Master Plan
that clearly defines water bodies in and around the city as
essential to its eco-system. It is a pity that even after
promulgation of the Wetland Protection Act in 2000, the lake
still runs the risk of being reduced. However, recently, Rajuk
has taken steps to remove all the poles marking the areas
encroachers were intent on grabbing. It is a positive sign
to save the planned residential enclave.
(R) thedailystar.net 2004