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     Volume 4 Issue 29 | January 14, 2005 |

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Dhaka--Stifled by Lack of Planning

Fayza Haq

Dhaka is a ramshackle, overpopulated city with indiscriminate construction going on perpetually making city life more and more unbearable. Over the last few decades this scenario has only gone from bad to worse. So, who is responsible and what can we do about it? Fayza Haq talked to a group of professionals who are concerned about the plight of Dhaka city. They are architects Bashirul Haq, Kashef Chowdhury and Albab Ahmed, artist Rafiqun Nabi and journalist Ataus Samad. Here are excerpts of their opinions.

Bashirul Haq: As we are a poor country, our transformation from agriculture to industry was very slow. With the result, some modes of transportation like the rickshaw lingered and continue to linger. The rickshaw-pullers and their families in Dhaka city alone would constitute close to a million people. In the last 15-20 years with the growth of the garments industry, people started living in temporary houses that barely gives shelter. We have a serious problem with the growth of slums in and around Dhaka. The problem primarily is housing of the low-income group garment workers, rickshaw-pullers and low-paid government employees also.

We need express highways, mass transit systems. We have introduced lots of busses. If you move around cities, you will find most of the time the buses are clogging the streets. Buses are short distance transport. If you take a bus from Gulshan to Uttara, it will take an hour or an hour and a half, which is a waste of time. That distance should not take more than 10-12 minutes. If we had express ways, mass-transit facilities, high-speed trains etc, it would have been possible.

Town-planning at the moment is very inadequate. The way to solve this problem is to take housing for workers away form the city where it will be affordable and people can come to work in high-speed transport.

What can we do to solve the housing problem for the poor? It can be easily solved if planners, architects, economists, accountants sit together and think of making something affordable for the people. Or the government can create a loan system where amortisation could be for 40 years where the repayment would be lower.

Kashef Chowdhury: Dhaka used to be a sort of a garden city. The names suggest that-Shahbag, Kalabagan, Segun Bagicha. Now it is very difficult to assign those adjectives to the city because in the last 20/30 years the development that has taken place has not been controlled.

The way Dhaka is developing, it is like making a building without a clear plan. Dhaka is becoming a linear city as it is growing more on the north and south, particularly on the north.

Dhaka is like an island. All around us we have rivers. So the growth of the city towards the Buriganga sort of ends as there are no bridges, not enough connections. On the other side too it's not growing. So the push is towards the north.

When a city grows you have to be prepared for it to grow in an unexpected way due to factors like financial prosperity, trade etc. and then your town planning needs to incorporate such growth. It needs to have projections to 30, 40, 50 years. Then may be you need to revise these projections after 10 years.

There are many garment industries within city limits. This is one of the biggest foreign exchange earning industries so it is very important. These industries are responsible for the slums, as Bashirul Haq has said.

They live in slums because they cannot afford the transport fare under the current public transport system.

So if we can have export processing zones (EPZ) dedicated to the garment industry and the workers are given secure accommodation, they will live there. Many young women working in the garments industries lead an insecure life.

Albab Ahmed: The original planning on paper for Dhaka city was done in 1959 by the British. Then the population was about 2/3 lakhs. At the moment we have some 250 square kilometres of area and a population of over 10 million. In 1995 there was the Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan (DMDP). It was for the period between 1995 to 2015. But the plan is in one place while the development is going on in another direction.
There were different zones-residential, commercial etc. in the plan but unfortunately those were never implemented. You see Dhanmondi was earmarked as a residential zone but now we have universities, schools, offices, hospitals, clinics, supermarkets and what not.

The plan also had proposals for rapid transport like shuttle trains, flyovers but nothing was done. So the main problem is the implementation of the plans.

Rajuk is the authority that gives permission when we make a building, be it an office building a house or a commercial facility. If they are the sole authority, then no one should have been able to build these commercial facilities in residential areas. So they have failed in their main responsibility.

Architects design the apartments but the owners are more interested in how many flats they are getting.

We can't blame the developers because it is their business. We are all partly responsible. We are working with limitations. If people don't want to keep open space, we designers can't force them.

Say in Dhanmondi when you make a six-storied building, you have to leave five feet from front, four feet from the sides and about six feet seven inches from the back. When you leave that amount of space and make a building, it is just a box that comes up. You don't have any space for plans, you don't have any space for trees. So it is up to the Rajuk to make bylaws so that people are bound to keep open spaces.

Fortunately, Rajuk is planning on changing the by-laws and the Institute of Architects, REHAB and Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon are working together to make those by-laws more environment-friendly.

Rafiqun Nabi: I will put the blame of jerry-building on the concerned authority including RAJUK, City Corporation and the ministries connected to town planning and maintenance of cleanliness and shape of the growth of the city. These people in power are just not sincere. The experts at the helm of affairs appear to be somewhat callous. Behind the evil that faces us is malpractice. Again there is the matter of inadequate funding while whatever is available is misused.

Architects too, although they are talented, sincere and hard working, don't get the perfect connoisseurs of architecture to drive them on. It isn't necessarily true that the owners of the estates and buildings have good taste: they try to compel the architects to go according to their will. They make the architects toe the line of what they've seen in developed Far Eastern cities such as Singapore or Bangkok. A lot of construction in Dhaka is a copy work of what is seen abroad. The owners are carried away by the façade rather than the utility value. They forget about the amicable relationship with neighbours or have little concern for the adjacent roads and lanes.

Authorities like WASA and the Dhaka Municipality moreover, have no co-ordination between. Someone cuts a road; another comes and lays pipes along the road yet a third party comes to finish the job plus they have anomalies at work there.

If one considers town planning in Athens, where I was educated, and other well-planned cities in both the East and West -- both old and new I found more harmony. Doxiadis, who has designed some of the Dhaka buildings such as TSC, The Home Economics College, and BARD in Comilla, compelled our government to follow his plans, rules and regulations. He made high-rise buildings despite having the Athens Acropolis with a few kilometres and nothing appears out of place. The old and new mingle together and could easily emulate such town planning in our own capital city.

Ataus Samad: The first guideline of city planning was completed in 1959 and subsequently it was revised in 1995. The 1995 plan was an UNDP-funded project. Foreign planners came and stayed in Dhaka for years.

This planning was just a guideline for the development of a city. Subsequently what was expected of the Rajuk was development of the city according to that guideline, detailing out roads, walkways and open areas but that detailing was never done. It was just a guideline plan and Rajuk was supposed to get it done either by itself or through local consultants. They initiated the process at one point but nothing happened after that.

The other problem is that if a city does not grow according to a guideline, then the whole system gradually collapses. Political interference happens everywhere but here it has descended to the level of greed.

The government can tell a garment factory owner to go and set up an industry for workers outside Dhaka. The incentive here will be that money would be made available to him for the purpose at a very low interest and it will be a long-term loan for say 40 years. The moment the government can give that kind of assurance, that is when it can ensure a solution for the problem.

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