Experts fear mixed-use neighbourhoods will increase incidents like the Chawkbazar and Nimotoli fires
Rajdhani Unnyan Katripakkha (Rajuk), Dhaka's development authority, has consistently failed to keep commercial and residential areas separate, despite trying for many years.
However, Rajuk has discarded that plan, saying that it will no longer designate areas as commercial or residential; with the convenience of the citizens in mind.
There will be specific guidelines regarding the matter. Dhaka's development authority will also designate areas for shopping malls and industry.
Rajuk’s Detail Area Plan (DAP) Director Ashraful Islam said these decisions will be incorporated in the plan.
However, most city planners are against Rajuk’s decision to mix residential and commercial areas.
The city planners think it must be assessed whether the move will give rise to another Nimtoli or Chawkbazar tragedy.
Rajuk sources say that despite several efforts it has become impossible to stop landlords from putting their buildings to commercial use.
Shops have sprung up in residential buildings to meet the needs of the residents.
They said Rajuk has to look after the needs of the citizens as well, but strict safety instructions will be provided for the use of residential buildings for commercial purposes; like selling products that are necessary for day-to-day use of the residents.
A Rajuk official said due to popular demand, shops have sprung up in almost 90% of buildings.
The official added that steps cannot be taken against these establishments as they invest large sums of money and evicting them will lead to protest both from the owners and residents of the area.
If commercial areas are separated out, people will have to travel a couple of kilometres for daily needs, which according to them will lead to more traffic and will also be inconvenient for the citizens.
DAP Director Ashraful Islam said: “Our priority is to work according to the needs of the public. So, we will not designate any area as residential or commercial.”
Stating that many depend on these businesses, he said these organizations are creating jobs for thousands of people who are contributing to the economy.
“No area will be purely residential. But, we will provide guidelines for shopping malls,” he said adding that only industrial areas will be separated out.
The urban planners, however, described Rajuk’s move as an effort to cover up its failures.
“There are mixed-use neighbourhoods in the world, but the kinds of shops are specified,” Institute of Planners General Secretary Dr Adil Mahmud said.
He said: “We need to see whether we are taking a self-destructive decision in the name of mixed use.”
Adil said in a country like Bangladesh—where governance is weak and the law is not followed—encouraging mixed-use neighbourhoods might have disastrous consequences.
“It is not important how effective the weapon is, what is important is who is using it,” he said.
According to him, the Chawkbazar and Nimotoli fires are fatal examples of mixed-use neighbourhoods in Bangladesh.