Urban dynamics, planned or unplanned, can cause changes to the structure, shape and functions of built and unbuilt areas (Madureira et al, 2011). With the intense use of available space in the urban preservation of open green spaces is of particular ecological importance (Roessner, 2001). Cultural ecosystem service (CES) is the nonmaterial benefits people obtain from ecosystems through spiritual enrichment, cognitive development, reflection reaction and aesthetic experiences (Millenium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005), adding to the importance of such open spaces in urban landscapes. Urban dwellers should be aware of the lack of free space and greenery affecting cultural activities and ecosystem services, to ensure a better understanding of the need for socially adjustable and sustainable urban planning.
Dhaka, the capital city of Bangladesh, is the hub of socio-economic and cultural activities of the country parallelly considered as one of the densest cities in the world, with 18 million people squishing in 1,528 square km. The average density of the central area of Dhaka city has reached a staggering 41,000 inhabitants per square kilometre. As per World Bank, 2016, more than 35 percent of Bangladeshi are living in urban settings. Notably, more than half of the world’s population (55%) live in cities and this is expected to increase to 68percent by 2050 (United Nations 2018). Based on current trends, Greater Dhaka would have a population of 25 million in 2035 and an income per capita of US$8,000 at 2015 prices (World Bank). The rapidly growing economy of Bangladesh, raising the pressure to accommodate this increasing number and we are continuously approaching towards rapid urbanization.
Dhaka has a shortage of grounds for giving a home to its tenants. Thus, alongside the extension Dhaka city, the Government approaches to multi-storied buildings and housing arrangements inside the city. With the development of education and culture, changing leisure habits, city residents put forward new architectural and functional requirements to the living environment and urban infrastructure. But are we forgetting to consider that one of the essential components of the living environment of a city is the residential environment? Citizen mostly interact with the residential environment, performs activities indoors rather than outdoors, due to lack of open space.
According to the Global Livability Index 2019, Dhaka is the third least livable city in the world. Many parts of East Dhaka are already being developed haphazardly at an alarmingly rapid pace. In Dhaka, the development of the living environment, mainly consisting of multi-storey buildings, high-rise buildings and modern public spaces cause variation in temperature and wind conditions of the terrain and worsen influence the environmental situation. There is evidence that today, Dhaka is prone to flooding, congestion, and messiness, to the point that is clogging its growth to a livable city. Private developers are buying land and filling it with sand so they can build and sell new houses and apartments. Canals and ponds are disappearing, and the few narrow roads crossing the area are being encroached by construction.
The value of trees and plants in the urban environment is well documented: they improve air quality, shade against heat and provide an antidote to congestion, traffic and the pace of city life. A park or an open space with greenery is like a lung in the busy mega-city full of traffic snarls, smoke and dust. The natural wind flow process in public residential areas of a modern city is affected by the high density of high-rise buildings, and the air has a higher concentration of pollutants due to lack of air exchange. Pollutants modify gas exchange and cause oxygen starvation, getting into the lungs of urban residents together with the inhaled air, thereby causing asthma and other lung diseases. Thus, the issue of aeration of areas with high-rise buildings is becoming increasingly important. An ideal city needs 25 per cent greenery and open spaces, but there is only five percent open ground and greenery in the old part of Dhaka and 12 per cent in the new region.
Another threatening issue is usurpation and unplanned construction gradually taking up open spaces and greenery in Dhaka. The primary threat to existing public open spaces is encroachment by public and private entities. Many parks and open playgrounds have already been grabbed by governmental and non-governmental organizations for development projects like commercial apartments and some under the grip of private organizations, denying free public access. This issue is alarming because parks and green spaces are not just nice to look at; they influence health and well-being. Research proved that green space tempers climate extremes and mitigates the urban heat-island effect and access to it improve physical and mental health by providing more spaces to walk, relax, and play. Everyone in a city needs to have access to those benefits for a healthy life.
People come to green spaces to have a respite from the monotonous routine life. Still, the current trend representing 84 percent of the city people have no access to this facility within the boundary of their living area. What is very unfortunate is that the regulatory bodies are not aware of the need to protect these valuable parks and open grounds. The future generation of children in Dhaka city to grow up without playgrounds, depriving them of the health facility to grow up in a proper natural environment.
City authorities should lead the prime responsibility to keep a balance between urban development and sustainability for the present and future generations. The provision of adequate green spaces also is considered a key element which helps to provide mental and physical health among the people also ensuring urban sustainability.
Making available significant ‘green’ living space is now virtually mandatory for cities around the world. While sectors like infrastructure, industry and connectivity enjoy prioritized attention, we feel that housing as a foundational sector of development deserves a much more significant, thoughtful and creative focus. Planning for the needs of both society and the environment is becoming more and more prevalent as the impacts of urbanization, development and resource extraction influence the health of citizens and the vulnerability of cities. Thus we need to link ecosystem-based management with impacts of rapid urbanization and development using an ecosystem services-based approach to infrastructure and service provision.
Noor-E-Elahi is a Junior Researcher at ICCCAD