The alarming rate at which Dhaka city -- the city nurturing billions of our dreams -- is losing the trees on its streets is a burning indication that its environment will only become worse, unless we act quickly.
The scarcity of green reserves in Dhaka has been blamed for high temperatures in the city, although government owned areas have the potential for the cultivation of more trees.
An important percentage includes the greenery in the parks (Ramna Park, Balda Garden, Botanical Gardens, etc), at the edge of waterbodies (Hatirjheel), and at islands and medians of major roads. Plantation at street medians gathered massive pace before the 2005 SAARC Summit in Dhaka.
Under this beautification project, a huge length of important medians and road islands stretching from Bangabhaban to the airport were brought under a fresh plantation program supervised by DCC, and implemented by a total of 71 public and private organizations.
Yet, questions were raised about the use of foreign species of trees, about the rationale of planting at the medians rather than at the footpaths, about the maintenance of trees, about the eyewash-factor of the project attempting to satisfy the delegates of the summit, about the visibility and movement of vehicles and so on.
Despite the debate, it is an established fact that trees are one of the most inseparable elements of the road environment, because they provide ample shadow to the pedestrians, reduce heat of the road, and reduce dust for a more comfortable street environment.
Dwijen Sharma, a renowned naturalist, activist, and science writer, had mentioned in an open conversation with the architects that “it is preposterous to plant trees at the median rather than on the footpath. There is hardly any precedent of planting trees at the median in any other city except Dhaka.”
But once trees had been planted at the medians, they began growing defying all odds, rather miraculously. Surviving in harsh conditions, the tall trees in the median like Debdaru, Raintree, etc are useful, as they provide shade to the people stuck in traffic for hours.
Many have acknowledged the importance of median plantation in Dhaka. Architect Rabiul Islam, a young environmentalist and landscape designer from GOAAT (Group of Architects and Thinkers) who worked with DNCC as well, opines that an important part of median landscaping for urban areas is to select species with maximum water absorptive and retaining capacity in order to reduce urban flooding.
From his experience of urban projects, he adds: “Species that expand vertically rather than branch out horizontally are preferred more in order to prevent excessive trimming, visual obstruction, and accidents. Proper tree selection with base plantation increases vegetated surfaces and reduces dust. Overall, an evergreen vegetated median within cities supports the habitat of urban dwelling wildlife.”
If developments are for a better future, do we ask ourselves why these designs are destroying much needed greenery without replacing it?
The cost of development
Today, two major construction works have been undertaken in Dhaka; the metro rail and the elevated expressway. But these development projects are threatening the ecology of Dhaka city greatly.
Piers will now take the place of beautiful trees. If developments are for a better future, do we ask ourselves why these designs are destroying the much-needed greenery without replacing it? A simple decision of taking the metro rail route through the old airport area could have saved hundreds of trees at the median of the road from Taltola to Bijoy Shoroni, also reducing the nuisance of everyday construction.
Also, we can expect the heartless destruction of a magnificent collection of trees at the median of Sangsad Bhaban Avenue, also known as Khejur Bagan Road, which is arguably the most beautiful and well-thought out street island of Dhaka, rich with species such as Shegun, Krishnochura, Radhachura, Kanchan, Shonalu, etc.
In addition to that, all the trees at Sher-E-Bangla Nagar Park at Farmgate and many old Koroi trees at Khamarbari Road will also be demolished, with the park becoming a stack yard of MRT construction.
Placing the turn of the MRT route at Bijoy Shoroni and taking it through Kazi Nazrul Islam Avenue could have kept the Khejur Bagan Road as well as the Sher E Bangla Nagar Park untouched.
Nevertheless, we can certainly overcome the loss of street trees by means of alternative measures.
For example, from Khamarbari to Mirpur-12, the loss of trees due to the construction of the MRT route can be compensated by planting even more trees in the footpaths.
That, along with the need for accommodating more pedestrians due to increased pressure from the route and MRT stations of future, will require a well-designed footpath of least 20 feet wide on both sides of the mentioned road’s entire length. Where is that provision in the masterplan? The current dust-laden miserable streetscape is merely the forecast of a future horror story.
All is not doom and gloom
Moreover, the Moghbazar flyover is a complete mess and an evidence of poor intelligence and lack of shrewdness in our legislative bodies and engineering cores. Even more heavy construction work is in progress for the elevated expressway, while such a decision is utterly contradictory and questionable, because it has totally destroyed edges of our water bodies that boasted lush landscapes.
All is not doom and gloom. Recently constructed footpaths of Gulshan Avenue are at least considering the fact that pedestrians do exist. Mayor Annisul Huq started envisioning a green and clean Dhaka with a very meticulous approach, but his early departure have put such initiatives at stake.
Dhaka South City Corporation has also started constructing some parks designed by renowned architects and landscape specialists of Bangladesh under the project “Jol Shobuje Dhaka.” Completion of such a praiseworthy initiative will shed light on our thoughts for a greener and comfortable Dhaka city.
Rajshahi is a glorious example of a city that took on air pollution and won, highlighting the necessity of street trees that have emerged as the heroes of its triumph.
Apart from encouraging a healthier lifestyle, the authority played a vital role for controlling dust in the air by building about 15km of soft pavements with greenery.
The greenery of Jessore Road could be saved. Because there are alternatives, and people along with the authority have realized it. There were always alternative solutions. We must see them.
We must act now. Act quickly.
Shuvo Datta is former Architect, Dhaka North City Corporation. Sabbir Ahmed is Lecturer, Military Institute of Science and Technology.