Why can’t we do a better job of planning our cities?
Bangladesh is a tiny piece of land. I used to dream that one day, with better planning, we’d become like Singapore.
In fact, we have to become another Singapore, otherwise we may not be able to accommodate our population in this small country. However, with each passing day, it is increasingly becoming clear to me that we may not become a country like Singapore in a million years, as the plans for developing our cities are not there.
On the other hand, we’re showing our passion for all kinds of useless projects.
In the past three years, I have been to Chittagong, Cox’s Bazar, Sylhet, Khulna, Jessore, Kushtia, Jhenidah, Comilla, Barisal, Noakhali, Feni, Rangpur, Rajshahi, Natore, and Mymensingh. I have spoken to the media professionals of all those districts, asking around about how their cities were being developed.
The journalists gave helpless looks at me. They made faces when I inquired about the planned development of their cities.
They said they have given up on their official assignments for reporting on the unplanned growth of their cities. This was exactly when a daily brought forth some valuable information.
The report said Bangladeshi cities were receiving more than 3% of the population every year. In Dhaka city, the growth rate is 5%. The capital city is the habitat of about 12.5% of the total population of the country. One-third of the country’s employment is also in Dhaka city.
More than 20 million people, the report said, are living in this city of 300 square kilometres, where the roads and pavements are not enough for dwellers living here.
The city is now unable to withstand the pressure of motorized vehicles. A decade ago, the average speed of vehicles was 21km/h, but currently, they move at a speed of 7km/h.
In 2025, the vehicles will move at a speed of 4km/h, and that will be a time when we are able to reach our destinations on foot before the passengers of motorized vehicles.
Currently, our capital city has 66 foot overbridges, but they’re not built in proper places -- the walkers are not at all using them.
Let’s go to Chittagong from Dhaka. Who hasn’t seen the pathetic condition of our so-called commercial capital? Come rain, residents get waterlogged, come heavy tide, they get waterlogged. Watery cages are the reality of the residents of Chittagong.
Chittagong harbours the biggest port of the country. But there’s only one road through the city that can lead to the port.
The authorities are trying their best to build flyovers and new roads, but they have been failing miserably in achieving their goals.
Our commercial capital, Chittagong, remains in the same misery as it was before.
In this context, the president of the Forum for Planned Chittagong, economist Muhammad Sikandar Khan, has been quoted as saying that the (commercial) city is being developed by neglecting all the plans that have been made for it.
The development funds, he claimed, are being squandered with half-hearted planning. He also alleged that no one was even studying the old plans, but they seemed to be in a hurry to develop the city in order to earn quick money.
A planned Chittagong is perhaps nothing more than a dream.
In the city of Noakhali last year, I saw that the lack of waste disposal and proper sewage were the most dangerous problems.
In many neighbourhoods, residential houses by the sides of the roads were in knee-deep water. And surprisingly, the dwellers were continuing on with their lives in that watery misery.
No matter where you visit, you experience the consequences of our unplanned attitude. Our cities don’t look beautiful at all; I don’t know who designs the buildings, but the sight of them isn’t something to cherish.
You cannot differentiate residential areas from the commercial ones; every area looks like a commercial area, a concrete jungle.
Moreover, no one is abiding by the laws formulated for the cities to become planned habitats. It seems that city development authorities themselves haven’t been planning for the cities they are meant to develop.
Almost every city looks like chaos in the making. If you look at them and imagine a future that is 10 years from now, you’d actually see no future. Almost all of them are going to be worse than Dhaka city.
I thought our experiences from developing Dhaka city would make us aware and wise enough to turn the rest of the cities into at least liveable ones. But that’s not happening.
Ekram Kabir is a story-teller and a columnist.