Can a new city save Dhaka?
Years after Kazi Khaleed Ashraf provided a glimpse on how yet to save Dhaka from a miserable death, the World Bank has come up with a concept of an eastern city to Dhaka in what seems to be a giving up on the capital.
Countless research has been conducted in improving Dhaka’s habitation, roads, and waterlines, and the projects aren’t mean either. The sort of twin city concept is, however, at loggerheads with the government’s avowed policy of decentralization.
Perhaps the Bretton Woods Institution no longer has faith in whatever the five-year plans say, and to that extent, the lack of decentralization does stick out like a sore thumb. There were partial attempts at decentralization, especially during the Ershad dictatorship, but the bureaucracy’s unwillingness to embrace change scuppered matters.
While it’s natural that there be a close working relationship between the World Bank and the government, such proposals take matters too close for comfort.
Dhaka’s Detailed Area Plan (DAP), with its revisions, envisions the future make-up of the city, and anything added on may be a dream digitalized city, but cannot be a complement to Dhaka itself. On the flip-side, if the DAP is politically or physically unachievable, there’s no point in having such a plan.
With encroachment having reached mind-boggling proportions, and courts likely to be friendly to cost and other factors, it is doubtful whether illegally grabbed land can be recovered at all. Perhaps in that context, the planned eastern city has merits beyond the objections of city planners. Apparently, there are 15,000 of them, very few of which were consulted by the World Bank or indeed the government.
Concepts from new generation planners would have been interesting to have thrown into the hat, and smart city concepts can perhaps be replicated in the new city. As it stands, utility lines are being applied in plasters rather than through any real planning. The coils of telephone wires point to a total ignorance of the idea of having wireless skylines.
A billboard-free city has given way to a city full of billboards displaying organizational and government propaganda with the end result being even more eyesore to deal with. The footpaths which were cleared are occupied again, and even roads are being encroached by small trades.
In between a clean city and heart-rending eviction, there is little choice, that is, if the city is to be what it was made out to be in the first place.
The new Dhaka is to have provisions for housing five million, generate jobs, and add a robust $2,000 to GDP per capita. While the statistics may be rosy, it just smells likes another effort to provide a lot for a few, unless the government steps in to really create planned neighbourhoods free from all encumbrances.
With the right kind of input from the planners, architects, and engineers, even the current Dhaka, albeit dependent on hard decisions, can be made somewhat habitable again. Basic rights are applicable for all and not a few.
Islamabad did it years ago, and their country is a failed state. We are way above them in all indicators, so why can’t we?
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.