Are more high-rises really the answer to Dhaka’s problems?
High-rise buildings may appear to be the solution to lodging problems of any growing city.
The unplanned explosion of high-rise buildings sprouting in Dhaka throughout the urban landscape is a threat to its land ecology and environment. Site selection and erection of high-rise buildings should be guided by zonal planning and certain building codes.
Neither of which is being equipped within our cities. Therefore, the whole urban ecology is adversely exaggerated. No proper site selection is visible here. High-rise buildings are being constructed along slender roads, and even on small plots of land in neighbourhoods where most other buildings are one to three stories high.
They do not allow for any building code. This widespread practice is essentially to exploit the entire land to erect the building, without leaving tolerable space between the high-rise and the next building, which blocks out natural light and fresh air. Multi-storied buildings being built by real estate companies do not always follow the construction regulations set by the urban development authorities in Bangladesh.
Usually, there is no monitoring. Even pre-planned residential areas are becoming congested and detrimental places to live in. The construction of multi-storied buildings without proper technical planning or supervision, and with low grade construction materials have led to more than one incidence of a newly built multi-storied building crumbling.
In the port city of Chittagong, multi-storied buildings are being erected by cutting hills -- and since there is a lack of any reliable planning or environmental impact assessment, these are a risk to people, and the residents of such buildings themselves.
High-rise buildings are built without any evaluation of whether the area has adequate provisions for essential services -- water, gas, electricity, and sewage lines served to a certain density of the population. These systems are faulty, and there is a high possibility of things going wrong if they are overburdened.
At the moment, high-rise buildings dominate many parts of Dhaka. These buildings have massive reservoirs to hold water, and the pressure of water in the distribution pipes of Wasa is not enough to fill these huge reservoirs -- water is therefore obtained by illegally connecting water pumps straight to Wasa lines.
As a result, other houses in the neighbourhood suffer from water shortages. Dhaka city is served by a sewage system which is just not able to, or designed to, accommodate the needs of the city. These high-rise apartment buildings are creating an extra load of sewage at specific points at specific times of the day. This may eventually debilitate the whole system.
Where there is no sewerage line, huge septic tanks need to be erected to manage the sewage. If constructed in dangerous or at-risk areas, this may contaminate the groundwater, pollute the land, and further disrupt the already contaminated lake ecology.
There is also a discrepancy in the delivery of electricity, and daily load-shedding during the summer periods cause immense nuisance to urban-dwellers. Per capita requirements of electricity of high-rise operating elevators and air conditioners are huge -- these put a further load on an already overburdened system.
Gas distribution is also interrupted, as drawing of huge amounts of gas from one point adversely affects the overall supply to the entire neighbourhood.
Many high-rise buildings, especially those commercial housing units, do not have proper parking spaces, and parking the cars on busy roads disrupts the flow of traffic, causing traffic jams, burning more fuel, and polluting the air, not to mention adding to the sound pollution and an added layer of frustration to the people.
Housing is a big challenge for Bangladesh. In our country, there are a lot of real estate companies working only for new settlements. They should consider other factors -- making construction noise free, incorporating fresh air and light in building designs.
The government can take home-grown development strategies for eco-friendly construction. Environmental security is also an important element of sustainable development. If we plan for new buildings, both for the present and future generations, we have to prioritize the environment.
As Bangladesh is striving to become a middle income country, we should be ensuring environmental security in urban development.
Shishir Reza is an Environmental Analyst, Bangladesh Economic Association. Sharmin Akter is an Urban Planner, Bangladesh Institutes of Planners.