What’s wrong with the new Dhaka structure plan?
Qazi Azizul Mowla

    Photo- BIGSTOCK

When it comes to the issue of a structured city, Dhaka’s name will be far from that list.  The chaotic capital of Bangladesh, that accommodates over 16 million people, also has problem in implementing any plan properly because of the uncontrollable influx of population from the countryside.

Several structure plans have been launched since Patrick Geddes first presented his ideas for the development of Dhaka in 1917. Unfortunately, none of the past successive plans were implemented and we never tried to learn anything from our past failures. 

The newest Dhaka Structure Plan (DSP) 2016-35 borrows heavily from the immediate past structure plan and instead of improving on it, the proposed new one has deteriorated further and has altogether discarded the Dhaka Metropolitan Development Plan of 1995.

What’s wrong with capital’s planning?

Dhaka Improvement Trust (DIT), the predecessor to Rajuk, was formed without planning being a part of its original charter; however, the 1953 Town Improvement Act was finally modified in 1987, transforming DIT into Rajuk (Rajdhani Unayon Kortipakhya - Capital Development authority) with planning, coordination and directive powers.

Rajuk, in fact could never understand its role and remained primarily a ‘public real estate developers agency’. Its biggest failures are, not to understand the real problem or to have a vision on which to work, but also its failure or inability to combine planning and implementation process.

Because of Rajuk’s incapacity, its efforts to intervene in planning and development have been made by one or another set of interests - each grasping the elephant by only one of its parts and misunderstanding the whole. DSP 2016-2035 is no exception; rather worst of the series of attempts it made for the planning of Dhaka since the beginning of the last century.

Any development plan requires a vision before it is conceived and implemented but in the case of DSP 2016-35, there is neither a vision nor any implementation strategy. It looks more like a real estate developer’s wishful road map for increasing buildable land at any cost.

What’s inside the Dhaka Structure Plan 2016-2036?

To facilitate long-term sustainability through better urban planning and demand-led development within DMDP area, Rajuk had selected a joint venture (JV) of International and National Consultants through international bidding procedure guided by ADB.

The members of JV partners are Saman Corporation and Han-A Urban Research Institute, Republic of Korea, Sheltech (Pvt) Ltd and DevCon Ltd, Bangladesh.

Some of the main issues covered under the DSP are: Setting the Context, Future Growth Direction, Effective Land Use Management for Livable Dhaka, Transport for Efficient Connectivity, Enhancing Dhaka’s Employment and productivity, Public Facilities for Better Living, Protecting Natural and Healthy Environment, Preserving Open Space for Recreation and Aesthetics, Resilience through Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Historically and Enhance the Cityscape with Urban Design and Landscape.

Geographically and economically, Dhaka is a dynamic entity. Dhaka is not a virgin land and a lot of diversified issues are in play to keep it dynamic; therefore, existing conditions and constraints are to be taken care of, which Patrick Geddes called ‘conservative surgery’ and not amputation or transplantation as has been proposed in the DSP.

At one end, Rajuk is encouraging speculative price hike of land in and all around Dhaka, providing site and serviced plot to the existing landowners of Dhaka. At the other end, it is advocating for acquiring more private land and providing it for housing schemes – these approaches have already failed to solve the housing problem.

Moreover, as mentioned before, Dhaka is not a virgin land where fresh transport oriented developments (ToD) can be proposed without massive amputation. Existing context need to be carefully studied and causes of migration to Dhaka (biggest cause of population explosion of Dhaka) needs to be checked – to keep pace with the housing needs.

The recommendations to make it better

In a nutshell, most of the basic ingredients of a typical structure plan are missing in DSP 2016-35. It failed to assess the failures of the past structure plans of Dhaka and to take lessons from those.

Experts and stake holders were not consulted let alone the general public. Besides, it did not have a continuation of immediate past plan, thus loosing the context and objectivity.

The DSP also ignored the setting and the context, while ratifying the past misdeeds of both private and public sector.

I would recommend the government to:

Set a clear vision for Dhaka’s development and implementation strategy (visualise what city we want at macro, intermediate and micro level within the existing context).

  • Capacity building of Rajuk is needed to manage DSP implementation efficiently.
  • DSP is to be nested in national physical planning policies and strategies, and must be compatible with other relevant national issues.
  • Follow DMDP 1995-2015 as a guideline and framework to update DSP for 2016-2035 as desired by the funding agency.
  • Set strategies to rectify/recover that have gone wrong in previous plans.
  • Consider Geo-morphological context (flooding, earthquake, wet land, ecology, etc) during land use adjustments.
  • Consider conservation of natural and man-made heritage in the planning and design framework.
  • Consider long-term sustainability instead of short-term economic gains in the DSP.
  • Consider various traffic and transportation plans by other agencies during land use adjustments / distributions.
  • Develop and consolidate peripheral municipal areas (Naryanganj, Savar, Tongi etc) as a Dhaka’s decentralisation strategy and connect them adequately with the central region (DNCC & DSCC) without increasing built-up areas. 

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Qazi Azizul Mowla

The writer is a Professor of Architecture Department of BUET