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Think big, think vertical

  • Published at 02:27 pm May 18th, 2018
Photo: Syed Zakir Hossain

The key to Bangladesh’s population boom might lie in more urbanization

That’s right -- it’s the best way for Bangladesh to face the double challenge of high-density population and coastal erosion due to climate change. 

Bangladesh has been a rural and agrarian economy for its entire history. That is starting to change as industry and service account for a larger share of the GDP. The capital Dhaka is the densest city in the world today, with 135,000 people per square mile. All our cities have seen similar explosive growth. And they can barely function under the pressure of the huge and rapidly expanded populations. 

In this context, it may seem like madness to call for more urbanization. But not only is more urbanization inevitable, it is the best way to cope with our emerging challenges -- and thus critical to plan it right.  

Several interconnected issues impinge on this proposition:

Bangladesh simply cannot accommodate all the new people coming into the workforce in its agricultural sector. Bangladesh has no land to spare. So, Bangladesh has to build cities and factories that rise high and look at manufacturing categories that can fit into that format -- namely, electronic appliances and components, and even newer tech, such as drones, nano-products, and so on.

These cities of the future must employ much better planning and tech-based solutions so that they can accommodate even higher densities but without the miseries of our present cities. The conceptual and technical solutions are easy enough; whether we can get authorities like Rajuk to look past their lucrative but devastating plot-business is the question.

A final piece of this puzzle will be connectivity. The agglomerations must be connected to one another and to high-efficiency ports with international standard highways.

The good news is that the present government has set us off in the right direction first with its Digital Bangladesh concept. The prime minister has also expressed an intention to build a hundred special economic zones, and a university in every district. What we need now is attention on a cohesive hub-and-corridor plan, and more emphasis on increasing educational capacities. 

Many of our authorities work at cross-purposes. The education ministry, for example, has taken such a draconian stance towards private universities that, in their attempts to rein in a few bad apples, they have stymied the entire sector. 

As Bangladesh enters a middle-income stage, preparing for a knowledge-based economy is more urgent than ever. Age-old policy-making attitudes which lean on excessive yet ineffective controls must be shed in favour of ones which stimulate and reward creativity and innovation. 

Even the near future holds breathtaking technological possibilities -- such as, AI, nanotechnology, even programmable matter -- which will make this vision ever more feasible. And, in fact, obligatory -- if we wish to remain at all competitive. 

Finally, the real beauty of this plan is that it doesn’t ignore rural-agrarian life. Rather, by absorbing the burden of population mainly into high-tech cities, we will give the countryside a chance to regenerate and remain green forever.

Dr K Anis Ahmed is the publisher of Dhaka Tribune

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