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A city bursting at the seams

  • Published at 06:03 pm November 7th, 2018
A bleak reality SYED LATIF HOSSAIN

Bold measures are needed to stop Dhaka’s unplanned growth

The curious ones that seek to relive or revive memories of bygone and glorified pasts in winding alleys or lanes may occasionally wonder about access to emergency services.

Dhaka, especially the old city, and even parts of the new ones, has a history of narrow roads, but then that’s partly due to bad or no real planning. 

Even village roads until recently barely allowed for rickshaws to pass, that too one at a time. But life not only goes on -- it thrives in those small alleys, including the rather fearful prospect of multi-storey apartment complexes that are disasters waiting to happen.

It would take bold legal and administrative steps to stop unplanned growth and expansion of a metropolis that’s already bursting at the seams. Without it, Dhaka will die.

For now, the commotion is about traffic snarls and unplanned development work by utility services, but the liveability index is just numbers -- ensuring fresh air and utilities with limits as to per-square-metre population. 

Given the growth of slums, both tin-shed and concrete, it would appear that the World Bank’s proposal for a sub-city to the east is basically an open surrender, and that nothing can be done about the city of Dhaka as we know it. 

To an extent, that’s true, but there are significant bits and pieces, as envisioned by the late Annisul Huq, and other more advanced concepts put forward by architect Kazi Khaled Ashraf, that can make an almost living hell a little better. 

Giving up is easy, but track the quaint alleyways of the old city in Morocco’s Casablanca, and no car, or even a motorbike, can barely make its way through some of them, not to mention two persons side by side.

Yet, these are much sought after “cultural experiences” of fairly large expansive homes inhabited by many, and rented out by many others.

Rajdhani Unnayan Kortripokkho is to embark on a major survey on residential and commercial buildings constructed post the FARR rule. Surveys prior to that are out of the ambit, because no single set of rules existed, and it was “horses for courses.” 

Questions will, therefore, be limited to the post-inspection reports of a significant lower number of such constructions. The findings should be interesting, to say the least, because anyone who can dodge the rules as far as imagination goes will now have a tougher time.

Cultural tourism is to be welcomed, and it is our duty to provide facilities and restroom provisions. But where the more posh outlets are often charged for selling dodgy food, we’re some ways away from the hygiene that tourists will expect. 

Change, however imperceptible, is there -- it’s just painfully slow. Protection of heritage buildings suffer from lack of funds, and frankly, intent, with too much being lost for too little gain.

Not much has been heard of the identified risky buildings following the last significant earthquake that shook Dhaka.

Thousands were listed, but what happened as an outcome hasn’t been disclosed. Somehow, one doubts anything substantive can be done, not only to raze delinquent construction, but also address the massive encroachment of the Detailed Area Plan (DAP). 

Surveys are only as useful as the information gleaned is acted upon.

Shelved information is a prescription for a tragedy waiting to happen. 

Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.

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