A Conversation for h2g2 FAQ: Guide Entries


Post 1



Prof. Bijon B. Sarma

ABSTRACT : Long ago, men left the jungles with the pains of living there and established cities with the hope to live peacefully. The scientists gave them new materials for construction, the technologists manufactured gadgets for comfort, the architects came with the knowledge and technique of superior quality built-forms and the planners came to solve the urban problems created due to living of many. Their elected government came with the promise of making their lives and living peaceful. The urban authorities increased taxes in order to ensure better service. And in the long run, what resulted out of all such endeavors are the concrete jungles interspersed by canyons, through which speedy vehicles continuously run like the ants. By this time 'peace' the dwellers so earnestly longed for started evaporating with the dark smoke coming out of the vehicles. In short this is the common picture one may see in almost al the large and crowded cities of the developing countries. In spite of sincere endeavors on the part of some of the concerned parties the situation is on further deterioration. There must be genuine reason behind this phenomenon and it is extremely important to look into this matter. In this paper endeavor will be made to find out the reasons, why the comfort situation of the dwellers is on decline in spite of improved gadgets, better knowledge and bigger spending.

The jungle-living men established village, then small towns and finally, metro or mega-polish. All these they did with the intention of living peacefully. The scientists have invented numerous gadgets and devices for ensuring comfortable living. In such a context the big question before the millions of city dwellers who dwell in the suffocating environment of the concrete jungles in the developing countries is, whether their dream of peaceful living would ever remain as dream and dream only. It may be a burning question for the urban authorities, city planners, urban designers and architects why their ever improving knowledge and technology fail to ensure peaceful living of the citizens.

During the British regime in India (1757 AD t0 1947 AD) Dhaka was a small port city in the then East Bengal. In 1947 Dhaka attained the status of provincial capital of the province East Pakistan. Since then Dhaka started getting importance that led to its physical increase. In 1971 Dhaka emerged as the capital city of the independent country, Bangladesh. At present its population is over 90 million. During pre-Pakistan period the physical expansion of the city happened in a somewhat organic type of development to the best of the "ability, need and wish of the government and /or the dwellers" without any master plan. The trend continued till 1959, in which year the government of Pakistan engaged a firm named "Spencer and Minoprio" to prepare the master plan of the city. Since then there were numerous endeavours to build up the city as per provisions of that master plan, but with little success. The rapid increase of population resulting in quick lateral expansion and other unforeseen situations rendered it impossible to abide by the master plan. The existence of the river Buriganga on South stopped its expansion in this direction. The same was stopped on the East and West because these areas were extremely low. At this situation the city expanded in the fringe areas mostly towards the North. A significant change happened in the field of Architecture and Planning after 1965, when 'the second capital' of Pakistan was proposed at Monipuri para agricultural farm (later named Sher-e-Bangla Nagar). The master plan and architectural designs of some of the buildings of this area were done by architect Louis I. Kahn. During the colonial period ( 1757-1947 AD) the British introduced non-plastered and red-painted brick walls in some buildings. Louis Kahn re-introduced the same in some buildings of the second capital and the trend later turned extremely popular. The construction of Parliament Building (Sangsad Bhaban) was finished after Bangladesh became independent. Alongside concrete, glass and elevators rendered new looks to the built-forms of the city. The residential buildings rose up to 23 stories, commercial and institutional buildings, 33 stories. On the road there started plying both large-bodied and small-bodied vehicles. Due to heavy pressure of vehicles on non-expandable existing roads, multi-leveled fly-overs were constructed. By this time there were profuse increase in the number of high-rise shopping malls, multi-storied residential buildings, improved bus and cab services etc. However, experience shows that all these helped to constantly worsen the life and living of the 9 million dwellers. We shall present the problems of the dwellers under a few sub-heads like : (i) Transport, (ii) Infrastructure and Utilities, (iii) Amenities, (iv) Promenade and breathing space, (v) Living cost, (vi) Ancillary time and (vii) Pollution.
(i) TRANSPORT : The city dwellers in general suffer from transport problem. Those having their own vehicles (e.g. car, motor-cycle etc.) complain of excessive travel time and cost which happens due to traffic jam, plying of non-motorized vehicles (local names, bi-cycle, tri-cycle or rickshaw, pull cart etc.), lack of parking space etc. Also those using larger vehicles (e.g. micro, mini, highway bus etc.) complain of overcrowding, longer travel time and high cost. Pollution due to exhaust gas, dust, noise etc. is the general complain and road accidents are frequent.
(ii) INFRA-STRUCTURE AND UTILITIES : In Dhaka the design infrastructure (road, lane, drain etc.) and utilities (electricity, water, pipe-borne gas etc.) city was done considering low density population accommodated in low-rise built-forms. Then the urban authorities issued permission for the construction of high-rise built-forms (up to 35 stories) for habitation and work. This created the natural consequences like road jamming, load-shedding (in case of electricity), low pressure of pipe-borne gas and scarcity of water etc.
(iii) AMENITIES : The urban authorities did not follow any intelligent program for equitable distribution of the essential amenities (like, children's school, middle and high school, general health-care, trauma centre, fish-meat-vegetable shop, groceries, monetary institutions etc.) within walking distance. As a consequence the entrepreneurs of these amenities established those in locations they found most convenient and profitable, without any consideration of the conveniences of the dwellers. For example, the availability of large and spacious buildings at Dhanmondi Residential area tempted them to establish many high schools. As a consequence students from far away places travel to this area generating tremendous traffic jam and congestion. Similar is the case with other amenities also, where the people are compelled to make expensive and hazardous trips.
(iv) PROMENADE, BREATHING SPACE AND HEALTHCARE : The traditional culture of the people of Bangladesh is "intimate social bonding". The scope to meet one another in peaceful environment is the essential precondition of this bond. However, neither the planning of the city nor the design of the residential built-forms could ensure the same. The veranda, which was the best element for establishing and maintaining social bondage and hence considered as the most essential architectural feature of the traditional built-forms is now extinct in the low-rise buildings and ineffective in the high-rise apartments. Shade of the tree, rural market, access platform of the pond (local name : ghat) etc. which were earlier used for maintaining social interaction did not get any place urban design. The urban roads with their quickly moving vehicles, smoke, noise and crowd no more serve as place for social interaction. The vacant spaces of the city are continuously being occupied by influential persons for the construction of income-generating built-forms.

(v) LIVING COST : The dwellers complain of ever increasing cost of living, which happens because of longer travel distance, increase in fare, increase in medical bills etc.

(vi) ANCILLARY TIME : The dwellers have to spend a lot of time (waiting time) in procuring transport. Then the travel time increases due to traffic jam, following alternate or longer routes etc.

(vii) POLLUTION : The close placing of built-forms have created pollution by trapping locally produced fowl air, smoke, smell, heat etc. Outside the vehicles create noise, smoke and dust pollutions.

It may not be out of place to mention some of the endeavors made by the urban authorities to solve the problems.
MASTER PLANNING (STRUCTURAL PLAN) : The job undertaken to ensure that the future dwellers would find little problem in the planned urban areas is known as "preparation of master plan". At first various areas of the city mentioned as 'Zone' were designated for specific activities like residential zone, industrial zone, commercial zone, healthcare zone etc. However, new situations like (i) the technological advancement capable of changing the environment of various use areas, (ii) vast accommodation potentiality of the multi-level built-forms etc. soon nullified the idea of 'pure zones'. As a consequence all the zones in fact turned to mixed zones. In case of old cities that did not grow in accordance with such plans, the job of master planning is substituted by phase-wise demolition, clearing and remodeling. The fact is, in spite of utmost care and foresight ness, master plans cannot keep face with the needs of the future. As policy, master plans are prepared to fulfill the demands of the future, say 20 or 25 years ahead of time. In these days the scientific and technological developments take place so rapidly and abruptly that most of the master plans fail to fulfill the demand after even ten years. Then plans in various areas are manipulated to meet the local needs. Also, dominating factors like transport, business, industry etc. altogether interfere with the previous master plans.
PRACTICE OF URBAN DESIGN : In the above situation, some developed countries prepare master plan only to serve as "structural plan". The structural planning is done in order to ensure infra-structural facilities and supply of utilities to the users. In addition, the urban authorities appoint urban designer professionals who work as facilitators for the dwellers. These professionals invite proposals for changes, extensions or reconstruction of built-forms from the owners. Then they perform the "Environmental Impact Assessment" (EIA) due to such changes and advise the dwellers accordingly.
The practice of the urban design professionals is usually found to serve the need of the owners. However, it is quite doubtful how far this practice fulfills the needs of the dwellers. The truth is most of the urban dwellers are rent payers and there is no mechanism to incorporate their needs and aspirations in the act of the urban design professionals.
URBAN DEVELOPMENT ENDEAVORS UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF AGENTS WITH VESTED INTEREST : While full-fledged Master Planning program have already failed, in some countries agents with vested interest exert pressure on the Urban Authorities to take up such policies as may be helpful in their financial interest. These are demolition of old areas, re-development of demolished areas, fringe area development, changes in the modes of transport etc. Thus practice does not in general look at the interest of the dwellers and not even to the sustainability of the projects. Quite often large projects are taken knowing fully well that those would not work for a long time or that the people would react against those. The obvious reason for taking such 'non-intelligent' projects is, demolition of those for another solution might serve their further interest.
In the transport sector, underground tunnels or overhead roads are introduced for mass transportation. The tunnel-transportation leaves the environment of the city clean at the cost of excessive use of energy consumed for maintenance. On the other hand, overhead roads go on slashing the city, tarnishing its charm and turning it into concrete jungles. Also, both the systems create traffic congestion or jamming at their junctions and terminal points.
It is imperative to find out the root cause for which, in spite of greater spending, enviable achievements in science and technology and improved knowledge of the concerned experts, the living environment in the city is constantly worsening. However, there has been many studies in this regard and the cause has been identified as "complete ignorance about the needs and aspirations of the city-dwellers". In Dhaka city the local administration is conducted by the elected Mayor, who is known as the father of the city. There are local administrative offices in the localities which are known as Ward. Ward Commissioner, who also is elected by the people conduct local administration. In Dhaka city only the people having extreme hunger for money look for the post of the Ward Commissioner. Thus, whenever there is a question of spending money for the development of the area they look for ways in which they can make money. The dwellers do not find any scope to participate in such programs. In the same way, decisions for spending of large sum on urban development takes place in the Mayor's office, where the Ward Commissioners play their usual role. In such a context what we in Dhaka need is : many but strong platforms of the city dwellers where they can discuss their problems, formulate suggestions, solve the local problems locally and can convey their impressions and suggestions about the larger problems to the urban authorities. By "Dwellers participation based administrative planning policy" we in fact suggest for the creation of such a situation.
In order to enable the dwellers to express their needs and aspirations collectively we first need to create a platform for them.

We suggest the easiest way of creation of such platforms through the following :
(01) The "Ward" of the city will be reorganized with perceivable boundary, preferably by wider roads. The size of the Ward will be based on men's walking limit.
(02) Each Ward will be separated from the 'large agglomeration of built-forms' of the city. For this purpose operable gates will be constructed on at all the roads and lanes entering inside the Ward.
Even though no such platform has yet been created in Dhaka city, this author conducted discussion with various sections of urban dwellers in order to understand their problem. On the basis of such understanding, the author has finalized the following suggestions :
(01) There is wide scope that many of the trips the dwellers are now compelled to do very day can be eliminated.
(02) At present situation the creation of most of the urban services and amenities lies in the hands of the people, and on the government. The urban authorities should come up with such incentives that encourage the people to create such services and amenities.
(03) The physical development of the ward should be conducted by a "physical development committee" formed by selected members, and not by elected commissioners.

Now we shall briefly discuss how we can implement the above policies in Dhaka city.
ELIMINATION OF UNNECESSARY JOURNEYS : The city dwellers constantly move to other regions of the city in transport vehicles at the cost of money, time and energy. It is true that it will not be possible all such trips. For example, trips to place of job or work, universities, specialized hospitals etc. can never be eliminated. However, it is possible to eliminate trips for common and essential amenities by administrative planning. The two major steps towards this elimination are :
(01) Finding out the missing amenities and
(02) Administrative policies for providing the essential amenities.

(01) FINDING OUT THE MISSING AMENITIES : This may be done through questionnaire survey formulated to find out the amenities most needed by the dwellers of the WARD. At present the following list may be taken as granted : (a) Educational institutions (Children's school, High School, College, University). (b) Commodities (Vegetables-rice-meat shop complex, Grocery, Stationary, Cloth shop etc.), (c) Financial institution (Bank, ATM machine etc.), (d) Healthcare and emergency (Trauma centre, General physician, Dentist, Ophthalmologist, Ear Nose Throat specialist, Child specialist etc.), (e) Maintenance (Repairing shops for domestic appliances and gadgets), (f) Professionals (Lawyer), (f) Hostels (for working men and women, male and female students etc.), (g) Religion and recreation (Community centre, Prayer house etc.), (h) Multi-storied car park etc. Then an inventory with the number of such amenities will be prepared. On the basis of these two, the list for the new amenities to be established will be finalized. In order to eliminate monopoly the minimum number of amenities for commercial items (like, Vegetables-rice-meat shopping complex, grocery etc.) and professionals/ specialists (like, Dentist, Lawyer etc.) should be two.
(02) ADMINISTRATIVE POLICIES FOR PROVIDING THE MISSING AMENITIES : The Ward authorities in association with the Mayor's office should formulate ways in which the local people may feel interested to provide the missing amenities in their Wards. The urban authorities may declare tax reduction for the establishment of such facilities.
In Dhaka, the "Dwellers-participation based administrative planning policy" may bring advantages in various sectors. We shall discuss its probable contributions in the following sectors : (i) Transport, (ii) Sports, health care and (iii) social interaction.
(01). TRANSPORT : Let us consider 12 amenities for which minor children and adults need to go out and use vehicles. Such uses involve financial cost, risk of accident, loss of time etc. If these essential amenities can be made available within traffic-free zone of the proposed administrative unit or ward, then a considerable part of the journeys may be eliminated. The following Figure shows a comparative picture of travel-requirements in the present situation and after the implementation of administrative planning.
Sl. No.
TYPE OF VISITORS WHETHER TRANSPORT IS NEEDED. "Yes" has been indicated by * for adults and ** for both.
In the present situation After implementation of administrative planning.
01. Vegetables-rice-meat shop and groceries. Adult *
02. Primary school. Minor and adult **
03. Children's middle/high school Minor and adult ** **
04. University Adult * *
05. Office, Institution, Industry etc. for wage-earning/business purposes Adult * *
06. Bank/financial institute Adult *
07. Shops/markets for special items. Mostly adult *
08. General physicians. Minor and adult **
09. Specialist physicians for referral diseases. Minor and adult ** **
10. Prayer house Adult
11. Shopping for specialized items Adult and minor. ** **
12 Community centre Adult and minor **
Out of the 12 items listed above, it is seen that we can eliminate the need for movement in 7 cases. The remaining 5 cases are : High School, University, Work place of the wage earners, Physicians for referral disease and Shopping for specialized items. Probably there is no scope to eliminate vehicular journey to these items, unless of course any Ward is fortunate enough to include one university or high school. In Dhaka city the people often complain for non-availability of transport vehicle. On the other hand, when the number of such vehicles increase those create traffic jam because of scarcity of roads. In the congested city now there is almost no scope for creating more roads or widening the existing roads. In such a situation, if the needs of transport for 7 items out of 12 can be eliminated, then there is every possibility that the present contingent of vehicles might prove sufficient for the remaining journeys.
(02) SPORTS AND HEALTH CARE : Lack of open space is the common scenario in Dhaka city. After each change of government, political leaders and those in power manage the urban authorities to grab vacant land, playground or park. In Dhaka city the roads are busy from 6.00 morning to 12.00 in the night with vehicles like cycle, motor wheeler, three wheeler (Rickshaw), motorized three wheeler, car, scooter, motorized three wheeler, car, bus, push cart, truck etc. In such a situation the dwellers do not get the any space for children's play, sports, exercise or jogging. However, after the Wards are secluded from the rest of the city with operable gates, the internal roads would to turn to excellent space for such activities.
(03) SOCIAL INTERACTION AND BONDAGE : The lack of open space deters the scope of interaction, exchange of ideas, social mixing etc. As soon as operable gates come into operation, the internal roads with seating benches, planted trees, podium etc. may create amicable environment for social mixing and even for holding cultural functions and celebrations.
As of today there exists no policy that can ensure urban development in order to satisfy the dwellers. At one time the preparation of Master Plan and strict adherence to the same was considered as the most intelligent and logical approach to create pleasant and efficient cities. We now know that this policy does no more work mainly because the needs of the city and of the people change beyond the planners' foresight. The Urban Design Practice satisfies the needs of the built-form and land owners. Large scale demolition and new construction serves the financial interest of the people engaged in constriction and related businesses.
The "Dwellers participation based Administrative Planning Policy" presented cannot satisfy the interests of the people engaged in concerned business. Some of the advantages of this policy are : (01) The cost of implementation is extremely low. (02) Even in congested cities it is capable of serving the physical, sports, recreational and cultural needs of all the dwellers. (03) It may help the dwellers to organize themselves and to work for themselves and the community. (05) It may help to create better liveable environment. (06) It may help to coagulate social bondage.
There will be less need of vehicles inside the Ward because most of the distance will be within walking limit. The operable entry gates would compel the vehicle drivers to drive cautiously and that would ensure a safer place. The dwellers may like to construct sitting benches, lecture podium, green park etc. in their own interest. They may arrange festivals or celebrations within their Ward by imposing restrictions on movement of vehicles.
In these days in some countries urban development has turned to the money-making-act of some influential persons and political leaders. High-cost projects benefit the associated personnel. By that consideration, the proposed policy of "Dwellers participation based Administrative Planning Policy" would be of no help to such people. But the people who might be benefited by such policies are the dwellers. In case the dwellers can live peacefully, at less cost and get the scope to discus among themselves about local needs, need of their city and of the country, they may probably raise issues like "retaining and highlighting the culture and heritage of the city", "increasing the prestige and honour of the city" etc. The worst criticism of "Dwellers participation based Administrative Planning Policy" might be, "this policy does, in no way benefit the influential who use urban development activities as excellent money-making acts".
Prof. Bijon B. Sarma, Head Architecture Discipline, Khulna University, BANGLADESH.

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