From: Kazi K. Ashraf (University of Hawaii, Honolulu) with Saif Ul Haque (in Dhaka) and Alex Kliment (in New York City)
Published August 24, 2004 12:00 AM

Revealing Dhaka: The Hope of Bangladesh

Deep within the Bengal Delta,


amidst a maze of rivers and


canals, lies Dhaka , the vibrant


capital of Bangladesh . Dhaka


is in fact the last big urban


stop on the great Gangetic


stream as it cascades into


the sea. Home to over ten


million people, this fast-growing


city is one of the most densely


inhabited places on earth.


Beneath the teeming and colorful


appearance of Dhaka , which


enigmatically means “concealed,”


lie great cultural and historical


legacies, but also worrying


urban crises that threaten


the city's future.




First settled in the 10th


century C.E, the city became


a Mughal provincial capital


in the 17th century. Its fertile


soils and strategic location


within the Ganges river system


made Dhaka a global exporter


of muslin and jute, and it


was via Bengal that the English


first made inroads into the


Indian subcontinent. After


the partition of the subcontinent


in 1947, Dhaka became the


regional capital of East Pakistan


, and when Bengali nationalists


won independence from Pakistan


in 1971, the city became capital


of independent Bangladesh.




Dhaka has given rise to several


urban morphologies, each of


which represents a particular


social, economic, and environmental


destiny—there are, indeed,


many Dhakas. In the old city,


which hugs the Buriganga river,


colorful mixed-use buildings


are crowded cheek-by-jowl


around narrow, winding streets


in traditionally organized


neighborhoods called moholla


s. Further from the river


is the colonial quarter, studded


with bungalow-and-garden type


governmental, cultural, and


residential buildings, many


of which were built during


the British rule. Louis Kahn's


iconic Parliamentary Complex,


which officially opened in


1982, is another major focal


point of the city's civic


life and development. However,


alongside these more formal


areas are vast, amorphous


swaths of largely unplanned


residential and commercial


growth lacking adequate infrastructure


that are glaring symptoms


of planning failure in addressing


the rapid transformation of


the city. A vast population


of Dhaka remains untouched


by the fruits of urbanity.




All cities are alike, and


each city is different, and


what truly makes Dhaka distinctive


is the dominant natural feature


of water. Dhaka is a fragile


land-mass framed by an aquatic


landscape of flood plains,


rivers, and canals. Annual


rainfall approaches 80”, and


yearly flooding can, as we


have recently seen, be severe.




From what was truly a garden


city on the water with its


spacious green spaces, majestic


trees, crisscrossing canals,


and boats plying through the


heart of the city, Dhaka now


faces a certain civic and


environmental crisis for all


that is now lost. Nearly fifty


years of relentless greed,


political nonchalance, and


planning ineptitude is turning


the city towards a calamitous


future. The tragedy in Dhaka


today, however, is that its


planning institution is fragmented


and unimaginative. For decades,


hidebound bureaucracies have


stunted the creativity needed


to plan effectively for Dhaka


. With failures in urban planning


and management, development


has thus fallen largely to


private interests, which often


act without regard for natural


resources, urban context,


or larger community benefit.


As chaotic urban development


places increasing strain on


its social and environmental


fabric, the people of Dhaka


must negotiate a civic deterioration


that is, ironically, exacerbated


in the name of growth and


progress. Thus the paradox


of city-building: one can


undo a city by building it.


Nowhere is this more evident


than in the rambling development


of Dhaka.




What is needed are new central


planning mechanisms that are


imaginative and effective,


and yet sensitive to Dhaka


's people, to its landscape,


and to its future. The good


news is that in Dhaka there


are a number of young architects


and planners engaging in grassroots


activism, educational initiatives,


and transnational dialogue


towards this end. The bad


news is that as ever more


migrants pour into the city


and myopic attitudes engulf


the developers of the city,


the floodwaters around its


precipitous future continue


to rise.



Reprinted


from "Urban


Age Magazine." The full


and complete version can


be seen at: http://www.UrbanAge.org

 


ENN


would


like


to thank


Urban


Age Magazine for their


permission


to reprint


this article.



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