Dhanmondi area is becoming more of a commercial area than a residential one
Dhanmondi area is becoming more of a commercial area than a residential one Prothom Alo

Dhanmondi, Gulshan, Baridhara and Uttara, the four areas in Dhaka that were actually planned by the government, were to have all civic amenities including wide streets, playing fields, parks, water bodies as well as facilities for health and education. But the livability of these areas is fast dwindling due to relaxed rules and regulations along with lack of supervision by the concerned government agencies.

Urban planners say that almost all indicators of social and civil amenities in the four planned areas of the capital city, known as the 'posh' or 'upscale' areas, have taken a downward turn. Unless this can been controlled immediately, the condition of these areas may eventually end up like that of Old Dhaka.

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Old Dhaka had once upon a time been the heart of the capital city. This city had been built on the banks of the river Buriganga about 400 years ago. As the population gradually increased, the size of the city grew. But Old Dhaka's amenities were in a chaotic state due to the narrow lanes and congested manner in which the area was built up. That is why during Pakistan times it had been decided to create planned residential areas with all civic amenities.

Dhanmondi is relatively older among these four planned residential areas. The government back in 1948-49 had acquired the land for the purpose and in the sixties the plots were allocated (leased) to various persons.

Urban planner Fazle Reza said according to the terms of lease, one third of an allocated plot would have to remain as an open space. Due to the number of families and the restrictions on the height of the buildings in the area at the time, the population in Dhanmondi was 63 to 80 persons per acre then. Now 14-storey buildings can be constructed in the area and so population density has increased accordingly. However, social and civil amenities have not increased in that proportion. That has had a direct impact on the area's livability.

Researchers said that Dhanmondi is rapidly changing from a residential area to a commercial one. It no longer is in the state for which it has been created

According to urban planners, an area's or city's livability depends on its population density (persons per acre), nature of infrastructural development, civil amenities, open spaces, drainage facilities, health-education and economic conditions, housing, roads and such indicators. The Detailed Area Plan or DAP research undertaken by the Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripokkya (RAJUK) uses these indicators to determine the capacity of these areas, on a scale of 100, with 100 being the highest.

If the score is up till 80, then the livability of the area is considered tolerable, said general secretary of the Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), Adil Muhammad Khan. He said, when this score falls below 80, the livability of the areas begin to decrease.

According to the DAP research which is underway, Dhanmondi has been given a score of 64 regarding its livability-related capacity, Gulshan-Banani 65, Baridhara 56 and Uttara 59. According to the report, the population density in Uttara should be 148 per acre at the highest, but it is 230. In Baridhara it should be 139, but there are 192 persons per acre. Gulshan has a low population density, with 89 persons living per acre where the highest could be 162. But if population continues to grow at the present rate, then by 2035 Gulshan's population density will reach near the ceiling.

There should be 80 persons per acre in Dhanmondi. According to the DAP research, this area has the capacity to accommodate 161 persons per acre. According to 2018 statistics, there were 145 persons per acre in the area. Researchers said that Dhanmondi is rapidly changing from a residential area to a commercial one. It no longer is in the state for which it has been created.

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Bangladesh Eye Hospital is on one end of Dhanmondi's Satmasjid Road. The lane by the side of the hospital leads to Dhanmondi Road 9/A. There is a multi-storey at the head of the road. It has no semblance of a planned residential area.

There are around 80 buildings on this road, most of them 6 to 10-storey. There are around 7 or 8 old buildings still standing. House No. 100 is one of the old buildings, two-storey with an open space in front. The garden has coconut, krishnachura and many other trees. Right next to it a new building has been erected, reaching high above the old house's tall coconut trees. It has no open space, no greenery.

The local people of Road 9/A said over 2000 people live on this road, but there is no open field or park for their recreation. The Abahani field is nearby, but they do not have access to it.

There are 7 educational institutions, a community centre and a gym on this road. When the educational institutions are open, the road is jammed with traffic.

Livability lessens

There are many reasons why these planned area are losing the livability factor. The major reasons include the height of the buildings, increase in population, structures emerging with no heed to the rules and regulations, and commercial use of the residential areas, said experts.

Even in the planned areas, the category of playing fields and open spaces has been changed into 'plots'. The population has increased and commercial establishments are being set up one after the other. No effective measures have been taken to halt this... the livability of the planned areas is plummeting, which spells danger for the city
Akhter Mahmud, professor of urban and regional planning, Jahangirnagar University

The under-process DAP gives a picture of these planned areas of the city. RAJUK published a draft of DAP in September. It included Gulshan, Banani and Baridhara in Dhaka sub-zone 6. Areas around Gulshan, Banani and Baridhara have been included in this sub-zone. These areas are Dhaka North City Corporation's wards 17, 18 and 19. DAP states that this sub-zone by next year will require 24 government primary and secondary schools, but it has only 4. It will need around 112 acres for playing fields but it now has only 15.34 acres. It will need 60 acres for parks, but has only 16 acres for the purpose.

The draft stated that only 1.35 per cent of the sub-zone was open space, around 9 per cent was water bodies, with 14.16 per cent used for transport and communication.

DAP demarcates the Dhanmondi-New Market area as sub-zone 17. Here too, the playing fields are only about half of what is required and it is the same about parks. However, it has two community centres more than required. The water bodies take up 4.23 per cent of the sub-zone area, open spaces just over 3 per cent, with 14.39 per cent used for transportation and communication.

In a recent virtual event, BIP revealed facts and figures on the civic amenities of Uttara, that is DNCC's ward no. 1. It said there was a 62 per cent shortfall in hospitals and clinics in Uttara, a 37 per cent shortfall in places of religious worship, 75 per cent shortfall in parks and 87 per cent shortfall in playing grounds. However, it has more schools than demand.

Apprehensions concerning Purbachal too

The Purbachal new town project is the largest housing project in Bangladesh's history. Its 6,227 acres stretches along parts of Dhaka, Narayangaj and Gazipur. It has over 25,000 residential plots. But over two decades have passed since the project was started and it remains incomplete. The project design has been changed five times so far. At the outset, 1 million people were supposed to live in Purbachal and the design was drawn up accordingly. But a RAJUK board meeting pushed this number up to 1.5 million.

Urban planners complain that even though it was said that 1.5 million people would live there, if the present building code is followed, at least 2 million to 2.5 million will be living there. This will naturally put pressure on civic utilities.

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Pitiful state of Old Dhaka

Old Dhaka, the very roots of the city, is now at the nadir of livability. Around 500 to 700 people live per acre in Old Dhaka's Lalbagh and Chawk Bazar. The localities face water-logging, poor drainage and sewerage facilities, lack of garbage disposal space and other mounting problems. Due to a total lack of planning, this area has almost no playing fields, parks or water bodies. Commute in the area is a big problem.

According to DAP, 29 per cent of Old Dhaka's roads are less than 8 ft wide. Open spaces are only 2.13 per cent of the entire area, water bodies 1.85 per cent. There is a lack of educational , medical and recreation facilities too.

The livability-related capacity of various areas in Old Dhaka on the scale of 100, is 50 at the highest and 35 at the lowest. Bangshal is the most livable in Old Dhaka and Chawk Bazar the least.

Overall picture of Dhaka

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), a city's livability depends on its infrastructure, healthcare, education, culture and environment. It carried out a study of 140 cities of the world in this regard.

In the latest EIU report (2019) on livability, Dhaka ranks at 138 among 140, almost worst in the livability ranking. Only Lagos in Nigeria and Damascus in worn-torn Syria ranks below Dhaka.

Speaking about Dhaka city's livability, professor of Jahangirnagar University's urban and regional planning department, Akhter Mahmud, told Prothom Alo that even in the planned areas, the category of playing fields and open spaces has been changed into 'plots'. The population has increased and commercial establishments are being set up one after the other. No effective measures have been taken to halt this. As this trend has been continuing down the years, the livability of the planned areas is plummeting, which spells danger for the city. The government should take measures to control the population density of these areas and prevent the rules and regulations from being violated.

This report appeared in the print and online editions of Prothom Alo and has been rewritten for the English edition by Ayesha Kabir