Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) has embarked upon preparing a detailed area plan (DAP) to guide the growth of the capital city's infrastructure until 2035, but it will struggle to meet the promises made without a structure plan in place and actions outlined.
In a recent interview with The Business Standard, esteemed architect and environmentalist Iqbal Habib explained why the new DAP may fail to live up to the expectations of Dhaka's residents.
A city reflects the philosophy conceived and nurtured by its people, which is why different cities across the world are known for their unique features.
A development authority such as Rajuk has to talk to people of all backgrounds to understand what they want and picture a collective vision about the city. The document that will translate that vision into a roadmap is called structure plan.
Before a development plan, there must be a structure plan, Iqbal Habib said.
"We call what Rajuk is doing instead is like putting the cart before the horse," he added.
He went on saying that many features might be debated upon while preparing the structure plan like: whether the city should centralise or disperse its services, whether water bodies should be protected as they are or become part of the development process, whether greenery should be secluded or the city should grow intertwined with it, and whether cars should be the prime feature of the transport system – like motor-based urbanisation in the US – or if public transport should be prioritised, as happens in Europe.
The structure plan will lay the grounds, depending on data, to show how the city should grow by ensuring all the urban facilities to its population, he added.
The objective of the DAP is to implement the structure plan, and in doing so adopt policies, field-level initiatives and projects in order of priority, Iqbal Habib mentioned, adding the DAP needs engagement of technical people like urban planners, architects and structural engineers who, using their expertise, will transform the structure plan into a reality.
The capital city got its first structure plan in 2000, although the formulation process began in 1997. "At the same time, we made an urban area plan citing conditions and rules that must be conformed to," he said.
"It is unfortunate that it took until 2010 to finalise the previous DAP effective up to 2015," he added.
For the new DAP, meant for the period up to 2035, the previous structure plan should have been revised, the eminent architect observed.
"The city as it looks now has seen many developments that disregarded the structure plan. A review should be done to find out where the deviation occurred and why. A revised plan is necessary to take all that into account and to set a vision compatible with the need of the time," he continued.
"Therefore, once the revised structure plan is approved, the new DAP will have to be modified addressing contradictions," he added.
The newly-drafted DAP also lacks action plans, Iqbal Habib claimed.
Instead of providing directions as to how urban dwellers will get better facilities, Rajuk simply is trying to get over with its responsibility by saying, for example, how many hospitals, parks or playgrounds should be in a particular area, he explained.
Except for the eastern side, infrastructure – be it a one-storey or a 15-storey building – has been built up in the rest of the city. "It is close to impossible to get space for the construction of one more school, hospital or any other facility."
In a country where land is mostly owned by private individuals, Rajuk did not outline any policy to procure the land to build the infrastructure it recommends.
"To me, emphasis should be made on refining the existing scenario," said Iqbal Habib, adding that three-dimensional models could help understand how to do that.
"We do not want pseudo commitments. The DAP should be implementable and how it would be implemented in the best interest of the public should be clearly stated," he concluded.