The 21st century is becoming an urban century. In 2008, humankind crossed a socio demographic milestone for the first time in history by having half of its population living in the urban areas. Urban population is projected to become 66% of the total population of the world by 2050. Bangladesh is not detached from this historic metamorphosis.
The process of urbanisation in Bangladesh was relatively low compared to other Asian countries. However, the country has experienced a remarkable progress of urbanisation and urban growth in terms of increasing proportion of urban population and urban centres since the country's independence in 1971. Urban population growth rate has always been higher than the national population growth rate since 1901. The level of urbanisation is now 28% which is projected to become 56% in 2050.
The number of urban population is projected to become a staggering 112.44 million in 2050. Bangladesh's capital Dhaka is now the 11th largest megacity in the world and projected to become the 6th largest megacity in 2030 with a population of 27.37 million. This entire extreme scenario poses serious major socioeconomic and infrastructural transformation of the country with other related changes.
The consequences of urbanisation for a country are not given. Urbanisation holds both promises and problems for a country and features that come to dominate depend on the nature and efficiency of policy engagement with the urban agenda. Bangladesh is one of the countries of South Asia that is experiencing very rapid urbanisation. Its cities are growing more than twice the rate of rural areas and this rapid growth of urbanisation is expected to continue till Bangladesh transitions from a low income to a middle income country. More than 30% of the total population living in urban areas is contributing the lion's share to the national GDP. Consequently, urbanisation has become synonymous with development. This has been manifested by a corresponding increase in the number of urban centres in the country. In the distribution of urban population, the large cities have absorbed the major share, the capital Dhaka being one of the densely populated cities in the world. Secondary towns or municipalities of the country are also growing at a rapid pace as well.
This concept requires an urban place to possess specific types of urban characteristics, such as established street patterns, contiguously aligned buildings and public services such as sewer system, piped water supply, electric lighting, police stations, hospitals, schools, courts of law and a local transportation system. Urbanisation has favoured the concentration of economic activities, capital and people in cities of developing countries like Bangladesh. This has led to pressure and high demand for shelter and other facilities within and at the peripheries of the urban areas. The state of the physical environment, particularly in the cities of developing countries, is a major global concern. This is due to the fact that activities man undertakes have spatial implication and thus the environment is mainly of man's making. In reality, many physical problems that exist in urban areas reflect our own inability as urban population to effectively control growth and development.
A city is more than a collection of buildings and streets; it embodies the ideas of progress, of betterment, of success, of construction and also the mirror companions - failure, disappointment, tragedy, hopelessness and destruction. It is therefore the duty of an urban planner to take adequate measures to counteract these negatives with the positives. This, however, requires strong institutions. Cities must be prepared to accommodate new residents - this requires more forward thinking measures like updating urban planning regulations to enable density and to avert demand pressures for scarce housing and land to bid up prices excessively. While there is the need to house the increasing number of people in the urban areas, how this housing is arrived at is a matter of concern for physical planners. To ensure orderly development of new housing and the supporting infrastructure on the one hand and expansion and/or extension, there has to be effective and efficient development control. A development control strategy helps shape transformation of the urban built environment, particularly with regard to the renewal of dilapidated inner city areas by regulating private investment decisions on land.
Unfortunately, the growth process of most settlements, especially in developing countries including Bangladesh, has panned out in a reverse order. Therefore, the normative sequence of planning-servicing-building-occupation has now been replaced with occupation-building-servicing. This has led to situations where planning has lagged considerably behind development.
Consequences of Rapid Urbanisation
Due to rapid increase of population in the urban area, direct pressure is visible on the housing sector. As the poor cannot afford the average rent of the houses, they shift from central area to urban fringe area in substandard houses and they build their houses in the government-owned vacant land, roadside spaces, and privately owned vacant land and create slums and squatter settlements. The density of population in the slums and squatter settlements is very high, creating environmental problems. Transport is another big problem. The general passenger moves from one place to another by rickshaws due to which unauthorised rickshaws are gradually increasing. Due to the unplanned road system, poor traffic and road transport management system, the citizens suffer from traffic jams. Due to rapid increase of urban population, the labour force is also increasing rapidly, and as a result, unemployment and underemployment is a common feature. Thus, a section of the urban low income group of people, both male and female, is unemployed.The slums and squatters settlements do not have health and sanitary facilities and the health condition of the dwellers is extremely poor, especially the children and female members who are suffering from diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections, fever and various other diseases. Due to continuous in-migration of the illiterate rural poor, the total numbers of the urban illiterates have gone up, and demand for educational institutions have increased. As a result, all existing educational institutions have become overcrowded. Utility services like sanitation, sewerage, drainage, water supply, garbage disposal etc. are highly unsatisfactory in most of the low income settlements. Although in big cities of the country a garbage collection and disposal system exists, the effort is not sufficient.
Rapid Urbanisation and need for planning intervention
Urbanisation is an inevitable circumstance which has both positive and adverse impacts. As adverse impacts, poverty, gross inequality, high unemployment, under employment, overcrowded housing, proliferation of slums and squatter settlements, deteriorating environmental conditions, inadequate supply of drinking water, high incidence of diseases, overcrowding in schools and hospitals, overloading in public transport, increasing traffic jam, road accidents, violence, crimes and social tension etc. are the common features in our country.
In a rapidly urbanising situation, physical expansion of urban areas cannot cope with the population increase. Urban land is a valuable asset and day by day the land shortage is getting acute. Thus every parcel of land should be used in a planned manner and its optimum utilisation must be ensured.
The secondary towns of the country are growing without any physical and development plan. Small scale industries are also developing in many of these secondary cities and market places. Only four metropolitan cities of the country -- Dhaka, Chittagong, Khulna and Rajshahi -- have development authorities and their own master plan, but with the changing scenario, the traditional approach of the master plan is not effective for planned development.
Urban local governments should be strengthened with appropriate power, resources, and technical capabilities, so that they can take responsibility for a wide range of planning, infrastructure provision and essential household delivery functions.
Development control through planning applications
To ensure organised spatial development, physical planning makes sure that urban activity is properly directed. Disorganised development has cost and health implications, and development control is the planning apparatus that forestalls both. Development control has been long used as the tool to control and manage urban growth in many parts of the world, including Bangladesh. It is the basic way by which the state arbitrates the use and development of land in order to implement local and national planning policies. Development control processes provide the avenue for members of the public to come into contact with local planning authorities to explain their views in decision making in regard to development.
There is a purpose to which development control is practised. The purpose of development control is part of the wider purpose of town and country planning, and ultimately environmental planning. It is said that at the highest level of generalisation, development control is to ensure efficient and effective land use planning that satisfies public interest.
Development control is a process through which physical development permits or building plan approvals for development are granted via the submissions, assessment, registration and processing of building plan applications. It is a statutory measure to ensure that an orderly, conducive and healthy environment is created for living, working and recreation, among other legitimate activities in human settlements. For development control to be possible there must be approved and up-to-date development plans, enforcement and sanctions. Development control hinges on development regulations. According to Philip (2007), master plans, zoning plans, detailed development plans, Planning Standards, usage of buildings, Floor Area Ratio, set-backs, open spaces, building height, number of stories and parking requirements; for various categories of developments on land and buildings are what comprise development regulations.
Development control is executed by development authorities, local government bodies and related agencies which apply certain approved procedures to ensure that development is effectively and efficiently controlled. The institutions and the procedures employed are however within the remit of legal provisions which provide the authority for the development control function.
Generalisation on major problems of Development Control Mechanism at urban local government
High price and the small parcel of land: Municipal areas attract people from its surroundings instead of employment, business, communication and other basic services like education, health care etc. that's why the land price is relatively higher than other places. Furthermore, land parcels are too small making application of construction rules a challenging job for planners.
Lack of master plan: A greater number of the paurashavas does not have any Master Plan to guide the development. On the other hand, the municipality which has a Master Plan cannot implement it because it has not received the gazette notification. The plan does not set a time frame for its implementation or validity. So the authority is unable to conceive when the plan period ends and a new plan to be prepared to replace it.
Lack of awareness: Citizens are not responsive enough about the benefit of planned urbanisation. Because of that, they are not following construction rules which is leading to haphazard development in the municipal area.
Inadequate monitoring: As the municipalities do not have sufficient manpower, they cannot monitor the development activities properly. On the other hand, they are dependent on other law enforcement agencies to take any action against illegal establishments. Moreover, the high influence of local politics interferes in the monitoring process.
National-Local mix-up: National level agencies like UDD, Planning Commission, etc. have been created to oversee the issues of the whole country. But in practice, they had seen to not be performing due to the matter of planned development in the urban areas of Bangladesh although some major urban centres receive some support.
Lack of skilled manpower: A qualified planner is not yet posted in the organogram of the development framework of divisional, district and municipality due to the lack of awareness of political leaders and top bureaucrats in the administration.
Slow planning progress: It is notable that most of the plans are not completed within time. The quality of the completed projects is also questionable.
Lack of public participation: There is very little to no scope for public participation in the current planning process.
Corruption and lack of transparency: It is reported that various authorities are affected by corruption and thus shows a low level of transparency.
Major weaknesses in planning related laws In Bangladesh and their reforms
There is the existence of a number of legal provisions for urban planning and building control in Bangladesh. For proper planning and building control such provisions are inadequate and weak to implement and guide the planning activities, practically at the field level. Due to rapid urbanisation, the big cities of Bangladesh are overwhelmed by the presence of slums and squatters. But there are no slums and squatters settlements improvement or upgrading clauses in these planning laws. To tackle the existing situation there is a need for the formulation of appropriate legislation or amendment of the existing one. The main weaknesses in the planning laws and legislation are highlighted below:
- The existing statute is not easy to understand. The main objective of planning law is to provide rules of society to govern private property rights in the interest of the community, which needs the statutory system to be precise and more clear;
- In the administrative machinery of Bangladesh, there is a lack of trained manpower. Therefore, a relatively simple planning law should be introduced to provide the planning and development activities;
- Sometimes similar powers have been provided to the different agencies in same urban area, which creates problems to implement the planning and development programme;
- There is no independent planning section/department in the planning bodies to prepare and implement the master plan and development project; and
- Paurashava ordinance empowered the Paurashava authority to prepare and implement the master plan but the authority cannot do the job, due to lack of Town Planner and other technical manpower in the organisation.
Urban Planning practises in Bangladesh continue in a decentralised and uncoordinated manner. At present several ministries, divisions, agencies and organisations are involved in urban planning and urban development activities of the country. Lack of a suitable system of urban planning with institutions at different levels is standing as a constraint to planned development of urban areas in Bangladesh. Different levels of urban local government units exist within the urban sector in a decentralised framework but lack of coordination and linkage make the urban sector inefficient and ineffective. Involvement of the planning profession in the decision-making for systematic functioning of planned development and efficient functioning of the urban sector is almost non-existent in Bangladesh. There exist serious inconsistencies in the legal basis of urban governance especially of the Paurashava in Bangladesh.
Traditional formalist type of master plan is still in practice in Bangladesh and in most of the cases unsuccessful in implementation because of the following reasons:
- Lack proper legal and administrative framework,
- Inadequate technical skills and financial resources,
- Unrealistic assumptions, emanating from the foreign base,
- Lack of participation by the people in the planning process,
- Lack of coordination between planning and financing agencies,
- Shortage of trained personnel.
To overcome the existing problems, proper urban policy is required for empowering the urban local government institutions. The fragmental decision making process currently being practiseda at the national level should be brought under a single umbrella organisation for effective role playing for urban planning and development control at various units of local government.
Muhammad Rashidul Hasan is the head and associate professor of the Department of Urban & Regional Planning,Chittagong University of Engineering & Technology (CUET).