City of our dreams
Do we have the mettle to overlook the chaotic traffic, the waste littered all over, water-logging if it rains, and so many other problems teeming in this city where we live?
If not, what are our expectations of a dream city? Did we ever conjure up a vision of our imaginary city, the city for which we all yearn?
Asked what an ideal city in our country today is, many of us come up with textbook answers – a planned city with plenty of breathing space. It is developed in a way that the dwellers of various communities are well known to each other. A city that is tranquil at night, serene during the day and vibrant in nature.
Ah! Your dream city may sound like nothing but a utopia.
A number of citizens and experts, speaking on this issue, reeled out a series of complaints, expectations and solutions as well, regarding each of the troubles the dwellers face every day.
“I have only one wish – getting rid of the traffic congestion. Every day I have to stay at the very least four hours on the streets and eight more hours in office. Why do I even bother to rent a 1200 sq ft apartment just to sleep in night?” Arifa, who works for a private organisation in Motijheel, told this correspondent.
“Can you imagine the amount of suffering and exhaustion my 8-year-old daughter has to go through every day when she has to leave for school at least 1 to 1:30 hours before the class time?” Arifa’s colleague added during the conversation.
Traffic anarchy is the ugliest urban nightmare that every Bangladeshi living in the metropolis wants to get rid of once and for all. A number of projects and initiatives have been taken but in vain, with almost zero outcome.
“It’s not that our roads are narrow. Our roads are wider than that of many developed countries. But almost 50 per cent of those roads are used to park cars and for street hawkers. What is the use of such wide roads then?” said Hossain Zillur Rahman while talking about the idea of a dream city.
An economist and former caretaker government advisor, he pointed out that making such wide roads needs money too.
“Do they spend taxpayers’ money to make roads for parking cars and create informal markets?”he asked.
He said “we are trapped in an age-old traffic control system and are unwilling to adopt newer models from around the world.”
A city is said to be an integral entity and every element of a city is interconnected. Reality suggests, most of the existing structures in the city have facilities but no access.
“We lack discipline at the structural level. There is no synchronisation in planning. Most of the initiatives have uncoordinated planning with apparently zero discipline,” said Hossain Zillur Rahman said.
He strongly rejected that there was any lack of expert inputs in any structural level initiatives and rather suggested that the lack of ‘thoughtfulness’ and discipline at a decision making level is the major reason for the chaotic traffic.
This Prothom Alo correspondent found construction debris dumped in lot of areas under the Maghbazar-Malibagh-Mouchak flyover.
The space under Mayor Hanif flyover has become a dumpsite.
There are large iron dumpsters on both sides under Malibagh flyover, blocking half of the roads and narrowing the way for vehicles and spreading stench and germs.
Citing an ‘idea deficit’, Hossain Zillur Rahman told Prothom Alo, an exclusive neighbourhood is not ‘feasible’ for an organic city like Dhaka or Chattogram.
“There is no scope for making a ‘conclave’ for elite or others of different social stature in our country. Our society has to be a mixed neighbourhood. Also, the social environment or behavioural structure has a great influence on the liveability of the city. The idea of ‘gated communities’ will not work in Bangladesh,” said Zillur Rahman when asked about the characteristics of a liveable city.
When it comes to the city dwellers’ behaviour, the common people have their own point of view.
Fuad Chowdhury is a Dhakaiite who works for a government organisation in Karwan Bazar area. He thinks, most of the people in Dhaka come from outside Dhaka and do not ‘own’ the city.
“We need people who own the city, care for its betterment. It is not always the government. It is us. Dhaka can be a better city with better dwellers,” Fuad told Prothom Alo.
“I dream a city where dwellers treat the city like their own houses,” Fuad continued, “the people will contribute to the community such as building community police or garbage collection services, and maintain personal cleanliness by not strewing garbage here and there.”
Fuad pointed out that connecting big cities with townships by commuter trains or other convenient transport will decrease the volume of internal migration that will eventually soothe the demographic condition of the cities.
Hossain Zillur Rahman said transport is a critical issue in urban development.
He put emphasis on waste management as one of the vital element for urban lives.
“You can see, neighbouring Kolkata city was heading to a complete decay 15 years back in terms of traffic anarchy, transport, waste management and what not. They made a turnaround in the past few years by initiatives in behavioural, structural and innovation level. Why not us?” Zillur Rahman said.
Many, while talking to Prothom Alo, expressed their concerns that an unprecedented number of people pour into the bigger cities and settle down every year.
Iqbal, who works for a private organisation in Bashundhara residential area, said there are many people from nearer townships who have to stay in Dhaka only for their jobs. “If the people can easily commute to and from Dhaka, they can easily avoid the extra expense of renting apartments and costs for living in Dhaka.”
Referring the city as a ‘concrete jungle’, several people who came from distant areas said bigger cities are like ‘human zoos’. Everyone living in those cities wants the benefits but do not care about the city itself.
“It is not the government and the policymakers all the time. If we, the city dwellers do our civic duty properly 50 per cent of the problems will be solved. If you ask me, I dream of a city where every dweller knows their responsibilities and duties and acts accordingly,” said a housewife living in Malibagh.
The denizens of Dhaka know what they want – a pristine city, easy flowing traffic, clean air and ample open spaces. But, they also understand, wanting is not enough. Only concerted efforts of the authorities and the people can make that vision a reality.
American journalist Herb Caen once said, “A city is not gauged by its length and width but by the broadness of its vision and the heights of its dream.” The people of Dhaka need to have that broad vision and lofty dreams.