A new Dhaka is possible with revived rivers, canals | The Daily Star
12:30 AM, August 02, 2013 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:32 AM, August 02, 2013

A new Dhaka is possible with revived rivers, canals

Hawaii-based Bangladeshi architect Kazi Khaleed Ashraf tells The Daily Star

A new Dhaka is possible with revived rivers, canalsDhaka can reemerge as an aesthetically designed vibrant capital city with restoration of the dying rivers, wetlands, and farmlands, a Hawaii-based celebrated Bangladeshi architect told The Daily Star in a recent interview.
Water bodies play a vital role for life, livelihood and landscape, and these must be preserved, said Kazi Khaleed Ashraf, who teaches architecture at the University of Hawaii in the USA.
He came up with some provocative ideas for redesigning Dhaka in the light of his academic and research experiences from Bangladesh and abroad.  He has authored several books on urbanism and architecture published from home and abroad and remains focused on Bangladesh and Dhaka city.
Here are some ideas he shared.
Though Dhaka faces constant destruction of wetlands and natural ecology, it is not doomed yet and a new Dhaka is still possible with their restoration.
Dhaka is originally surrounded by rivers and crisscrossed by canals where water must come in the forefront in making policy and plans for development and transportation.
He lamented the ruthless destruction of wetlands, water bodies and farmlands on the city's peripheries--on the eastern fringe for instance--in the name of urbanisation. “Save wetlands, cash in on rivers and canals and make use of water, as land is scarce and expensive,” Khaleed said.
The way wetlands and floodplains are being destroyed in and around Dhaka city is comparable with the ruthless ravaging of the Amazon Rain Forest.
“It is not predestined at all to ruin ecology, farmlands and biodiversity to make way for urbanisation,” he said. “They can coexist with creative development plans and designs."
Water must play a key role in the mental landscape of architects and urban planners while thinking of housing and transportation. The concept is fondly replicated in Vietnam, China and Thailand.
In the case of Dhaka, urban design, however, has to start from the edge, not from the irreversible core, with a mélange of urban and rural features with agriculture and wetlands as part of the urban life on the basis of "land-water" use instead of focusing only on land.
“River is the soul of a city,” he said. “Frame the river edge with an appropriate landscape of buildings and spaces, and Dhaka would again be a garden city with parks and open spaces.”
Making housing plots by misusing scarce land must be stopped and replaced by residential mass housing complexes to leave plenty of open spaces.
Devastation of farmlands at the current pace around the capital will result in displacement of communities from ancestral homesteads, loss of traditional livelihoods like farming and fishing, and loss of people's cultural and emotional bond.
Dhaka can turn around with mass transit system (metro rail) and circular waterways in its snarled-up transport system. The city is an island blessed with natural circular waterways that must be made navigable and functional with water buses and taxis with links to the road at a negligible cost.
Bangkok, Mexico city, and Curitiba of Brazil had worse transportation problems compared to what is in Dhaka. The city must contain the reckless onrush of private cars and give way to mass transportation and pedestrian passage.
Decentralisation is a must for Dhaka while expanding the civic services and connecting smaller urban hubs with functional communications network is a necessity.
In fact, the parliament complex in Sher-e-Bangla Nagar designed by the maestro Louis I Kahn is the model for Bangladeshi township development.

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