Bangladesh is progressing, and it has fulfilled the eligibility criteria to become a developing country for the first time this year. Yet, its capital city, Dhaka, continues to be ranked one of the least liveable cities in the world, including in 2018.
Dhaka is Bangladesh's representative city to the world, like Sydney is for Australia. Therefore, now is the time to think about the real planning related issues for Dhaka and to implement corrective strategies that could address many of its problems.
Many projects and initiatives have been taken to achieve that, but so far very little improvement has been made. And in the case of some successful projects like “Hatirjheel”, implementation even required special authority.
As an urban planning researcher, who has researched and lived in both Sydney and Dhaka, I quite often think about these two cities. I can't say Sydney is perfect, but it is one of the most liveable cities in the world. And having travelled to cities like Singapore, New York, and Melbourne, I must say that Sydney is one of the best cities in the world and has the capacity to look after her inhabitants quite well.
There are many things to compare between Sydney and Dhaka. However, I would like to focus on some basic issues—urban governance, local government areas, the key to success in planning implementation.
Greater Sydney has 35 city councils for nearly five million people, whereas Dhaka has two city corporations for 18 million people. Although Sydney has 40 times the land area as Dhaka, Dhaka has one of the highest population densities in the world. Therefore, giving quality services and implementing local plans are quite impossible for only two city corporations. Alongside the 35 city councils in the Greater Sydney Area, there are more councils in the inner-city areas, where the population density is more or less on the outskirts as density is less. Each council has its own local plans, aligning with the metropolitan plan and state plan. The local plan is based on the characteristics of the area, land use, etc. For example, the city of Sydney has their own planning strategy (Sydney 2030, more commercially focused, to make Sydney globally connected and sustainable). Whereas Blacktown City Council has its own (locally focused, more residential, low-density areas). On the other hand, Greater Sydney has its own metropolitan strategy. But local plans and metropolitan plans are still compatible with each other.
Therefore, there could be many benefits to having more councils in the Greater Dhaka Area too. And if it is localised, implementation will also be easier and more transparent. There will be less concentration of power. For instance, it is a fact that we need a light rail that would connect and circulate through Satmasjid Road and Mirpur Road. If we can have a council that includes Dhanmondi, Mohammadpur, Lalmatia and Adabor, that council could focus on their transportation needs. The same could apply for Gulshan, Baridhara and Bashundhara—such councils could have their own manpower, urban planners, engineers and other professionals to implement a local plan. They can look after their own footpaths, roads, parking-spots, etc. and have their own master plans. This is what is happening in Sydney—local councils are managing all these services. The late Mayor, Annisul Huq, started to make some of these positive changes with support from the government. But then we saw just how difficult it was for him to overcome the numerous existing challenges.
Therefore, to make Dhaka liveable, we need a great push from within the government. Decentralisation of power, empowerment of local governments and the establishment of more city councils could be some good first steps.
All councils should have their own strategic five to 10-year plan. And involving local inhabitants in project implementation should be strongly considered.
In order for Bangladesh to truly become a developed country, Dhaka would need to be transformed into a global city by 2041. That will require more research and effort to discover a planning strategy that would best suit Dhaka.
Dr Sajeda Chowdhury Tuli is a researcher and sessional lecturer at the University of Canberra, Australia.