THE GRUDGING URBANIST | The Daily Star
  • A tribute to Rabiul Husain: Our beloved poet-architect

    If you are passing by Farmgate, you are most likely to notice a boxy brick building at the intersection of Airport Road and Khamar Bari Road.

  • Le Corbusier and Louis Kahn visit Dhaka

    At a public place in the afterlife, Louis Kahn ran into Le Corbusier. The Franco-Swiss architect was pleased to see the esoteric architect/guru from Philadelphia.

  • The democracy of public squares

    I have long wondered why cities in Bangladesh don’t have vibrant, dedicated public places or squares, in the sense of Taksim Square in Istanbul, Trafalgar Square in London,

  • Why not a national footpath policy?

    Population density in cities like Dhaka and Chattogram is daunting.

  • Will the metro rail solve Dhaka’s traffic apocalypse?

    Hope is high that when Metro Rail Transit (MRT) finally arrives in Dhaka, the capital city’s legendary traffic congestion will ease off. Near Bijoy Sarani or in Mirpur or other places, where the construction of MRT is underway, attractive signposts proclaim: “The dream of MRT will soon become a reality in Dhaka,” “MRT will be the most time-saving way of getting around,” “MRT will be the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable mode of transportation,” and “With MRT school children will be able to reach their schools on time.” All of these statements are true. But these truths may not solve the actual problem.

  • Bolai, Avatar, and our environment

    The other day I was going from Chattogram to my ancestral village in the Chandanish upazila, located about 40km southeast from the city centre. As soon as I crossed the Karnafuli River a common scene along the road began to haunt me. Felled trees were stacked up on both sides of the road, to be processed locally or transported to lumber mills on the outskirts of cities. The continuity of the spectacle revealed the enormity of scale in tree cutting. It felt as if a full-scale war on nature—a kind of “ecocide”—was going on.

  • The calculus of heritage preservation

    The clandestine demolition of Jahaj Bari in Old Dhaka on the night of Eid-ul-Fitr reveals the precarious state of historic preservation in Bangladesh.

  • Debunking the smart-city myth

    I have been following the “smart city” conversation in Bangladesh for quite some time now. Last year I sat on a panel to discuss the topic during what was called the “smart-city week” in Dhaka. As Bangladesh urbanises rapidly, as mid-sized cities increasingly become its new urban frontier, the mayors of small towns across the country seem drawn to the idea of smart city. They frequently talk about how they are eager to transform their towns into smart cities. I myself spoke with a few mayors who sounded anxious to bring “smartness” to their towns.

  • The dark side of globalisation

    The project of globalisation remains as contested as ever. In Globalization and Its Discontents (2001), Joseph Stiglitz criticised international monetary organisations like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for advancing ideologically driven, market-based development mantras around the globe, often at the expense of poorer nations.

  • Banani FR Tower

    The wrong kind of fire

    Fire has been essential for human development. Without the domestication of fire, humans couldn't migrate to inhospitable regions of the world.

  • Dhaka's urban politics, Haussmann, and related thoughts

    After the tragic Chawkbazar inferno in Old Dhaka, I have been thinking about what it would take to bring some urban sanity to a complex megacity like Dhaka.

  • The political algorithm of 21st February

    Understanding the political setting of the Language Movement and 21st February requires an examination of how religion played very different roles before and after the 1947 Partition in East Bengal.

  • The anatomy of a 'viral' picture

    Last month while in a car on Mohakhali Road, going toward Gulshan One, I was intrigued by a dramatic footpath display. It was a large

  • Streets of the people, by the people, for the people

    I had one of my most memorable “urban” experiences in Dhaka on Election Day. I roamed aimlessly around the city. The streets were filled with relaxed pedestrians. It was probably psychological, but the air felt fresh, even a bit aromatic! The usual cacophonous soundtrack of Dhaka streets was absent. There was no menacing truck to overrun me as I walked, no incessant honking to make me neurotic. Rickshaws appeared like the chariots of utopia. I saw carefree birds in city trees, chirping. It was an incredible feeling in the midst of our familiar congested and chaotic Dhaka.

  • Election manifestos, climate change and cities

    In their election manifestos political parties would appear prudent if they address cities as the frontier for fighting the adverse effects of climate change. In the era of global warming, smart climate-change strategists around the world view the city as both a villain and an opportunity. Because, as much as they contribute to economic growth, cities also produce

  • Dhaka's origin myth

    It is essential to understand the politics surrounding Dhaka's origin as a city. The prevailing mythology is that Dhaka is 400 years old.

  • Is housing for the urban poor a mere dream?

    One of the most iconic public housing projects of the 20th-century was built in St Louis, Missouri, in the early 1950s, during a time of post-war optimism and construction boom in America. The Pruitt-Igoe housing project consisted of 33-housing blocks, each 11-storey high, and was arranged across a 57-acre site in the poverty-stricken DeSoto-Carr neighbourhood. Upon completion, the project was seen as an answer to the urgent problem of housing the urban poor.

  • The ironic life of African migrants in Paris

    In Paris recently I noticed an extraordinary phenomenon unfolding around the Eiffel Tower during a casual afternoon stroll.

  • Living Small is Beautiful and Necessary

    Last year I relocated to Dhaka and was desperately looking for a place to stay, close to where I would be teaching: BRAC University at Mohakhali. I didn't need a large apartment.

  • A Secret History of 1971

    Early this year I went to Washington's vaunted art museum, the National Gallery of Art. I didn't want to miss a much-acclaimed exhibition, Vermeer and the Masters of Genre Painting.

  • Living with and on water in Bangladesh

    In the past twelve months or so, I have been very fortunate to be able to visit many corners of Bangladesh by road. I wanted to experience what seemed like a Bangladesh in transition, particularly how economic development was changing the country's geography.

  • National parliament

    How politics and architecture blended in Dhaka

    The American architect Louis Isadore Kahn's Parliament building in Dhaka is considered one of the architectural icons of the twentieth century. Intriguingly, Kahn was not the first choice for the project.

  • An architectural gem at the political heartland

    We know the 1960s in the then East Pakistan as a decade of political agitation. Bangalis fought for self-rule. Streets were filled with activists demanding political emancipation.

  • The city and its next generations

    It is easy to be stressed out quickly in Dhaka. Roads are insanely congested. Footpaths are far from walkable. The air is unbreathable and the city is often a “smellscape.” Life is not a piece of cake in Dhaka.

  • Want to understand the Partition of Bengal? Visit Curzon Hall

    On October 16, 1905, Dhaka became the capital of the newly-created province of East Bengal and Assam, in the wake of what is known as the Partition of Bengal (1905–1911).

  • Heartbreak at Sadarghat

    Last week I went to Sadarghat with my team to work on a documentary on Dhaka's urban story. We arrived at the launch terminal in the wee hours, just when launches arrive from the country's riverine south. The terminal was quite a sight.

  • Chattagram, an orphaned city

    I went to Chattagram to celebrate Eid with my family. It took me two hours and a half to reach home from the city's Shah Amanat International Airport.

  • Making sense of Bangladesh's World Cup obsession

    British newspaper, The Telegraph, recently reported on Bangladesh's quadrennial FIFA World Cup frenzy this way: “Rival supporters of Argentina's Lionel Messi and Brazil's Neymar fought with machetes in the town of Bandar. One man and his son were critically wounded in the incident, according to police reports.”

  • How do we save Dhaka streets from apocalypse?

    As the Ramadan market heats up, Dhaka streets are more infernal than ever! Many have asked what would happen to the city's notorious traffic congestion after the JICA-funded metro rail begins operation (Line-6; Uttara to Bangladesh Bank; 16 stops; 20.10 km; 60,000 people/hour). Would it improve Dhaka's road scenario, or be the same old same old?

  • Why Dhaka may disappear one day, like Mohenjo Daro

    This was Samayeen Cooper's maiden visit to the country of his grandparents, from his mother's side. He quickly glanced at his watch: 5:37 PM local time, December 14, 2044!

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