Open Space: A final frontier?
I spent my formative years in Jahangirnagar and Cambridge University where I took space for granted. In both these university towns, there were pockets where I could escape and watch life pass by. Or I could just gaze up to the heavens asking: is there anything out there? Or I could hum the lyrics of songs or compose couplets of poems.
There were green fields and water bodies. There were trees where birds would sing, or squirrels run up during the day. At night, owls would look with wise eyes. I could tell the change of seasons simply by smelling the air. Be it rain, sun, clouds, or snow, I was always close to nature. Open space shaped my inner soul. Sadly, our happiness never lasts forever.
In August 1998, my father completed his tenure as the Vice Chancellor of Jahangirnagar University. That month we moved back to our homestead in Dhaka at New Elephant Road. I was abroad at the time, but I didn't entertain the thought of settling in Dhaka. To this very day, I still don't.
Dhaka officially became a mega-city in 2000, passing a population of 10 million (1 crore). Today, Dhaka is the second most populous city in South Asia, behind only Delhi. This population has no logical reason to reduce in the foreseeable future. There will be tremendous competition for space. History suggests, policy makers will focus on housing and transport infrastructures. Sadly, they will probably not focus on open space. Less open space will be available as fields or parks. Waterbodies will be filled to meet housing or transport demand. Gardens and roadside trees will turn to grey concrete or black pitch.
Open space is a neglected dimension of exterior and interior architecture in Dhaka. This was never the case with Dhaka. If you look at Mughal architecture, you will see and feel the concept of (open) space within and outside buildings. The Mughals constructed their cities and buildings based on open space. Dhaka was like that in the past. It no longer is.
I don't foresee Dhaka accommodating open space soon. So, I try to make the best of what I can do. I go to Dhaka University, which is within walking and cycling distance from my house. I love the open space there. Having grown up in open spaces, I now appreciate the access to the free open space of Dhaka University, BUET and Dhaka Medical College campuses.
I'm no longer young enough to find a private tree for myself. However, I'm not too old that while I'm in this open space, I can't watch life pass me by in a city where I live, not because I love it, but because I have no other choice.
Asrar Chowdhury is a professor of economics. He follows Test cricket and listens to music when he has free time. Email: [email protected]; or [email protected]