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I have a mind like a commoner. I think like a commoner. I enjoy thinking like a commoner. And that brings me to my understanding of a sustainable city.
In my mind, a sustainable city would be able to survive without any disastrous consequences at least for one thousand years, if not more. A sustainable city has to have safe and intelligent housing. The dwellers must have resilience and foresight to think about the future of the city.
One of the mayoral candidates of Dhaka city, during his campaign, recently said that he would make the city sustainable. In fact, the manifestos of all the candidates promise various types of sustainability for our city.
Their manifestos talk about many holistic wishes and dreams.
We know they all have wishes and dreams, but they don’t know how to turn this city into a sustainable one. None of us do.
However, their wishes and dreams have brought forth some important aspects to think about. Can this city ever be sustainable? Would our progenies be safe 200 years from now? Would there be a place called Dhaka at that point of time?
We don’t need a science fiction writer to imagine the state of affairs, but our environmental scientists have already revealed what will happen to Dhaka if we continue to do what we are doing to the city. The signs are all ominous.
It’s very funny and shameful that 48 years after the independence of the country, we’re still looking for the sustainability of our capital city. It means that either we didn’t have any idea about sustainability or we had just neglected what needed to be done.
It’s quite evident that the city is poorly planned. No one has to be an architect of an urban planner to fathom that fact.
The expansion these days is also something that we may not be able to appreciate as a sustainable way of living. Because we’re destroying the rivers, canals and other wetlands in order to expand.
We often forget that every inch of expansion destroys another inch of either agricultural land or some wetland. But we don’t really care about it — we need to expand at any cost. Now, why do we need to expand?
Why else? To accommodate the rising number of population. Well, why is the number rising in Dhaka city? Because we have centralized everything in this city, and that’s why people across the country gather here.
Sustainable? Not at all.
We have not done anything to prevent the masses to come and settle in this city. We have also not decentralized government machinery so that the people can get their official work done even when they reside outside of Dhaka city.
Now, what do you think is the state of affairs of the ecology of this city? How is Dhaka city doing as far as its own health is concerned? How is the environment of our city?
The rivers are filled with poisonous chemical components, the canals are fast disappearing, the underground water reserve is going down, the waste management is in shambles, the air quality is one of worst in the world, the traffic is a never-ending battle for every dweller.
What sort of safe living and fruitful productivity do you expect in this situation? What would the population of Dhaka be in 2025 or in 2030, 2040?
Is our sewage system ready for the people who will be living in the city? Do we have adequate space for them to live a healthy life? How far do we plan to expand the city? Is our expansion plan realistic and sustainable? Do we have enough drinking water for the future?
One of the mayoral candidates has pledged to make Dhaka city a self-reliant one. One of the points that he has mentioned in his manifesto is “good governance.” Thanks to him for mentioning the governance issue, but I believe that there’s no such thing as “good” governance.
We can make our governance “better” but not entirely good. We believe “governance” is at the centre of everything. If we want to transform the city into a sustainable one, we have to better our governance, and there mustn’t be any compromise regarding this.
But we have. We have compromised the sustainable ways, making the city one of the worst examples of unsustainability in the world. Our unsustainable ways have reached a point of no return. How do we go back now? Is that possible?
Many say that we have missed the train for sustainability. Have we? Aren’t there ways and means to find solutions to our doomsday situation? The mayoral candidates also don’t know — do they?
First published in Dhaka Tribune.

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