What is the future of Dhaka city?

When a city is mired in traffic congestion, extreme pollution, and an unhygienic lifestyle with hardly any solutions in sight, the news of electing its mayors creates almost zero excitement among the dwellers of the city.
That we will soon be electing our new mayors is not the most inspiring news for us. But elect them we will.
When we alienate ourselves from this city and look at it from a distance, a heavy curtain of tense thoughts blinds our thinking process.
And when we think that we ourselves were responsible for this near-doomed situation of our city, we feel like crying out loud with extreme helplessness. I believe this helplessness must have also been felt by all the mayors and the officials who had deeply thought about the city.
The question that automatically looms in our minds is whether we have reached a point of no-return. Is it possible to turn back and make this city truly a liveable one? Well, someone who has seen more liveable city elsewhere in the world would only understand what “liveabilty” really means. And someone who did, won’t.
We see that our city keeps on expanding every day, but how far we can extend it is a matter of question. Dhaka, once, was like a tranquil village and that countryside has come this far and graduated to a city. Or has it? Have we really become a city?
Okay; let’s assume we did.
As we, as a city, expand, it surely eats up more agricultural land around it. Now, how much arable land would we be able to sacrifice in the name of making the city bigger to accommodate the ever-increasing population? How many people do we actually plan to accommodate in our capital city?
The sewage system required to cater to 20 million people (which in the future may be 30 million) is nowhere in sight. We haven’t thought about what our city would be like in 2030. Or in 2050. We often see this sewage spill out, even in our so-called posh areas. We actually don’t have any posh areas, for that matter.
What would be the availability of our drinking water in 2030 or 2050? The water that we have now is not going to be perpetually available. I would love to believe that we have thought about this aspect. Reports suggest that the water we presently produce is not enough for the teeming 20 million of this city.
Our water supplying authority usually provides water from the underground reservoirs. We’re not very sure what the water supplying authority does with the surface water around the city. It has also been reported that most of the water that we produce is wasted without any use.
In fact, our authorities are also quite helpless do anything about it. The surface water that we have so severely polluted by our industrial ambitions would take a lot of money to purify it. And we don’t have the funds. Even if we had the money, most of it would melt into the hands of corrupt officials.
It has been reported that the quality of the air we breathe in this city is one of the worst in the world. Although the air quality improves during monsoon, the standard is nowhere near what it needs to be for the city population to remain healthy.
Apart from the number of vehicles emitting toxic gases, the festival of construction work across the city fills the air with dense dust which, in the long run, creates breathing problems for the citizens.
One of the fundamental aspects that matters for this city to survive is whether our rivers and canals would survive our onslaught. Most of the canals have disappeared, and the riverbanks are occupied by illegal land-grabbers who, day in and day out, discharge polluted chemicals into the water.
These are some basic challenges that our city is facing right now, and we have done little to make up for the losses that Dhaka as a city has incurred.
Can our architects or urban planners draw a picture of a city of the future? Let’s assume that we will have a city full of flyovers; our vehicles will go up instead of plying the roads on the ground. Let’s assume that we will have many flying vehicles in the future. There will be high-speed internet all around. We will have smart cars and smart houses and, may be, smart governance.
Let’s assume that we will build many more mega structures which also would be smart with technology. But without solving these basic problems, how will those mega structures be sustainable?
Remember that, once upon a time, we used to build four-story residential buildings? Then, we needed much taller ones for accommodating the ever-increasing pressure of population. What would be next? Are we going to build 50-story buildings for more people to live in in 2050?
That may be a possibility, but might not be sustainable. When it becomes unsustainable and if we’re really on the verge of a doom, what plans do we have to face the situation?
First published in Dhaka Tribune.

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