It is perhaps time to examine whether Dhaka is waning on other features of life while being too much preoccupied with mere economic vibrancy, said a noted British writer-architect yesterday.
“Living a dignified life is what on which depends the worth of a city,” said the architect, Peter Buchanan, while moderating a panel discussion at the closing of a three-day international architecture symposium.
The Bengal Institute for Architecture along with Bengal Foundation organised the symposium, “Architecture Now/ Next”, at Krishibid Institution Bangladesh in the capital.
With a trend of degenerating roots and connectedness to the past and ancestral family lineage, Dhaka's hyper preoccupation for mere economic gains is immensely and psychologically impoverished, said Buchanan.
Dhaka is probably going through a destruction of social fabric and memories of the past and is not fitting into its shoe, he said.
Saif Ul Haque, an architecture educator and theorist in Bangladesh, said the connection with nature and culture was being ignored in the process of an obsessed economic preoccupation centered in and around Dhaka city.
A rapid transformation is taking place in Dhaka, being solely driven by economic activities without really realising what the consequences are going to be, he said.
One problem is when one plans a city and puts everything in the same basket, in the end, the city has to be dysfunctional, said noted analyst and writer Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam of Dhaka University.
Dhaka's problem is that it is the hub of economic and other activities. It is also the political centre of the country. Everything is around it. Even the coast guard is headquartered in Dhaka, he said.
“If political willingness is absent you cannot design a city which will address all the needs and desires of its dwellers...My answer to this is that a city must be honest to itself,” he said.
“In a city where everyone is rushing, where everyone is just fending for themselves, when your education system does not teach you to open up to the community outside, where can you sustain the values?” said Prof Manzoorul.
The city has to provide civic amenities like education, transportation and space for day dreaming and just expand because economic needs are there, he said.
With public spaces vanishing, parks, playgrounds and open spaces have to be reclaimed from illegal occupation, he added.
“I believe Dhaka has to be taken out Dhaka, distributing the facilities and eliminating distance with virtual connectivity,” he said.
Naeem Mohaiemen, a historian and filmmaker at Columbia University in the US, said real estate developers in Bangladesh were not creating anything else other than some mere dwelling places and it was an unrealistic model of development with a bubbled up market.
Citing a leading economist, he also said the development in Bangladesh is geared around mere consumption and not production, he said.
It is very important to create new significant places to live in Dhaka but that is not happening, said Alberto Kalach, principal architect of TAX Mexico City in Mexico, adding, “And it is our task as architects to create such places.”
The developers should be sensitised to the fact that money is not everything at the cost of quality, he said.
Suha Ozkan, a Turkish architect, writer, and former secretary general of Aga Khan Award for Architecture, also spoke.