How should we better prepare and plan for our growing urban populations?
So far, Bangladeshi cities have been powering economic growth by contributing significantly to the national GDP. Current migration trends also suggest that more than half of Bangladesh's population will live in urban areas by 2040. On one hand, highly successful industries like the country's RMG sector are based in expanding urban areas and lucrative employment opportunities are drawing more people into the cities. On the other hand, factors like declines in agricultural growth and adverse climate change impacts are also pushing many to seek livelihoods outside rural economies. Bangladesh is a signatory to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development Goals and discussions emphasise that ensuring sustainable urbanisation is a must for attaining the global goals.
But the urbanisation process has been unplanned. The tolls have been high for inequality and the quality of urban life and environmental degradation from man-made and natural processes is becoming dangerously common-place.
With urbanisation's critical impact on Bangladesh's future growth and development, all these present a strong case for articulating a strong vision for our urban future now. It starts with asking the basics and building on them to create a bigger picture for our cities. How do we make housing more accessible and affordable? How can new and old city residents match their skills to job vacancies? How do we strike a good balance among bike lanes, public and private transport?
What size should our cities be? How should we better prepare and plan for our growing urban populations?
Answering these questions is a start towards defining the quality of urban life we want in Bangladesh and it needs to be a collaborative process. Communities, urban planners, city authorities, private sector and civil societies and more—all have the right to a say in the way cities are planned, and more platforms are needed for letting urban citizens exercise such rights. This is critical for issues such as for who decides how city revenues are spent and in what areas, what can be done to improve urban services, how do these decisions influence economic activities and so forth. Recently, as a promising start, numbers of government and non-government agencies partnered with UNDP through the "Smart City Campaign" where urban citizens could both voice concerns and pinpoint opportunities for improving urban areas in the country.