A city is a large human settlement which has extensive systems for housing, transportation, sanitation, utilities, land use, and communication. These are the indicators of a standard city where residents get all the facilities to live a comfortable and secured life. Faced with the question whether Chattogram is a standard city, architect and town planner Zarina Hossain answers in an offhand way, ‘No, not at all.’
When travellers or tourists navigate through different cities of different countries, what do they usually do? They visit interesting places, they use public transports, eat traditional foods, enjoy roaming around the heritage and cultural sites the cities have on offer. They don’t face any problem in navigating the city, enjoy being in the public and institutionalised places in the city. But In Chattogram even the residents don’t feel comfortable outside their homes — traffic congestion, air pollution, noise pollution, waterlogging and poor facilities for commuters, etc — all this makes like impossible. People feel safe only in their homes. But why is that, asked Zarina Hossain and added that this is the fact despite the city is that of an independent country.
People in this city cannot walk using footpaths as there are footpaths that aren’t pedestrian friendly and are occupied by hawkers, said Zarina Hossain.
People cannot avail of standardised bus services as there is no public transport management system in place. There are no substantial patches of greenery, parks or open spaces, which a city requires. As a result people cannot get fresh air and do physical exercises. Dearth of green spaces thus lead to fatal diseases like heart attack, diabetes, etc, Zarina Hossain pointed out.
For the last few years residents talk about waterlogging and a few about traffic management, but we must remember these are no segregated problem. Due to lack of proper planning all these problems are occurring. It is absurd for a lone mayor to solve this entire problem quickly.
People do not want to follow rules if there is no system of heavy penalty and strict punishment. Family etiquette, curriculum, awareness campaign, action against every infringement, implementation of all the laws and regulations are also needed to ensure a standard city, explained Zarina.
Chattogram has been reeling under unplanned urbanisation. There was no planning involved — what this city need 5 years, 10 years, 15 years and even 20 years down the line has never been chalked out, she said. Without proper planning, mega projects have been implemented. As a result, by the middle of the projects, problems emerged.
Planning ahead, before any project takes off, is important, and such problems would not happen if there were proper assessment on impact and process of implementation, Zarina added.
There are some advantages in Chattogram. It has natural gradient — the water is generating from south and going to the north at the sea. It has water in three sides.
The disadvantages include — when high tide and rainfall occurs in monsoon the tide level increases which is a solvable problem, Zarina Hossain emphasised.
She went into add that, ‘Due to hard surface the water cannot pass to the water bodies through drains. No other country allowed such hard surface. We did not keep green spaces for water retention. In our country, we consider park as luxury but parks make a city stable.’
There are trees of different capacity to retain water. Some trees can retain 60 gallons of rainwater. It is not that we need huge money to plant trees since Bangladesh is not a desert, she added.
Each family can be asked to store one gallon or two gallons of water — this is how the problems of a city can be solved. Yes, it is possible, Zarina seemed emphatic, ‘if everyone harvested rainwater by rooftop gardening or allowing green space around house it is possible.’
She also pointed out that when we are constructing a building we are not keeping any option for discharge of water from the roof as we don’t follow Bangladesh National Building Code. When Japan saw their country was becoming hotter, they made rooftop gardening mandatory.
So, everyone should own this city. Everyone should take responsibility. We say Manhattan is the city of buildings but their central park in 832 acres and half of London city is full of parks. Even these cities give priorities to the pedestrians. But we failed to do so and we also failed to make good citizens. So, the concern authority needs to set their priority right, Zarina Hossain argued.
Flyovers were made but by using the flyovers few people can go to their destination. During planning, priority should be set in such a way that the investment would be made to advantage the mass people. But, none followed this for last 20 years. Without planning, it is impossible. Projects have to have a technical solution, she stressed.
Now everyone is giving excuses for the prolonged waterlogging as the chiefs of the concerned agencies have been saying that there is no immediate respite from waterlogging in the port city. Why did they initiate the mega projects without measuring or doing research on the existing and emerging problems. Any project involving Chattogram City Corporation, CCC in short, Chittagong Development Authority, or CDA, Bangladesh Water Development Board and Chattogram Port Authority, the city coordination must be given a priority, she said.
In 1995 Chattogram WASA chalked out a city master plan, but by this time population has increased, hard surface increased, etc. There was none to implement the master plan. None did fresh research regarding this matter. One must also note that before planning, research is mandatory. The master plan of 1995 was prepared following the statistics of 1985. The CCC has planning department but it is not empowered, Zarina Hossain pointed out.
If the assigned people had not utilised the master plan than there is no need for it, she added.
During new projects, community must be involved in decision-making. Usually in Bangladesh, people has this notion that in the land they own they can do whatever they wish to. People can construct their house in their own terms regarding certain aspect but they should follow BNBC to ensure safe urban design and life.
We have to have a planning department for cities. The department would formulate short-term, mid-term and long-term planning for the city. They need to plan sequentially — when they would remove slum from the city, the suitable dwelling places for the low-income people, how the heritage sites would be protected, what should be built near the cultural sites as well as various creative ideas to promote tourism, she added.
In Chattogram there is no town planning authority, she says, adding that though 60 lakh people live in this city.
The CDA town planners work under chief engineer, which is not rational. The CCC has town planner but it is involved in works, which are far from real planning. Unless we have planning, a scheme, none of these problems would be solved, Zarina argued.
We neglect research also. Transport planners all over the country consider pedestrians the first priority for a city. So, they plan the city in such a way that a pedestrian can walk at least 2-3 kilometres freely, comfortably and securely. They have cycle lanes, walkways, sidewalks — they even mark a road with lines if they cannot construct separate lines for these. In Chattogram things are just the opposite, she said.
We are prioritising private car but it should not be prioritised. In an ideal city, after pedestrians there is a sequence of priorities — first is mass transport, then cycle, then freight and the last on the list is cars. Even in some countries the citizen are reluctant to buy or use cars as they get all urban facilities. The countries like Singapore and Japan already put restrictions on private cars, she continues.
But, here we cannot follow by these rules as we failed to provide safe mass transport facilities to the citizens. Singapore, Japan put restrictions on private cars. We cannot as we failed to prioritise mass transport. As a result, there is nothing called traffic management in this city, concludes Zarina