Politics and Power Play as Urban Designers of Dhaka City
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How has a city comprised of open markets and huts morphed into one of the most densely populated and structurally congested areas on the planet? My project examines the socio-political factors that have, over Dhaka’s 400 year history, affected and shaped the urban layout of the city. The built environment within the urban layout embodies the physical architecture and public or private spaces, and reflects the government and private sector involvement in the city’s urban development. Local and foreign political intervention in Dhaka over the years has also changed the approaches to planning and architectural styles. From its conception in 1610, Dhaka has evolved from an imperial Mughal provincial capital of India, through British colonization and successive partitions between India and Pakistan, to eventually become a capital city of an independent Bangladesh in 1971. These changes through local and foreign control have left a lasting physical imprint on the city. In turn, foreign occurrences such as European industrialization, the rise in the globalized economy and neo-liberal policies for third-world development by international institutions such as the World Bank and Asian Development Bank have shaped the economic developments in Dhaka city. These economic developments, including rising manufacturing and real estate industries, have affected structural patterns and people’s living patterns. While these developments have led to economic growth through increased returns from exports, the effects are far more complex and do not simply abate poverty and improve standards of living for all. Uncontrolled urban vertical growth of apartment buildings and unregulated explosive growth in business activities have brought about major social and environmental problems, as well as the rising population density from greater rural-to-urban migration. The social dilemmas include segregation, furthering of the gap between the richest and the poorest, and gender discrimination in public spaces. The human induced environmental issues only add to the natural catastrophes of floods and cyclones heightened by Dhaka’s flat topography and adjacency to water bodies. Political instability and bureaucratic fragmentation of government agencies involved in urban development within Dhaka hampers the effective addressing of these urban problems. As Dhaka is the central location for economic, political and cultural activity, I have chosen its framework as my point of study and analysis. I present my argument through analysis of official documents, scholarly articles and books, and will complete it with a site analysis and design proposal for a specific circular intersection within a residential area named Gulshan. My micro-scale, site specific urban design project is an attempt to confront some of the macro-scale socio-political urban issues I have uncovered through my thorough research and analysis of local and global factors.
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