Desmond Morris, best known for his unconventional work ‘The Naked Ape’, said, ‘…the city is not a concrete jungle, it is a human zoo.’ In the discourse of human civilisation, urbanisation is considered as the first move towards modernity. Our ancestors were used to live in caves, jungles and hills; collected foods from forests, rivers, or by hunting and cultivating crops. And then, gradually, the primitive tribal society began to change with the gift of innovations. Almost every ‘corner’ of the earth is in huge transformation—from rural towards urban. But uncalculated urbanisation, in Bangladesh and elsewhere in the world, is playing a role in the emergence of ‘modern crises’ those are cultivating discontents among urban dwellers.
The first city was developed in Roman Empire, though historical and archaeological evidences show the traces of early urban lives and infrastructures in the Mesopotamian and Indus civilisations. Modern urbanisation took the road right after the First Industrial Revolution (1760-1820) in England that shaped the modern world. In 1686, an administrator of East Indian Company named Job Charnock, with his men, was chased by Mughal army which outnumber his British troop. Almost four years of plight, he was able to set a historical mark in Sutanuti, which became the first city of the Bengal region. The beginning, growing and the characteristics of the first Bengal city was mostly the same as the other cities in the world. Rush of the people made the newly established city crowded within a few decades.
How many people should live in a city is a matter of debate. The number of people’s accommodation depends on available facilities and standard of lives. Ancient Greek philosopher Plato in the second book of ‘Republic’ presents his opinion that an ideal city-state should contain certainly 5,040 individuals. Aristotle’s idea was almost similar to that of his teacher. He demonstrated in his celebrated book ‘Politics’ that a city-state should bear the minimum number of individuals which can fulfil the city, who will know each other, and eligible administrative body will be elected from these people. Though their ideas about urban population do not match the modern cities, but the essence is utmost relevant even till now: urban population must be limited which is suitable with the available resources and allocated amenities.
Proliferation of population is enough to hamper the livelihood and facilities provided in an urban area. Two primary factors that are driving population of Bangladesh cities higher: people’s migration from rural to urban areas, high birth rate and low mortality rate. Migration, the prime reason behind population expansion in cities, happens from less-developed areas to more developed and economically advanced ones. Thus, as Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics shows, at least 90 people out of every 1,000 people migrated from rural areas to urban districts in 2015. Such migration largely contributes to the net increment of the city dwellers. The total population of Dhaka has climbed up from 10.3 million in 2000 to 18.9 million in 2017 at an alarming growth rate of 46.40 per cent, that is, seemingly catastrophic. In the meantime, the Dhaka city confirmed its apex position as the most densely populated urban area in the world with a high environmental contamination rate, according to UN’s Habitat data.
A cause-effect relationship presumes that population growth in cities, if the urban infrastructure and planning is not capable enough to adapt the increased population, produces crises, such as acceleration in crime rate, poverty, unemployment, congestion, deterioration of public health, and poor livelihoods. Dhaka contains such setbacks as an unplanned city. The unequal distribution of wealth and security, and scarcity of resources in urban areas have the eventuality to transform city dwellers into an amoral and inhumane community. A number of contemporary incidents such as ganging up, mob behaviour, local crimes, drug and violence are exhibiting the ebbing culture of the urban youths. Alongside, larceny, assassination, robbery, hooliganism, political violence, and feeling of insecurity become the spontaneous affairs which bespeak the hidden discomfort of urban life.
Lack of proper planning may convert an urban area into a place of grievance for its inhabitants, need to mention the name of Dhaka and Chittagong, the two most decaying cities of Bangladesh, also can be addressed as ‘the cities without blueprint’. Buildings without architectural beauty, roads with random vehicles congestion, water clogging and inadequate drainage system, footpaths occupied by temporary shops are some of the most common as well as inseparable features of these unplanned cityscapes. In Romanesque architectural and urban planning, an element gained much priorities namely ‘Public Space’, a large open area where people gather, communicate, enjoy, and make themselves recreated and refreshed that would help to reduce their everyday psychological burdens. Almost every pre-planned city on the earth’s surface today has accommodated public spaces in the urban landscape for the benefits of residents that is absent in Bangladesh cities.
Inadequate road management, transportation and communication system are the primary antecedents that coerce working-class people to live within cities near to their job places. Traffic jam consumes a great amount of times from individuals’ lives almost every consecutive day. If the city dwellers in Bangladesh get a chance to do their regular works in cities without facing any difficulties in everyday journey, perhaps a large number of them will go for that option and shift from the urban area to the suburbs. During the late nineteenth century because of rapid industrialisation, New York, Boston, Philadelphia and other major cities of United States became crowded by new comers especially the job seekers. But after half a century later, the wave of mass people started to decrease and reached at a remarkable level. The cause was that people shifted from urban to the suburbs for living purpose, and well managed, well-built road and transportation system facilitated their works every day in cities.
The contemporary haphazard urbanisation in Bangladesh requires more subtle planning and decentralisation. From the previous two decades, the country is passing a period of rapid growth of industries and human displacement due to economic reasons. A wave of mass people from rural agriculture-based society of Bangladesh, who are mainly the working-class people, is setting their sails for cities in quest of better working opportunities. Thus, the cities are becoming overwhelmed, slums are in expansion and poverty is becoming evident. Besides, setting up almost all the official, educational, recreational, cultural and other necessary as well as important infrastructures in a small single city called ‘Dhaka’ is nothing but an imprudent urban design. If the cities somehow reach the verge of decline, it will be apocalyptic for the country. In this respect, Bangladesh cities must have to be re-evaluated, re-designed and preserved as soon as possible. But in the end of the day, who will bell the cat?
The writer is a Researcher, Jahangirnagar University, Savar, Dhaka. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org