Open Community Spaces The winds of change in Dhaka

| Updated: January 13, 2023 23:30:23

The Rasulbagh Park The Rasulbagh Park

Every time elderlies talk about their childhood, they mention the ample greenery they witnessed in Dhaka while growing up. That might be a myth to today's generation, as they mostly experience the jungle of concrete. Standing on a balcony or a window, all barred with metal grills, one can hardly look out to see any sky, yet any green.
The elderlies also share their vivid memories of playing in communal playgrounds or open community spaces. Their happy times of playing till evening to get back to studies on time, seem like an unreal dream for this generation. Because they hardly see any open or green space within their community, and even though there are few, the conditions are not appropriate for public access.
Parents complain about kids being more attracted to screen-oriented electronic devices, but have we considered thinking about how a beautiful communal open space can reshape their habits?
The part of modern city planning and urban planning has widely changed throughout the world. Not only the planners, but the architects are also playing a vital role to bring a positive change in this process of urbanism. Most cities in first-world countries are emphasising creating community spaces, like parks and playgrounds, alongside open spaces with beautiful landscapes for people to build a healthy practice lifestyle. These spaces provide opportunities for people to mingle in the neighborhood, creating better bonding of trust with better interrelationships.
IS DHAKA ON THE SAME TRACK: The abrupt development of human settlements is a partial contributor to the destruction of this city. Glorifying this whole process in the name of development is a cliché if it is not being properly executed. As humans are part of society and the city, buildings, and architecture are an additional element, just like a house with furniture, that is functional and safe.
As lifestyle developed, affordability increased. An unorganised building development started as people wanted to buy apartments over land due to a hike in prices. Hence in the last 20 years, the city became a concrete jungle from a greener jungle. The boom in population with unresolved planning about migration for a better lifestyle in Dhaka city is one of the main reasons for the overloaded condition in terms of size and expansion. Yet the lack of road networks and the commute system does not help much with stretching the city further north and south.
In global countries these days, the more development they have, the better cityscapes are visible with more visual buffers with portions of greeneries. A person needs to experience visual relaxation through the city landscape while they experience it every day.
With the help of the new era of architects, planners and designers, Dhaka is also taking small steps towards that goal. Developing new open spaces for such purpose might not be possible, but existing ones that are not in proper condition are taken into consideration for revitalisation.
The Dhaka South and North City corporations have taken the step to assign a group of architects. The work is to intervene in these existing parks and playgrounds, in different neighborhoods of the city and design them in a manner for people to have access.
There are thirty-one parks and playgrounds in both the north and south. The work is a commission to Shatotto Architecture for green living for the Dhaka South City Corporation and VittiSthapattiBrindo Ltd. for the Dhaka North City Corporation. The context in both corporations is very different. Where the southern part of the city is old and more organically developed the challenges were different from that of the northern part of the city which is a better-developed part.
The lifestyle and liability in both contexts differ in many ways. In the south, the old conservative mindset hardly let women or children come around in a public communal space. But in the north, the modern mindset appreciates the progressiveness of the developed lifestyle with a better scope of an enhanced lifestyle.
.THE DEVELOPMENT UNDER DHAKA SOUTH CITY CORPORATION: Within the 31 parks and playgrounds under the south, the mark-breaking examples are the RasulBagh Park and the Shahid Haji Abdul Alim Playground, both situated in Lalbagh, an area in the old part of Dhaka.
For the people of Rasulbagh, a small community Team Shatotto designed a communal park collaborating with the Dhaka South City Corporation, that is more like a courtyard gifted to the built community.
Before intervening in the Rasulbagh site, the condition of the playground was not suitable for children to play. There were no facilities for the elderly to walk or socialize. The area was surrounded by boundary walls, resulting in no public access. These walls were used as backdrops for temporary shops. Due to a lack of public orientation, the place was used for illicit activities. There was no proper drainage system resulting in waterlogging even in light rain. This problem made the area a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insects. An open space that might have been a celebration for the community turned out as a curse.
Currently, the park is a beautiful space for celebrating life. The team has designed the area to provide solutions to all the problems. The area is no longer surrounded by walls. A park without walls is a courageous decision to make in a context like Old Dhaka. It is now a proper playground for children, a mingling space for adults, and a breathing space for the elderly, accommodating all facilities. There are aqua trenches underneath the walkways to collect rainwater and filter it for reuse by the community. There are taps within the field where people can collect water, trying to bring back the "Kol Par" (tap facility) culture of the old town. There is a gym, a small library, and a mosque, all these together in a revamped existing building.
THE DEVELOPMENT UNDER DHAKA NORTH CITY CORPORATION: There are also 31 parks and playgrounds in process of development in the northern part. The vast diversity of the community starting from a compact and complex area like Mohammadpur to the posh and elite areas of Banani and Gulshan, the design had to be detailed accordingly.
The parks and playgrounds in Mohammadpur mostly serve the school's students and parents as there are many schools within the area. In the evening the neighboring women visit to walk around and chat with peers and young kids occupy different corners to play cricket, football, and other sports.
One exception among many is Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed Park. A park surrounding a small water body adds a fresh breath of air to the people of Gulshan. The park has all the existing trees and many newly planted which provide a beautiful experience to the people who come for a regular jog. There is a basketball court, providing young adults and kids to practice freely. There are also facilities gym, a prayer space, and snack bars. The water body surrounds a walking track, which has extended walkable hanging bridges. A special lane for cycling, a small amphitheater, a library, and small gathering spaces, all these necessary community spaces are accommodated within the design.
The parks are women and child friendly. The trees bloom flowers and fruits in seasons, provide shade to passersby, and welcome a lot of butterflies. The whole area provides habitat to a diverse ecosystem.
These positive developments are bringing impactful changes in the lifestyle of the people and community living within the neighborhoods. They feel more belonged and revived, both mentally and physically. Even property and real estate prices lift around these areas. The enhancement to the city acts as an enhancement in the financial aspect to the aligning land and flat owners.
Adding green and open space helps to reduce the temperature of the neighborhood. They help in supporting Sustainable Development Goals. The mentioned projects are already getting international accreditations and attention for their impactful contribution to society.
The main focus of architects and planners should be to improve human life, working with the environment and its habitat. It should not only be limited to accommodating the luxury of elites but that of the public as well. That is how kinship develops. Urban spaces need to improve in the name of development, not just mega infrastructures; otherwise, the quality of human life will not be enhanced. A generation ahead will not get situations of merging in with nature and learning latterly. For human development, the development of the city in a more human way is more important than any other aspect. A better generation can take the country and its future to a different height.

The author is a self-practicing architect and sub-editor of a magazine. She can be reached at [email protected]

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