Where have all the parks and open spaces, aptly called 'lungs' of the world's third most densely-populated city Dhaka gone? Today, the mega city is facing much difficulties in inhaling fresh air with only four or five parks like Ramna Park, Suhrawardy Udyan, Chandrima Udyan, Gulshan Lake Park and Dhanmondi Lake. As a result, all living in the capital have to spend their time remaining cloistered within their homes. The plight of children is really heart-breaking. They are being reared like chicken in a poultry farm. Leading architect Mobasher Hossain was once dumb-founded when his grandson, taken out of his apartment, was asking him about his shadow in sun-light. "What is the shadow just moving as I walk?" asked the grandson. It means he was never out in an open space or in a park to known what his shadow is as there is none near his flat.
Today most of Dhaka city has grown so unplanned that there is little scope for creating any green space or enhancing the existing ones. But the importance and necessity of green space are simply great. One cannot do without it in a crowded city like Dhaka. So the authorities concerned as well as the city dwellers must be ready to preserve whatever green spaces the city still has. Against the sorry state of recreational amenities, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had directed the authorities concerned to take necessary steps to recover all the children's parks and playgrounds in the city. However, nothing has changed so far.
Sadly, many parks and playgrounds are now the targets of land grabbers and some are already under illegal occupation. Apart from grabbers, local people sometimes degrade a park by using it as a dumping yard and people as well as transport companies park their vehicles there. On the other hand, floating people occupy parks turning the condition very unhygienic. Open space and even rooftops are often off limits to most children. Confined to their homes with TV on, children, according to doctors, develop optical problems and they gain excessive weight resulting in diabetes and heart problems early in life.
The city has a total area of 1,463.60 square kilometres. But trees in a crowded city like Dhaka could be synonymous to presence of nature in the predominantly man-made environment. Urban vegetation is an important point for sustainable development, environmental conservation and urban planning process of a city as preservation of open green spaces is of special ecological importance. But sadly, green areas are dwindling at an unprecedented rate in Dhaka city. Botanical gardens, homestead gardens, public parks, vegetation around government offices and playgrounds are fast disappearing.
Vegetation in Dhaka is diminishing at an alarming pace. In many cases, parks and playgrounds have been encroached upon illegally by powerful people. On the other hand, the poor rootless people occupy many parks. Many parks are infested with slums and an unhygienic condition is created there by these people. Open space or area in the city is also decreasing fast. Once open spaces found around the government quarters in Azimpur, Sobhanbag and Mirpur are now occupied by new buildings erected to make room for more government officials.
Happily, various environmental pressure groups are continuously raising their voices for conservation of parks and playgrounds in the city. Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (BAPA) and Bangladesh Engineers' Institution (BEI) had once vowed to clear the grabbed lands of parks and playground. Citizens are also becoming more conscious about green areas in the city. The mayor of Dhaka city held a meeting with BAPA, Nagorik Sanghoti and Nagorik Committee seeking a way-out to save the Osmani Udyan from illegal grabbing. But nothing has appreciably worked or is working.
Noted writer-architect Peter Buchanan, who once visited the Bangladesh capital, had said it is perhaps time to examine whether Dhaka is waning on other features of life while being too much preoccupied with mere economic vibrancy. With a trend of degenerating roots and connectedness to the past and ancestral family lineage, Dhaka's hyper preoccupation for mere economic gains is immensely and psychologically impoverished, said Buchanan while moderating at a seminar. Dhaka is probably going through a destruction of social fabric and memories of the past and is not fitting into its shoe, he said.
Prof Syed Manzoorul Islam of Dhaka University is more apt in his observation. He said problems arise when one plans a city and puts everything in the same basket at the risk of making it dysfunctional. Dhaka's problem is that it is the hub of economic and other activities. It is also the political centre of the country. "If political willingness is absent, you cannot design a city which will address all the needs and desires of its dwellers...My answer to this is that a city must be honest to itself," he said.
Moreover, real estate developers in Bangladesh are not creating anything else other than some mere dwelling places and it is an unrealistic model of development with a bubbled-up market. The development in Bangladesh is geared around mere consumption and not production. As the Rajdhani Unnayan Katripakkha has miserably failed to restore Dhanmondi's status as a residential area by evicting shops, restaurants, educational institutions etc, restoration of open spaces and parks in the capital now appears to be only a pious wish.