The world is rapidly becoming urban. Today, over 55 per cent of the world's 7.0 billion people live in urban centres, mostly in cities in Asia. Nine out of 10 top mega cities with 10 million or more people are in Asia. As of 2018, Shanghai with 24.1 million people is the world's most populous city, followed by Beijing (18.5 million), Karachi (18 million) and Istanbul (14.6 million). Dhaka ranks number 5 with 14.5 million. Mumbai completes the list with 10.4 million people as the number 10 mega city. By 2030, according to UN data, 60 per cent of global population will live in cities.
Dhaka's population by 2030 is projected to rise to 27.3 million due to the rapidity of the pace of urbanisation, including the growing suburban communities - beyond "city proper" - that have economic ties with the urban core. Currently, Dhaka is among the top 25 cities in the Asia region, which are growing faster - both demographically and economically. It is the only mega city and the main business and commercial hub of the country. As a result, the city experiences a steady flow of migrants everyday, an estimated half a million annually, according to a recent report by the World Bank.
Since 1971, Dhaka has transformed from a provincial city to a modern metropolitan capital city. No doubt rapid urbanisation in recent years, global capital flow and the forces of globalisation have led to tremendous economic growth and brought about changes in the economy and character of the city, including the new riches, increasing income inequality, and higher rate of poverty. Nearly one-third of the city population currently live in slums/bastees without well thought-out plan for housing, transportation and other basic social/civic amenities required for a mega city of this magnitude.
The growth of this mega city is increasingly taking the form of suburban satellite cities with no affordable transport infrastructure. The new metro systems, the bus rapid transit and the elevated expressway - all currently under construction - are no match to the growing demands for affordable mass transit. The fast growing population has already put tremendous stress on the city on all fronts. The crowded streets, everyday traffic chaos, poor sanitation, pollution/smog and the water-logged streets are a reminder that the city is in trouble. Right now, it is almost at a tipping point.
How to transform Dhaka into a bigger, better, and more liveable and attractive global city? In July 2017, Mr. Zhu Rou lin, Dean of the Pudong Planning and Design Institute and a leading urban planning expert of China, who attended the International Conference on Development Options for Dhaka Towards 2035 at the invitation of the World Bank, suggested that Dhaka follow Shanghai's example for urban transformation and growth. Mr. Zhu witnessed firsthand Shanghai's eastbound growth in Pudong from a marshy rice field in 1980s to a powerful modern global financial centre in less than three decades. He reportedly found many similarities between present day Dhaka and Shanghai of the early 1990s and therefore, asserted that Dhaka could learn from the Shanghai-Pudong experience to transform itself into a modern global city.
Truly, there has never been any urbanisation of the Shanghai-Pudong scale within such a short time in the history of the world. Shanghai has turned into a massive economic power house and a world class city after decades of planning and development. Shanghai's current population of 24.1 million, which nearly equals the total combined population of New York and London, is projected to grow between 35 and 40 million by 2050. What is more remarkable about Shanghai is that few cities globally have coped with such dramatic changes as effectively as it did, and it is still doing it right.
Since 1980s, Shanghai began to plan and develop with a vision and effectiveness unmatched in urban development history. The plan for urban growth was guided by transit-oriented development, green corridor, economic development, sustainability, preservation of urban heritage, rehousing of the displaced affected by infrastructure projects and housing for city dwellers with hukou (residency permit). Any visitor to Shanghai - and there are 10 million visitors annually - would be amazed by the quality and breadth of infrastructure development in the city. For instance, with the first metro line opened only in 1993, the city can now boast of a total of 16 lines with a route-length of 676 km (413 stations). The Shanghai Metro is considered to be one of the fastest-growing rapid transit systems in the world and is planned to expand to 22 lines covering a total route length of 877km by 2020.
Shanghai also took a very ambitious plan for the impending growth of developing Pudong across the Huangpu river. It created a massive urban relief valve with a completely new planned business and financial city centre. There were two important considerations behind this: first, to establish Shanghai as the premier business centre with state of the art infrastructures and facilities, and second, to relieve the pressure of redevelopment on the older city and heritage areas. The new tall towers in Pudong, the business/commercial district in downtown, and the brand new Pudong international airport have helped transform Shanghai into a modern global city.
Dhaka has no choice but to transform and develop as a world class city. Currently, there are many ideas such as eastbound expansion of the city across the Balu and Sitalakshya rivers. The eastbound expansion has a great potential for future development. There are, however, other equally potential options - for instance, expansion across Buriganga river to Keraniganj and beyond as far as Mawa or to the southwest across the Padma river to Shariatpur and Madaripur, supported by new infrastructure developments such as the multipurpose Padma Bridge, which is under construction and perhaps a new airport in Shariatpur, which is also under consideration. A long-term strategic plan with provision for a new Pudong-like city is essential for future growth and transformation of Dhaka as a mega city. The Shanghai experience may be viewed unique in its own context; however, lessons from Shanghai-Pudong have significant values and benefits for making Dhaka a global city and for regional growth and development.
Mohammad Zaman is an international development/resettlement specialist and advisory professor at the National Research Centre for Resettlement, Hohai University, Nanjing, China.
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