Why we need perfect satellite towns  

Shihab Sarkar       | Published: October 11, 2018 21:20:47 | Updated: October 14, 2018 21:44:31


BASILA ALREADY BOASTS OF A POWER PLANT: Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina inaugurated, through video-conferencing, the first plant of the CLC Power Company Limited at Basila on September 10, 2017

Even 10-12 years ago, the photographs of river erosions and their impact in Dhaka's Basila area were a regular feature in both the print and electronic media. The tract is situated along the Buriganga. Presently it is not far from a bridge built across the river. Its precincts include parts of Keraniganj adjacent to the capital, and also parts of greater Mohammadpur. Due to its close proximity to Dhaka, it cannot be fully extricated from the capital's urban pulse. In 2018, greater Basila uniquely blends rural with urban features, though the village-dominant agrarian nature constitutes its chief identity.  The media images once remained filled with depressing elements as they mainly portrayed the sufferings of the erosion victims.

Notwithstanding the perennial woes, Basila used to stand out with an idyllic charm. However, the government plan to turn a vast tract of Basila into a 'satellite town' may be interpreted as being a little blurry. The plan, to be executed by the capital development authority (RAJUK), will witness the setting up of yet another 'model town' on the Dhaka suburb. At present, the authorities are busy developing three other such autonomous urban centres on the capital's outskirts. All of them are mega residential projects in sprawling peripheral areas near the capital. The Basila project is chiefly aimed at building a typical mega residential enclave, now termed model towns, similar to Uttara, Purbachal and Jhilimili projects. The new township is set to be built on a land covering 1,084 acres. The capital development authorities have earmarked Tk 66.70 billion for executing the residential project. According to their plan, the satellite town will have 200 20-storey buildings with apartments expected to accommodate around 23,000 families. Besides, nearly 5,000 residential plots will be readied to allot them among the interested persons. In accordance with the other government sponsored model towns, the one in Basila will have in place all kinds of civic amenities and facilities. They include roads of varying length and width, car parks, markets, mosques, playgrounds, schools, hospitals and recreational centres. Different sizes of lake and parks are set to add to the anticipated pleasant ambience of the township. The process of land acquisition for the new suburban town is expected to be underway soon.

Due to the under-construction site being close to an important river, which often turns moderately furious with its latent eroding potential, the ambitious township might remain being haunted by a spectre: riverbank erosion affecting concrete structures. With the project implementing authority, RAJUK, yet to swing into action, it ought to ensure that erosion and flooding will not make their onslaughts on the 'satellite town'. Building proper embankments and dykes is, thus, an imperative. Basila has a long history of riverbank erosion. Thanks to this scourge, now prevalent in low intensity, many aspiring large plot holders might minutely go through the pros and cons of settling down in the area. On the other hand, the polluted state of the Buriganga and the concomitant hazards are feared to work as dampers for many otherwise eager buyers of residential and commercial plots there. The setting up of an ideal township being the goal, these atmospheric aspects unique to the Basila site warrants necessary appraisal.   

One of the most densely populated among the cities in Asia, Dhaka is hard put to it to cope with its fast-burgeoning residents. Overpopulation has over the last few decades been playing near-havoc with its urban infrastructure and facilities. The frenziedly rising population has emerged as a stumbling block to reaching its projected goals. The veritably unwieldy number of its residents is now held responsible for being an impediment to Dhaka's becoming a modern metropolis. Befitting many other big cities, the urban development authorities in Dhaka as well may have detected a way out in the satellite towns. But there is something different from the foreign scenarios. In large countries, there are vast expanses of areas around a big city. Due to those countries' sheer size, their busy cities do not face much problem building smaller, self-reliant satellite towns far away. With an effective communication network in place, the big cities and the satellite towns do not have to face disruptions to remaining connected. Satellite towns are different from the sprawling suburbs. In Dhaka's case, the marked difference between a satellite town and a city suburb often becomes blurred. The features of these two separate types of townships are on occasions found overlapping in the public view.

But in both theory and physical appearance, these two types of urban centres hardly complement each other. In view of the present realities, satellite towns are a pipe dream in greater Dhaka. They are feared to eventually merge with the city proper, with some thriving as suburban towns. Space constraints are chiefly responsible for this limitation to having fully operating satellite towns in Dhaka

The projects underway around Dhaka do not go fully with the concept of perfect satellite towns. The areas of Mirpur-Pallabi and Gulshan-Banani carried ample prospects 3/4 decades ago for coming up as satellite towns. But later developments in urbanised Dhaka did not allow the two zones, relatively far-off from the city's central districts, to grow into distinctive small towns. Owing to the large tracts of uninhabited areas being filled by new residents, the gaps between the main city and the newly developing urban pockets eventually were closed. As a result, Mirpur-Pallabi, Gulshan-Banani and some other prospective neighbourhoods ended up being parts of Dhaka. The same happened to Uttara.

Earlier, the vast area on the northern part of Nawabpur Railway Crossing in Gulistan was considered as being outside the boundary of Dhaka. The city, a town to be precise, of Dhaka then comprised the neighbourhoods spanning from Lalbagh, Nazimuddin Road to Islampur, Swarighat- Farashganj, Laxmibazar to Bangshal. Neighbourhoods like Motijheel, Moghbazar, Tejgaon, Dhanmondi, Mohammadpur etc had to wait until the late 1950s to be recognised as part of the city.

In an ideal urban landscape, satellite towns are normally situated far from the city centres. A sound communication network is expected to connect them to the nearby main cities. In the case of fast-sprawling cities like Dhaka, these townships finally merge with the main cities --- like Gulshan-Banani in the past and now Uttara.  On being developed, it will be quite hard to separate Basila from the city's western fringes including Mohammadpur-Rayer Bazar or even Dhanmondi-Jikatala.  Perfect satellite towns could be set up in the eastern part of Dhaka --- in areas under the districts of Narsingdi or Narayanganj. The potential of the Gazipur area to the north could also be tapped.  Fast urbanisation continues to devour the rural areas of the country. According to projections by international think tanks, major segments of the people in many countries will live in urban areas by 2050. Bangladesh may not be an exception. But with the wheels of development not moving as expected, nations do feel the need of satellite towns. These remote townships cater to the various requirements of people living in the relatively detached and backward regions. In the context of Bangladesh, the satellite towns will infuse dynamism into the faltering process of decentralisation.

In a different scenario, if the pace of development gathers speed beyond expectation, and the rural pockets continue to merge with unbroken urban chains, we can turn to our offshore islands. Shrinkage of agricultural lands is set to precipitate this new cropping practice. The islands will grow the nation's required agri-products, food in the main. These developments may be awaiting Chattogram, and also the country's other big cities.

shihabskr@ymail.com

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