Dhaka / Failure of 1917 and 1959 Master Plans

Both plans were developed after a phase of social disorder and unrest to suppress the desires and wishes of the people of Dhaka. In both cases, the lack of cultural awareness, failing to perceive the current social and political issues fronting Dhaka of the cross-cultural planners were the main reasons that lead to the failure of the two master plans.

There were also a number of problems more with the 1959 master plan in addition to the above. The main problem was that the plan could not foresee the rapid development the city and its surrounding area would experience. The war of independence and its aftermath had completely changed the sociopolitical-economic life of the city when dhaka became the capital of Bangladesh. The plan could no longer provide a suitable framework for inter-sectoral coordination of spatial planning, nor was it linked to the Annual Development Programme (ADP) or to the capital budgets of government development agencies to support the huge influx of people.

There are also certain geographical areas where planned urban expansion didn’t occur. The major reason for this is that the vast majority of the additional growth had been absorbed via densification in the core areas rather than by outward expansion. On the other hand, the designated areas for planned urban growth in the peripheral areas failed to attract significant growth. From the DMDP structural plan report, the inner urban areas continued to absorb most of the growth within the statistical metropolitan areas in the 1990s and remain home to a large proportion of the total population. Over that period there was also a modest increase of the proportion of the total population living in outer urban areas, mostly in the north and east, but a decline in southern fringes. Population distribution and urban growth in dhaka seems essentially centripetal in spite of plans and policies aimed at dispersal. This has largely to do with the spatial distribution of economic activity in dhaka.

Thus, without a major dispersal of formal economic activities, basic urban amenities and policies to encourage new activities in peripheral locations, the movement of significant number of people away from the capital would remain impossible.

Services and facilities were also being less well provided in peripheral areas compared to central dhaka, which is another reason why the outer urban areas did not experience urban growth predicted by the 1959 plan. Utility organisations do not have long term plans for these peripheral areas. This can be attributed to the lower population densities, which make the areas less attractive for short term return on investment. The utilities, therefore, do not work coherently with development plans. This results in continuing poor access to utilities in peripheral areas, despite the potential for longer term return on investment.

The master plan also proposed large-scale wetland reclamation on the southern fringe. A zoning plan was introduced, suggesting broader planning guidelines for the city. The planner assumed a modest 40% popuation increase over the 20 years, but it would be unrealistsic to expect any plan to predict some of the events that took place in those two decades, notably the effects of independence from pakistan in 1971. Nevertheless, many of the plan’s recommendations have been followed and many of its provisions still apply. Although it is half a century old, the plan still remains as the basis for development control within the area.

The major assumptions that still hold good are:

  • The continuing importance of the buriganga river for transport
  • The continuation of old dhaka as a business core
  • The new railway alignment
  • The impossiility of substabtial alleviation of annual flooding

Some of the major assumption that have been proven invalid are:

  • Annual growth rate of 1.75% pa
  • Non-extension of the cantonment (headquarters of the armed forces)

Dhaka Megacity: Geospatial Perspectives on Urbanisation, Environment and Health, Ashraf Dewan, Robert Corner

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