Housing is much more than accommodation. While the growth of new structures should not hinder basic amenities, it should also ensure housing solution to all
Dhaka has long been bearing the burden of overpopulation that is not compatible with its existing road network, transportation facilities as well as civic amenities.
There can be no doubt that the high demographic density in the metropolis always leads to a constant buzz that takes away the rhythm of life.
Finding a solution, therefore, to get over the chaotic era is the order of the day, and curtailing the density of urban population appears to be the only pathway to this end.
So came the restriction on the height of buildings in the revised Detailed Area Plan 2016-2035.
The Rajdhani Unnayan Kartripakkha (Rajuk) that designed the Detailed Area Plan (DAP), which is yet to be finalised, capped the maximum height of a building to eight storeys in the city corporation areas of the capital.
In Gazipur, Narayanganj and Savar city corporation areas, the height is set at six storeys.
So, if the plan is approved, no more new buildings will be permitted, violating the height ceiling.
A debate is, however, rages on whether the provision will help discipline the Dhaka's runaway infrastructure development, and at the same time provide housing to its huge population estimated by Rajuk to grow to 2.6 crore by 2035 from 1.7 crore now.
Referring to research findings, DAP says buildings with four to eight storeys are economically viable. The construction of towering buildings raises the cost of per square foot, which is why they are affordable in countries where people have high per capita income.
In a city like Dhaka where most people belong to lower-, lower-middle and middle-class, high rises should be discouraged, according to DAP.
In support of the argument, Adil Mohammad Khan, general secretary to Bangladesh Institute of Planners (BIP), said unlike in developed countries, buildings in the capital have been constructed on small pieces of land.
He explains if four 10-stotey buildings are constructed in a one-acre land, instead of one 10-storey building, sunlight and air circulation into the apartments of the bunch of buildings would be badly hindered. And it affects the mind and health of those living in there.
Housing is much more than accommodation. It is associated with how the residents will move around the neighbourhoods, shop, find means of recreation, socialise with their neighbours and how they will access utility services, healthcare and education.
All these considered, Rajuk divided the city and its adjacent townships into 468 blocks, each having a maximum of 20,000 to 50,000 people.
Each block will have separate height limits ranging from four to eight storeys.
Such structural development risks being monotonous, said urban planner Prof AKM Abul Kalam, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Jahangirnagar University.
According to him, the height of a structure should be decided primarily depending on the roads by its side and on the availability of other urban facilities.
It might be difficult to find land for tall structures at the centre of Dhaka, where roads have already been narrowed, but there is still scope of building towering structures in less-developed areas, Kalam said.
Liakat Ali Bhuiyan, vice-president of Real Estate and Housing Association of Bangladesh, refused to comment on the cap on building height.
Sheltech Group Managing Director Tanvir Ahmed expressed concern that the new height limit would shrink the scope of housing while the exorbitant land prices will put pressure on the cost of apartments.
BIP's Adil Mohammad Khan, however, thinks the opportunity to build high-rise buildings on small pieces of land has led to the rise in land prices.
The vertical expansion increases both the initial cost of construction and the maintenance cost, the reason why apartments in high rises remain beyond the reach of people from low-income brackets.
While people from upper-middle class and upper class afford more than one apartment, the poor do not get a roof over their head, Adil said.
Rajuk allowing exceptions in DAP
There are exceptions as well. For instance, if one floor of a building is allocated to people of low-income group, with apartments less than 500 square feet, one additional floor will be permitted, meaning if one is allowed to build a five-storey structure, s/he will get Rajuk's permission to build up to sixth floor.
The Institute of Planners questions Rajuk's capacity to implement this. "Though the provision has been put in place with good intention, we think it will be misused because of Rajuk's weak governance," Adil said.
The revised DAP will also allow buildings with more than eight floors on some conditions. A ten-storey structure can be built on 0.66-2 acre land, with 40% of the area left for the community to use as an open space such as a park or playground.
On a land of more than 2 acres but less than 5 acres, a 15-storey building can be constructed but 50% area should remain as an open space. And there is no restriction on the building height for land more than 5 acres.
But in any of these instances, the land must not be segmented into several plots.
Urban planners also think dwelling units on each floor should also be specified as well to control population density.
According to the revised plan, Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) must not have density of more than 200 people per acre while the areas on the periphery should accommodate 150 people per acre.
For a developing country like Bangladesh, buildings with four to eight storeys will lead to the optimum density, according to the BIP.
To turn Dhaka into a livable city that will have a robust economy and global connection, the government should ensure basic amenities for people of diverged social and economic status, said Prof Abul Kalam.
Since economic activities are all concentrated in the capital, people from across the country move to Dhaka in search of employment.
By 2035, Dhaka will need 1.28 crore jobs as suggested in the revised Detailed Area Plan.
As for housing solutions to all, Adil said the government should formulate policies providing for special allocations of land and apartments in government and private development projects.
Rajuk has reserved only 1.2%, 4.3% and 7.5% of land for low-income groups in Purbachal, Uttara (3rd Phase) and Jhilmeel projects.
But that too was not implemented, urban planners say.
The government only meets 7% of the annual housing demand as per the UNDP, giving rise to informal settlements and unhealthy living condition for the urban poor.
Therefore, the poor-friendly housing schemes both in public and private sectors and easy housing finance are the ultimate solution.