More recently, ‘after independence, there was a push for centralisation, and the rural–urban migration was another complicating factor,’ says Dr Bruno Parolin, formerly of the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Starting as a military outpost, Dhaka has served as a business centre, trading hub, regional and provincial capital, and now houses 16 million inhabitants.
Today, it’s the world’s fastest growing megacity, with a growth rate of 3.2 per cent and up to 400,000 new migrants, mostly poor, arriving in the city every year. Dhaka has been ranked the world’s seventh worst city in terms of quality of life by the UN’s City Development Index, and third worst by the Economist Intelligence Unit.
Planning, Parolin has written in a paper co-authored with Ahsanul Kabir of UNSW, has been ‘characterised by high densities and overcrowding, environmental degradation, severe traffic congestion and haphazard planning… Dhaka is growing in an uncontrolled manner leading to more crowding and congestion in the main city. The evidence suggests that if there are no major decisions in terms of its pattern of development, congestion could reach intolerable levels in the near future… urban traffic is reaching nightmare proportions, often causing massive delays in covering small distances with associated productivity losses.’
Even so, all is far from lost for Dhaka according to Parolin. ‘Dhaka has a lot going for it,’ he says. ‘It has a good mix of land use – housing and offices are close together – which means that if you make good use of public transport, you’ll see lower levels of congestion.’