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In Bangladesh, the Alternative to Urbanization is Urbanization

Zahid Hussain's picture

There is little empirical regularity that is as universal as the following: no matter what the path of economic development a country has followed, urbanization has been an inevitable consequence across the world. Already half the world’s population is urban. Currently, Asia and Africa are the least urbanized regions, but they are expected to reach their respective tipping points–that is when their urban populations will exceed the rural population–in 2023 and 2030. While the urban transition occurs with diverse growth patterns at different times, the real challenge for governments is to take actions that allow residents to make the most of living in cities.

The relationship between urbanization and economic development has long been a popular issue of debate. Should a developing country encourage urbanization? While this is a real dilemma in Bangladesh, because of a highly unfavorable land-population balance, the only alternative Bangladesh has to urbanization is urbanization. The question is not whether Bangladesh should urbanize; the question is how Bangladesh will handle the challenges of urbanization.

Cities in Bangladesh are faced with the challenges of rapid population increase characterized by crises such as lack of economic dynamism, governance failure, severe infrastructure and service deficiencies, inadequate land administration, massive slums and social breakdown. However, urban centers continue to grow, despite the severity of these obstacles. As a result, urban areas in Bangladesh have exceptionally high population density, but relatively low economic density. High population density, combined with rapid urbanization, implies a large and fast-growing urban population to manage. Dhaka city, the largest urban conurbation in Bangladesh, is one of the most densely populated urban areas in the world. However, the economic density of Bangladesh’s urban areas (GDP or value-added per square km) is relatively low from an international perspective. Economic activity is concentrated in Dhaka and Chittagong. About 9% of the Bangladesh population lives in the Dhaka metropolitan area, which contributes to 36% of the country’s GDP. An additional 11% of the Bangladesh GDP is generated by Chittagong, the second-largest city and home to 3% of the population. The economic gap between Dhaka and Chittagong compared to other medium  and small-size cities is large and widening.
 
Bangladesh needs to build an urban space that is capable of innovating, is better connected and more livable in order to make cities competitive. Bangladesh’s urban space is falling behind in all three of these drivers of competitiveness. The Dhaka metro area needs to evolve into a diversified economy with skilled human resources and an innovation capacity fueled by the cross-fertilization of ideas typical of large metropolitan areas. Dhaka metro area also needs to be better connected internally and with its peri-urban areas, and both Dhaka and Chittagong have to strengthen their connection to the global economy. Improved connectivity within Bangladesh’s system of cities is also important for productivity and export competitiveness. The development of an economically dynamic urban space, in particular in the Dhaka metro region, has occurred at the expense of livability. The livability of the urban space will become an even more binding constraint to sustained growth as Bangladesh transitions to a new business model based on higher-value industries and services, which need a highly skilled and internationally mobile workforce. This is a tall order for Bangladesh, but planning needs to start today for Bangladesh’s cities to become more competitive in future.
 
Urbanization have crucial role to play in the economic development of Bangladesh. The circumstances under which population in Dhaka and Chittagong are growing without proportionate infrastructural development will begin to wipe out most of the gains associated with urbanization. That is, relative high levels of urbanization may not be sufficient to ensure higher levels of economic welfare in Bangladesh. This has happened in Latin America with levels of urbanization, above 80%, yet with real per capita incomes about a third that of developed nations. It could happen in Bangladesh as well unless the urban managers rise from their prolonged slumber.

Comments

Submitted by Junaid Ahmad on

The author has eloquently reminded us that Bangladesh, once considered a rural based society, is well on its way to becoming urbanized. While having one more person remind us of this fact which is well known maybe important, it is high-time that we start a deeper discussion of how to address and manage the urbanization process. What is the governance and management model for managing urbanization in Bangladesh? Any thoughts, Zahid Bhai?

Submitted by Zahid on

Thanks Junaid for taking the time to comment. I wish I knew the answer. I take to heart two very well known edicts: (i) urbanization matters and (ii) urbanization needs to be managed. You are absolutely right that the time now is to have a deeper discussion on what mangement model is likely to work in a country like Bangladesh. I am not sure there are any silver bullets, but I am sure you will agree that the model in place is not working. There are plenty of ideas on alternative models among urbanization experts in Bangladesh, but I don't think we have quite figured the synthesis and more importantly, how to garner the political will for urban reforms.

Submitted by Mazharul islam on

This is big challange for our govt.
So,
need contribute our economy not only govt but also business man.

Submitted by Zeeshan on

This doesnt read like a blog post; more like an op-ed. Would've been perfect for the media!
In regards to the issue at hand, i'd be interested in knowing what Zahid sahib's thoughts are on "responsible" urbanization. In South Asia, the rapid urbanization reflects a shrinking regard for future generations; it's just not sustainable. How will humanity to come look back at us and the policies we implement?

Submitted by Zahid on

I take that as a compliment Mr. Zeeshan. We are already feeling the pinch of unsustainable urbanization in Dhaka and Chittagong. We should thank our stars that the future generation can not vote in the present or else we will all probbaly be jobless!

Submitted by Suman on

Government should take steps like moving some govt. or private organization to out side of Dhaka like Khulna, Sylhet, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Barisal and Rangpur or even some large district in Bangladesh. This is basic thing is to creating urbanization. Decentralization of administration is one more important thing for challenges of urbanization. Stop migration to cities like Dhaka and should improve rural based communities with better communication support to enhance for easy transportation and above all to strengthen family planning activities. The large cities have to enhance more and effective scope like job facilities or business friendly. Dhaka is so density area of the country in fact in the world. If more and more peoples come to Dhaka it will be under facilities once time and Dhaka will not be able take such pressure of this. Now time change the Authority’s mindset to improve better urbanization rather Dhaka. I have no such data but I feel Dhaka and Chittagong so density already and should move to other cities to enhance opportunity. Urbanization have crucial role to play in the economic development of Bangladesh. We believe Cities like Faridpur, Jessore, Barishal, Khulna, Rajshahi or any large cities in country have very fine scope to job or business or even set up Head Offices/regional office of Govt or Private Organizations. So government should have more important role to play such important responsibility to challenges of Urbanization. One more thing I have to add that is peoples have to more concern about to moving cities like Dhaka and Chittagong unnecessary.

Submitted by Suman on

Government should take steps like moving some govt. or private organization to out side of Dhaka like Khulna, Sylhet, Chittagong, Rajshahi, Barisal and Rangpur or even some large district in Bangladesh. This is basic thing is to creating urbanization. Decentralization of administration is one more important thing for challenges of urbanization. Stop migration to cities like Dhaka and should improve rural based communities with better communication support to enhance for easy transportation and above all to strengthen family planning activities. The large cities have to enhance more and effective scope like job facilities or business friendly. Dhaka is so density area of the country in fact in the world. If more and more peoples come to Dhaka it will be under facilities once time and Dhaka will not be able take such pressure of this. Now time change the Authority’s mindset to improve better urbanization rather Dhaka. I have no such data but I feel Dhaka and Chittagong so density already and should move to other cities to enhance opportunity. Urbanization have crucial role to play in the economic development of Bangladesh. We believe Cities like Faridpur, Jessore, Barishal, Khulna, Rajshahi or any large cities in country have very fine scope to job or business or even set up Head Offices/regional office of Govt or Private Organizations. So government should have more important role to play such important responsibility to challenges of Urbanization. One more thing I have to add that is peoples have to more concern about to moving cities like Dhaka and Chittagong unnecessary.

Submitted by Zahid on

I agree Sumon. Our challenge is to increase the economic density in Dhaka and Chittagong while decreasing their population densities. This is easier said than done. Increased economic density makes it more difficult to decrease population density. Expectations of higher incomes and better living conditions rise with rise in economic density. The answer therefore lies in balanced growth in the peripheries of our two major cities so as to make those places livable for young and old. How do you get such balanced growth? We will have to invest in infrastructure, institutions and innovations to substantially improve service delivery in the peripheries.

Submitted by Ramesh Khanal on

Just replace "Dhaka" with "Kathmandu" and "Chittagong" with "Pokhara", you can make another good article about Nepal.

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