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FEATURE STORY October 25, 2019

Bringing Japanese expertise to the revitalization of public space in Old Dhaka

Street and buildings in Dhaka

Story highlights

  • TDLC’s extended Operational Support is helping Dhaka carry out a World Bank–funded project to revitalize public space.
  • The project calls for the regeneration of 20 community centers — neighborhood-level development that promises to enhance livability for current and future residents of Old Dhaka.
  • The design brief prepared by TDLC includes guidelines for flexible, climate responsive buildings, sustainable and inclusive development, and strategies for operation and maintenance.

October 25-29, 2019

Public space: an overlooked asset

Public space typically accounts for around one-third of a city’s total land area. Despite such prominence, these assets are often overlooked, with insufficient planning and management. This is a missed opportunity: well-conceived, fully leveraged public space can generate value and unlock enormous benefits for a city, including increased livability.

In 2019, Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) received US$100.50 million in financing from the World Bank Group for the Dhaka Community Neighborhood Upgrading Project (DCNUP), which will enhance public spaces, improve urban services, and regenerate 20 community centers in select neighborhoods in Old Dhaka. Investments in community centers are rare opportunities to trigger larger social, economic, and environmental impacts in surrounding areas.

Leveraging Japanese experience in the design and management of public space

Japan — whose cities have suffered from financial deficits and dramatic demographic shifts in recent decades — has accumulated a wealth of practical knowledge on managing public-space assets to encourage economic growth, social cohesion, and a general sense of vibrancy.

Previously, DSCC had joined a Technical Deep Dive (TDD), organized by the Tokyo Development Learning Center (TDLC), on the theme of unlocking city spatial plans through transit-oriented development and neighborhood assets. Building on this experience, DSCC called on TDLC to provide Operational Support for the newly financed project.

Drawing on its network of experts in Japan and within the Bank, TDLC assembled a team of architects (from Lion Architects and Sanuki Daisuke Architects) to advise DSCC on green building design, asset management, quality infrastructure investment principles, and the integration of operations and maintenance (O&M).

Setting a vision for next-generation community centers

Following an analysis of current assets, site visits (in August and October 2019), and meetings, TDLC’s expert team created a guidebook for DSCC to follow — one that centers Old Dhaka’s values while ensuring development will be sustainable, resilient and socially inclusive.

The first step for DSCC is to set a vision for community centers that represents local culture and values, keeping an eye to both present and future needs. Old Dhaka has a unique history and a vibrant atmosphere, and the design of the projects should reflect these assets.

"Through discussions and sessions with TDLC experts, we found how beautiful Old Dhaka is. We love its vibrant culture, busy and chaotic streets, and charming people. We cherish the diversity and generosity of the community. We have simple but good amenities like the public hospital. We want to regenerate Old Dhaka keeping its historical sites, existing festivals, and social activities."
Participant in the Dhaka City Neighborhood Upgrading Project (DCNUP) 2nd mission and capacity-building workshop

The Neighborhood Envisioning Workshop kick-off meeting with officials from the Dhaka South City Corporation. Photo: World Bank Group

The next step is to realize this vision using inclusive, forward-looking design to ensure diverse and evolving local needs are met. Suggestions included indoor-outdoor, climate responsive buildings that are easy to maintain and cater to community needs. The TDLC team also provided reference documents for appropriate technology selection as well as guidelines for construction techniques that improve energy efficiency while minimizing flood and seismic risks.

Finally, cost must also be considered. In general, operations and maintenance (O&M) costs can run three to four times the initial investment cost, and scale with the size of the buildings. Human-scale developments should be pursued, which is also in line with the spatial profile of the district. The experts shared new ways of revenue generation, so DSCC can start planning for future usage of the structures.

Building on its flagship knowledge acceleration program Technical Deep Dive (TDD), TDLC’s Operational Support draws on its network of experts in Japan and the Bank’s global practice to provide tailored expertise and technical assistance to address complex urban development challenges in developing countries.