This blog was written Tanjil Sowgat and Shilpi Roy from Khulna University. The views expressed in this blog are of the writer and not attributable to SHLC.

From the beginning of our research, SHLC’s research team in Bangladesh has been committed to engaging key policymakers to inform their decision-making.

When our recent findings on Dhaka and Khulna started to demonstrate new insights, we knew it was important to share our recommendations with the key policymakers of our two case study cities in Bangladesh. We met the three city management authorities of these two cities, namely Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC), Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) and Khulna City Corporation (KCC).

Engaging Bangladeshi policymakers

Getting access to policymakers is not easy for researchers in Bangladesh. The country depends mostly on ‘consultancy’ driven research with individual paid consultants informing policies amid the limited research capacity of the city authorities. Policymakers feel a disconnect of knowledge sharing between academia and city management authorities, as they feel research studies advocate academic jargon demonstrating an unhelpful gap between theoretical knowledge and real-world problems. In contrast, the real-world situation seeks solutions that are not always research-informed. Policymakers often are sceptical about the applicability of research findings in a pragmatic context.

Despite this usual disconnect, the Bangladesh team received an outstanding response from all the city mayors. They met with us alongside a team of high-profile officials, which included the Chief Executive Officer, Chief Town Planner, Chief Engineer, Health Officer, Assistant Town Planners and other relevant officers. They wanted to hear what we had found and how we think the city should respond. During the meeting, our two advisors: Hon’able Vice-Chancellor of Khulna University, Professor Dr Mohammad Fayek Uzzaman and S. M. Mehedi Ahsan, were present.

Prof. Tanjil Sowgat presenting the SHLC research findings at Khulna City Corporation. Credit: Khulna University
Prof. Tanjil Sowgat presenting the SHLC research findings at Khulna City Corporation. Credit: Khulna University
Neighbourhood matters: telling policymakers why a response to rapid urbanisation is key

We shared our research findings at the city and neighbourhood level and told the city officials that big cities are becoming exhausted by new migrants without a national urban policy. Rapid urbanisation at the city periphery is also becoming an emerging threat because this growth prompts haphazard growth and filthy living conditions in the spawling areas. We called on the City Mayors to focus on strategies to guide the development process in the peri-urban areas.

We also showed how the inner-city areas are transforming day by day.  We discussed how development control could help safeguard rapidly decreasing water bodies and vegetation in inner cities and city outskirts. Our neighbourhood findings emphasised growing socio-spatial division in the city and the resulting imbalance in development because of the lack of provision for neighbourhood specific planning interventions.

To showcase what these findings mean in real-world situations, we focused on the results from our case study neighbourhoods to tease out the current urban sustainability challenges such as segregation, disproportionately distributed urban services, land use planning challenges and urban management gaps.

Our recommendations for Dhaka and Khulna highlighted that the problem of uncontrolled mass in-migration and the resulting pressure on existing services could not be addressed if migration could not be diverted to other cities. We also called for neighbourhood level planning to tackle inequality and unbalanced migration.

Honorable VC of Khulna University shares SHLC reports with Mayor of KCC and DSCC. Credit: Khulna University
Honorable VC of Khulna University shares SHLC reports with Mayor of KCC and DSCC. Credit: Khulna University
Supporting evidence-based urban policy

The Mayors appreciated our findings and said our research hinted at many practical challenges and offered policymakers new directions. Each wanted to include our study findings in their upcoming plans particularly around concerns of sprawling, lack of neighbourhood level planning, and the need for national urban policies.

The Honourable Mayor of Khulna City Corporation notably endorsed our findings on the city’s future growth areas. He said that he would revise the proposal for the extension of the KCC boundary following our suggestions.

The Honourable Mayor of Dhaka South City Corporation felt that more research is needed to support Dhaka’s future planning. He acknowledged the importance of co-sharing of knowledge and wanted to conduct joint studies, including collective action research between DSCC and SHLC to tackle the waterlogging and drainage issues in the city.

The honourable Mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation sought future studies on slum improvement, reclaiming water bodies, and strategies to reclaim the footpaths and encroached roads. He instructed his colleagues to arrange more sharing events and joint studies.

All three mayors showed keen interest to sign ‘MoUs’ (Memoranda of Understanding) between Khulna University and the city corporations to continuing benefiting from academic research. At the same time, they promised support for our future field and impact activities. Honourable VC of Khulna University agreed on the need for MoUs and pledged to take the necessary steps.

City Mayors of Dhaka and SHLC team during their meetings. Credit: Khulna University
City Mayors of Dhaka and SHLC team during their meetings. Credit: Khulna University

The three events were initially planned to engage city corporations to inform policy-making. However, the events successfully added more values as the mayors acknowledged the need for urban research in delivering sustainable cities and neighbourhoods. Their promise for MoUs and interests in joint studies gave new hope to the SHLC team.

Collaborative studies will offer new directions for the sustainable urbanisation of Khulna and Dhaka. SHLC’s Bangladesh team was encouraged to see how our research made an impression on crucial urban policymakers. We feel that similar sharing events would significantly contribute to both cities’ policy-making. The goodwill, dedication, and insightful thoughts of the city authorities gave new hope for continued pragmatic academic-public authority collaboration.