Our Outdated towns

BBC was showing a video of a street in London shot over hundred years ago and they were amazed at the architectural farsightedness of their ancestors, that even after a hundred years they didn’t have to change the slightest bit to accommodate modern metropolitan city.

Here in our country, where modern towns are only a few decades old, every now and then we have to demolish structures to widen streets and bring in better infrastructures, only to discover that it needs to be changed again.

In the last few years Thimphu saw much digging and re-digging, yet streets are flooded with rain water every monsoon season, and we often get to smell the overflowing sewage. Thimphu needs to be changed every day and I don’t think I will see a finished city ever in my life. Our designers didn’t even see what would happen in 10 years time.

Phuntsholing comes to a standstill every morning and there is nothing anybody can do to solve this problem. The problem is not with the population, not even the number of vehicles because these are expected overtime. However this change was not seen by our designers and planners.

Let’s forgive them now because back in those days they walked straight out of their villages and saw less of the world to make any significant difference- or so I assume.

Now we have planners and designers who went to the best universities in the world, have multiple qualifications, have seen the world and have better resources at hand. Therefore, the least we could expect is to see our planners and designers build a town as good as the ones westerners did in early 1900.

But, what came up in Khuruthang and Bajothang shattered all our hopes. Let alone standing and serving for centuries these two towns failed in their own time. Even before completion they have become outdated in their structural designs and efficiency against the growing traffic. Each building accommodates over six families excluding the business operators on the ground floor and visibly there is parking space for only three cars. The parking space in turn takes up half the width of the road.

Even before we had the buildings we had blacktopped roads, pavements, drains, and sewage lines. Now we have buildings, rough roads, risky pavements, hidden drains and blocked sewage. Everything that was built before was lost and it seems to take forever to get them back.

Some constructions are frozen in time, as the construction material occupies public land around it and yet they are calm. I saw a construction of 40 storied building in Bangkok that didn’t even throw a piece of scrap on the road that runs a few meters along it. Then I knew we Bhutanese are big show offs.

Government structures here are like huts- be it Municipal office or the telecom office, perhaps to save cost, but what we don’t realize is that we will have to rebuild them in the next five years. The cost saving will cost us more heavily then. Children’s park and civic hall are like stories from dreams- the big space could be turned into parking lot instead of letting a jungle grow in the middle of town. It’s worse in Khuruthang though it is much older than Bajothang.

Bajothang and Khuruthang are repeating the mistakes made by Thimphu and Phuntsholing as they have just copied the trend but what would have made a difference is to think differently and plan smartly. After all it is not every day that we design towns. Hundred years from now when our children look at the pictures from our time they should not feel like they have reached a different world. We should leave behind towns what will last longer than us.

By Passang Tshering

The writer also known as Passu is a teacher at Bajothang Higher Secondary School

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