LIMITS OF RAMNA
Ramna Area is not a clearly defined zone. Officially there is not such a thing as ‘Ramna Area’. The historic maps show that the name ‘Ramna’ appears on different spots on maps from different time periods.
The question surges what Ramna Area exactly is? Can this area be distinguished from its surroundings? What are its characteristics? Where does it start and where does it end? What are the limits of Ramna?
It is hard to say what characterizes Ramna Area but when walking around in this neighbourhood one can somehow ‘feel’ the difference with the rest of the city. Is it because of the presence of so much ‘green’, because of the functionality of the buildings, because of the physical characteristics or is there something else? There is not one single element that defines Ramna but it is rather a mixture of many elements. To tackle the question where the limits of this area are, different layers are looked at resulting in different footprints.
The heart of Ramna is dotted with cultural important buildings configured in more or less a circular form. The assembly of these buildings is often referred to as the Cultural Belt.
The Cultural Belt embraces and interlaces the two parks of Ramna Area: Suhrawardi Udyan and Ramna Park. This central zone we define as the ‘Main Stage’.
The cultural and park qualities are the main attraction poles of the site. Ramna does not only attract people who live nearby but also people from other parts of the city and even from all over the Bengali region.
The people who live within Ramna Area are principally students, government officials and ‘informals’. Students and government officials come to the Main Stage because of both its park and its cultural function. The ‘informals’ are mainly poor people living in the slums, filling up the leftover space in the park area, in little mobile stands or in improvised constructions. They do informal work like vending flowers or snacks. The presence of ‘rich’ people adds an interesting economical perspective to the Main Stage.
The cultural activity of the area also invites citizens from far outside Ramna. Furthermore the presence of 3 important hospitals and the court buildings are another reason for the Dhaka citizens to come. Finally the Stadium Area attracts people from all over Dhaka. Not solely because of the sportive events but also because of the electronic shops and other commercial functions in the stadium building.
The Cultural Belt does not only facilitate ‘regular’ concerts, theatre plays and expositions but it also stages ‘national’ events like Bengali New Year and the yearly bookfair. These ‘special’ yearly events are a good reason for thousands of Bengalis – both from Bangladesh as from all over the Bengali region- to make the trip to the capital of Bangladesh. More specific to Ramna Area, and more specific to the Main Stage. On such moments Ramna Main Stage becomes the heart of the Bengali Culture
LOCAL SEGREGATION IN RAMNA AREA
Combining the movement map with the residential map of the locals indicates that there is a specific local segregation in Ramna Area, namely between students and government officials. The yellow and green organic lines represent the movement patterns of respectively the government officials and the students. The map demonstrates that there is only a limited overlap between the movement lines of the students and the government officials. They mostly stay in their own zones. Furthermore the map shows that the south-east corner of Suhrawardy Udyan is not often frequented. This is a very ill-facilitated zone separated from the Court Zone by a impenetrable wall. Therefore this zone will be referred to as ‘no man’s land’.
The main reason of such segregation is the highly concentrated self-reliant structure of the campus. A student can perfectly pass his day without leaving the campus area. There is a place to sleep, to eat, to study, to read, to sport, to relax, for entertainment and so on. When they leave the campus area their movements are rather limited to the west side of Suhrawardi Udyan.
This is a general statement confirmed by the observations. It is clear that this is a simplified vision of reality: now and then students also can be spotted in for example the Ramna Park but their number is noticeable limited. For the government officials the same logic can be applied. However their movement outside the government enclave is rather limited to Ramna Park.
WOMEN IN PUBLIC LIFE IN RAMNA AREA
From a micro-geographical perspective there are remarkable nuances concerning the presence of women in Ramna Area as shown on the map.There are student residences and schools that are women restricted areas. In some zones the presence of women is remarkably higher than in other areas. These zones are labelled as ‘High’ and ‘Medium’ women presence.
ZONING OF RAMNA AREA
In the first part of the 20th century, many institutes settled in Ramna Area. The presence of the institutes and the large chunk of green -Ramna Park and Suhrawardi Udyan- mixed with the historical and political importance ensure the ever growing interest of the whole region and made it the heart of Dhaka. The Cultural Belt is composed of a hodgepodge of monuments, buildings and objects that are contributing to the cultural importance of the area. The presence of these buildings and objects with cultural value play a vital role in the vibrant life of Ramna Area. For example, institutes like Fine Arts often hold exhibitions or provide performances. On extraordinary days, TSC, Bangla Academy, Fine Arts Institute etc. play a crucial role in facilitating all kind of celebrations.
The zone which is called ‘Park Zone’ includes the two largest open spaces and at the same time the two most important parks of Ramna Area. Ramna Park is located north and Suhrawardi Udyan south and both are the part of the Main Stage of Ramna Area. The fact that the parks are surrounded with cultural, institutional, administrative buildings results in a very intensive use. Not only the traffic jammed street between Ramna Park and Suhrawardi Udyan makes a striking separation between the two but also the way of accommodation, use and users of the parks make a notable distinction between the two. Ramna Park is attractive for its natural and quiet environment, its safety level that is higher because of the many guards, its big amount of shade and the location. It is often used by the more wealthy part of society. Suhrawardy Udyan is far less accommodated than Ramna Park. Because of the lack of benches and lights, for example, lots of movable stalls are present in the park. The people accommodate the park by themselves which gives Suhrawardi Udyan a unique atmosphere. The reason why this park is still attractive, despite the lack of accommodation, is the infrastructures and the monuments in the park and the relationship with the important buildings of the Cultural Belt. In both of the parks a water body is present. The people of Bangladesh feel related to water, so a pond is one of the most desirable items in a park. The two parks are both encircled by fences, which gives a closed environment and creates spaces which are not used by park visitors but often by floating people.
This zone is named Court Zone because this zone is dominated by judicial buildings. The building that is most prominent and sets the tone for the other buildings is the New Supreme Court Building. The non-judicial buildings that are located in the Court Zone are less outstanding. They are even mostly invisible from the street. This invisibility also applies for the slum that is located between Suhrawardi Udyan and the Old Supreme Court Building.
This zone is called ‘Democratic’ Zone because it is the commonly used name for this zone. In 1905, a good number of residential houses were built in the Minto Road area for High Court judges and high-ranking bureaucrats (Environment of capital Dhaka). Even though the country and its system changed enormously during the last century, the Minto Road that is part of the Democratic Zone is still claimed by the high-class government officials. The difference between the residential areas throughout Dhaka and the Democratic Zone, which is also a residential area, is striking. First of all, only with one look on the map, the difference in density is clear. The buildings are surrounded by large pieces of green and open space, which is often called, ‘a house in a garden’ and gives in comparison with other residential areas in Dhaka, a very low density of buildings. Another privilege they enjoy, next to the low density, are the facilities that are provided in between the boundaries of the zone, which are reserved only for the residents. The whole zone is encircled by mostly walls and sometimes fences. It is possible, as a non-governmental official to enter the intersecting roads. Even on these roads, walls with a few entrances are the only view you have, despite of the amount of green. The exclusivity is fostered by physical and mental boundaries. The threshold to enter is very high. This is also one of the examples the pieces of land that are claimed by the upper group of society. These pieces of land could be used better and more intense. Dhaka has a lack of open and green space that is open for the public and can be used by every group of society. The people who are in possession of open space or less dense areas do not want to share because open space in Dhaka city is a precious good.
Dhaka University was founded in 1921 and is the oldest and largest university of Dhaka. It started as a modest institute in Ramna Area and expanded to its present volume during the years. It is interwoven with cultural buildings of the Cultural Belt. The university claimed and appropriated a big part of this cultural space but a more versatile look also indicates the contribution of Dhaka University to the cultural entity of this area. On the other hand, the relation between the Campus and the park area is missing. It seems that there is a threshold between these two. The first kind of threshold is the double physical boundary. Fences and walls enclose big parts of the campus and the two parks. These boundaries make it more difficult to pass from one site to another despite the fact that they are adjacent. The Campus area is well provided with spaces where you can play football or cricket, places where you can hang around and relax and some food corners. In interviews with a few students, they said they rather did not go to the park. The first reason is that they are provided well with everything they need and the second reason is that there are rumors that it can be dangerous. This too is a vicious circle, if it can be dangerous, why should people go there and if they do not go there they never will be convinced of safety.
The buildings in this category are buildings that did not fit in any of the groups above, but still play an important role for the activity in Ramna Area.
About the Author(s) :
Bernard Forier, Karoline Peeters, Thomas Raskin & Bruno Ronsmans are K U Leuven graduates. The article is the executive summary of design thesis entitled ” Transcending the Limits of Public Life in Ramna Area: A Design Investigation in Dhaka-Bangladesh” completed in academic year of 2011-12.
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