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Friday, April 27, 2012

A Commoner's City

I have been called many things. From a snob, a flaunt, a narcissist to a bundle of talent, the list is quite long. I myself started a few jargon from time to time. Geek, madman, poor man's genius son, puny, helpless and what not. But nothing in the lines of being a responsible citizen or social change agent. And I'd prefer it like that.

Today's story isn't much about being thoughtful of the world around me, but more of the take of a common man. Over time as our knowledge and wealth has prospered, the basics of immersing ourselves into new ideas (much like a sponge) has gone missing. I'll try and shed some light on such a burning issue in today's piece.

Dhaka, the city of dreams for many Bangladeshis has been inhabited by people for over thousand years now. With over 16 million people, its not only the 9th largest megacity in the world but also the heart of Bangladesh. Commercial hub, administrative capital, epicenter of culture and education progression, defense headquarters, most connected city; I mean all of those description apply to a single city. I mean who doesn't like the being the center of attention, but I believe she can live without a bit of it or at least broaden the horizon to let more in.

You see in the city I currently live in is a city within a city. Yes, you read it right. And I am not trying to describe a floating cruise-liner or the latest Airbus A380. Gurgaon is an extension of Delhi but still a city with its own pros and cons. While Delhi is about a rich legacy and colors of life; Gurgaon is the more posh business hub with upscale gated communities. Like I had mentioned earlier, Gurgaon is nothing but a part of greater Delhi or as they coin it National Capital Region (NCR). The smart Indians took the seven cities of Delhi to the next level by forming the largest urban agglomeration by area and second largest by population.

Confused? Well its nothing but multiple urban centers served by a single city hub (in layman's terms). Other examples in this concept include Sao Paolo, Tokyo and New York-Newark. In fact India has two other cities who have flourished in the same manner, Mumbai and Kolkata. This practice of distribution is not only a very practical solution to the growing metropolises but also the right way forward.

Imagine Dhaka in 2020, when it will be a city of (perhaps) 20 million people with nothing but unplanned urbanization that too with questionable actions (filling low-lands).

I am not an urbanization expert, not am I a policymaker. I have no background in the fields of sociology, architecture or anything that can help conceive the idea of a unified city. But in the past few weeks of traversing through the different cities of Delhi, one thing made absolute sense to me. Something that the policymakers should have done back in the 80's. Something that could have at least made Dhaka a lil' more livable as a city. Something that could have saved some wetlands and blessed us with more greenery.

Its time we start looking at our dear capital as a union of cities.

I mean its common sense to combine the areas around Dhaka under a common entity and broaden the scope of urbanization in a planned manner. There are so many who are living in Savar and Narayanganj already, why not make them satellite cities of Dhaka and spread the population density thin across the territory. A bigger Dhaka would call for better public transportation and significant change in mindset, but all that's possible if only the right policymakers are in place.

If our dear government can plan an airport as far as km off the city, how difficult can it be to bring together the 25km radius around Dhaka under a common entity? I was looking it up in Google Maps and surprisingly even to my untrained eyes, it was very much a possibility. If Old Delhi could graduate to New Delhi, why can't Jahangir Nagar or Sonargaon be a part of Dhaka megacity.

I am not a man who dictates any influence in anything the people's government does, but I am at least a  common man who sees beyond the bureaucracy.

To add to my stupidity, I even went on to play with shapes and maps to see whether I envision a reality!

what it is vs. what it could be

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Where does your boss sit?

Have you ever thought how it impacts the way you sit in an office floor? More importantly, have you ever noticed how our line managers/bosses are seated relative to other staff and how it conveys certain work place cultures? Traditionally in almost all the companies that I have worked in or visited in Bangladesh are really effective in making clear by way of artefacts, physical boundaries, glass walls, bigger and more comfortable chairs (often wrapped with clean towels) – who the boss around is. There is this invisible space that is being created by virtue of various furniture and demarcations to establish the work place hierarchy. But to what extent that influences the culture that you have in your company? More importantly I am not sure how many companies in Bangladesh take up office interior designing as a professional service and to what extent they consult companies on the setups of office spaces and links to company culture that it nurtures. 

I have worked in office environments where my immediate line manager used to sit next to me, his line manager just opposite where he used to sit and his one next to his right – all just on either sides of a low partition, not exactly a cubicle.  You may argue that line managers need certain privacy when they discuss confidential matters or when they need to entertain important business visitors. But imagine that for all these concerns – you will ideally have dedicated spaces allocated in your office – a private meeting room, confernece call center etc.  I have found that by removing any physical boundaries between you and your high-up colleagues, the artificial distance is removed and transparency, exchange of tacit knowledge and work relationship is increased. 

So next time you are planning to revamp your office set up, think about the culture you want your company to nurture. If you want to be clear about who the boss is and impose a certain degree of distance between you and your employees – go ahead lock up yourself in a private air-conditioned cabin, glass wall or not, order a comfy, bigger, chair and place two or more smaller ones on the other side of your mega desk – so as to be explicit that you have climbed higher up in the organogram to deserve entetaining guests at your desk. Otherwise if you want relationships between employees to be fluid and transparent – remove what is not required. It does not mean that you will be casting the eye of the Big Brother all the time around other people’s monitor to see if they are Facebooking or not – ideally that would mean that either you or your staff doesn’t have much to do in any case and the problem lies elsewhere.