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During a recent conference on design, it was pointed out that Thimphu city does not reflect the principles of GNH, at least when it comes to public spaces.

A foreign real estate developer observed, rather ironically that the city lacks trees besides open public spaces like parks where members of the community can congregate for social purposes.

It was suggested that urban planners allow for the construction of taller buildings so that more area can be saved for public open spaces.

We’re aware that there is a limit on the number of floors a building can have for safety reasons, especially given that Bhutan is located in a highly active seismic area.

Perhaps, we can construct taller buildings using better technology to save more space for public spaces, however, we must also provide equal attention to community vitality.

Yes, all municipalities must prioritise providing open public spaces for residents. But, we must also ask ourselves why it is common today for even tenants in a building to not know each other.

The last GNH survey found that community vitality is decreasing in the urban areas. People are more mistrustful of each other. The question is why and how do we sustain and improve a trait that is common in the villages.

Providing more open public spaces is one way to develop a community’s vitality. However, we need to identify other ways to improve community vitality in the cities, which some may say is impossible given the different pace of life.

This is an important area that our research agencies like the Centre for Bhutan Studies and the thromdes must explore and find answers for.

The city has exploded in recent times with buildings mushrooming every where along the valley. Concrete has been poured over vast swathes of land that was once tilled to grow paddy and other crops. High walls have been erected to keep people out. CCTVs watch out for criminals.

The problem is more than just planning not keeping up with development or the city’s design.

However, a city’s design is one aspect that contributes to better community vitality. It can’t be neglected. If budget and other limitations are the problem for inadequate design, alternative ways have to be found.

We need to build not just for today, but for tomorrow.

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