Looking beyond the city

The government has finalised the office space guidelines for government office buildings. One thing that stands out is looking beyond the core Thimphu city for constructions that cannot be avoided.

The taskforce government instituted to study the consolidation of government offices recommended construtcting all new government offices in Gamchey. About 20 acres of land is available around there.

If the government does not deviate from what is proposed, they will be remembered as the first government to “walk the talk” in decongesting the capital city.

Saying the city is overcrowded has now become a cliché. Everybody knew it would happen, it was happening and now there is nothing much we can do. The irony is people still want to build structures, ugly concrete structures, in every space available.

There is no space for further construction. Buildings are already jutting out onto the roads. There is no space for vehicles to park and it has become easier to walk than drive in most city roads.

Yet everybody is looking for a space in the core city. We cannot stop those who own land, but those who are looking for government land should look beyond the core city. In this case, those wanting to remain in the core areas include decision makers who already have a hand in spoiling the city.

When the government ordered a temporary stop on construction of office buildings, a lot of eyebrows were raised. But it was a bold step. Even the kids playing around feel Thimphu lacks space. The planned playgrounds, leisure centres, parks, jogging, walking and cycling space and many others are missing.

We expected planners to not repeat the mistake in the extended city, but it has followed suit. Now, everybody including planners are complaining of not having space or good planning.

Crowding in the city has other implications. It is driving rents, both for residential and commercial space, it is leading to exploitation and creating a growing group of urban poor who, for instance, cramp in uninhabitable basements or attics.  It is exerting a huge pressure on urban infrastructure that cannot keep up with the growth.

There are about 50 planned constructions in the current plan. Even if half is moved to the outskirts, the city will have some breathing space. People love to reside near their workplace. When all offices are concentrated in one place, it is natural to see it crowded out. A good number would want to move towards the outskirts where living conditions are actually better.

Looking further beyond Thimphu will complement other policies of curbing rural urban migration and balanced development.

The government has also completed the rationalisation of constructing office building and consolidation of office space. It has found out that while some had been too generous in constructing huge structures with borrowed money, some are cramped in small holes.

The guideline, to help the government decide, will be soon come into force. For now, the political will to rationalise and decongest is a good beginning. In the mean time, let’s hope that the government will hold onto its decision and not give into pressure from interest groups.

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