The news of the development of Sarpang’s new town comes as a breath of fresh air. It gives us the hope of a uniquely Bhutanese town.

Development of township in Bhutan has become quite plainly infamous. It is time we looked at our mistakes and tried not to repeat the same blunder. Look at all our new towns, particularly Khuruthang and Bajothang towns. At the best they wear the look of a randomly built shantytowns. That is not how our towns, planned towns, should look like.

Towns are a mark of civilisation. It should build its own identity and values. But, sadly, our township planning doesn’t let that happen. It rather stops the towns from growing the way they will best serve the community.

If town planning is all about dividing spaces into checkerboards where people who can raise buildings can step in and do so, we are limiting the growth of our towns. If all the buildings should look the same with equal number of blocks and storeys, we are getting seriously wrong with our township development. What we get in the end is exactly this: deliberately-built slums.

Our planners’ job should end with the identification of location, provision of basic needs like water and electricity supply and creation of recreational spaces. Let the people build their own homes. That’s how our towns will find their own soul and gain their own faces.

Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay, while meeting the landowners of Sarpang’s new town area at Shechamthang on September 11, said that the people can construct any kind of house and the government is ready to help them. Some 25 landowners are ready to build houses immediately.

Let this be the new beginning in the narrative of our township development. There should be quality control, but nothing must get in between people’s choices and the way they want to build their own town, lest we end up again building matchbox houses that are so painfully unappealing.

Prime minister has left with the people space to talk out procedural problems. This gives us new hope.

What is important, though, is that we need to be wise and careful. Township development should not eat our precious little arable land. In fact, our towns should be higher up the hill and mountains. Planning should be done considering all aspects of development. Eating our own is also important. In other words, that’s protecting our sovereignty.

Let the towns grow and grow the way they are able to achieve their own identity.  That’s real town planning.