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Amphibian urbanism in Dhaka’s contested wetlands
Director of Research (if dissertation) or Advisor (if thesis)
Doctoral Committee Chair(s)
Department of Study
Urban & Regional Planning
Degree Granting Institution
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Wetlands provide several ecosystem services and are globally critical infrastructure in the era of manufactured climate change. With rare exceptions, planners and policymakers have neglected urban wetlands. In this research, I delve into the complex relationship between urbanization and wetlands under a globally networked climate change governance. Existing scholarship related to urban wetlands either focus on the social vulnerability of poor dwellers who are exposed to environmental risks while living in the wetlands or propose design and management mechanisms for wetland governance. Drawing on multi-sited participant observations, analyses of master plans, technical reports, and working papers, in-depth interviews, land use mapping and assessments, my engaged research bridges those two dominant conversations and advances a more situated way of conceptualizing and intervening vis-à-vis urban wetlands. Situating urban Dhaka’s wetland transformation within the flows of global political economy, I show how land is produced out of wetlands through vanishing tricks embedded in and enabled through the ruling regime’s political maneuvers and planning for urban sustainability. The transformation of wetlands into marketable land, I argue, produces linked vulnerability across city and household as well as urban and rural scales in a fragmented landscape of flood vulnerability, displacement, exclusion, and differentiated access to wetlands among wetland dwellers. Shifting from global and regional into the scale of micropolitics and practices, I examine the modalities by which urban and peri-urban wetland dwellers engage in farming and fishing practices to sustain themselves in a precarious urban economy as well as produce people-centered wetland infrastructure for the city. I conceptualize the wetland farming, fishing, and dwelling practices as socially just ecological infrastructure and offer three generative concepts (interstitial power, amphibian operations, and endured toxicities) to think through their complex contributions to the production of sustainable urban wetlands. Tracing the negotiations among state bureaucrats and foreign and local consultants, I explore the socio-environmental knowledges underpinning master plans for urban wetlands. Contrary to presenting planning processes as a singular closed process, I explore the hidden but crucial labor of dissenting planners within the planning agency and appreciate the heterogeneity and progressive fissure within state bureaucracies. Crucially, by making visible the silent sustainable practices of poor communities, my research advances a southern approach to urban wetlands that imagines an amphibian urbanism that thinks with coupled social and ecological dynamics across scales and temporalities in an urbanizing world.