Dr Amanat Ullah Khan, a retired professor of the Department of Geography and Environment at the University of Dhaka, has spent a large part of his childhood in Azimpur.
In 1952, he was a student of class one at West End High School, which lies on the southern edge of Azimpur. Over time, he has witnessed how a well-planned neighbourhood transformed into an unplanned one.
"Our building was close to West End High School. During my childhood, there were many playgrounds and we used to play in the fields in the afternoon. A few years back I went to visit the area and felt like crying seeing its current state," said Amanat.
Azimpur, one of the sprawling neighbourhoods in Dhaka, was once the most expensive area in the city. City dwellers used to dream of buying a piece of land around the Azimpur area due to its easy access to New Dhaka as well as Old Dhaka.
People living in Azimpur also had easy access to Sadarghat and Moulvibazar, the central areas of Old Dhaka, as well as the many modern facilities of New Dhaka, including the newly built shopping centres of New Market, lying at the northern extremities of Azimpur.
The neighbourhood came to prominence because of educational institutions such as Dhaka College, Dhaka University, Eden College and so on. In no time, Azimpur became a bustling neighbourhood centring the Azimpur Housing Estate (Azimpur Government Colony), built for government employees.
After the partition of India in 1947, there was a rising need for accommodation of government employees. As a result, the Azimpur Housing Estate was established for them. The buildings were constructed with great care. British companies and architects were brought to design the buildings.
Consequently, in 1975, the average price of one katha of land in Azimpur was as high as Tk1,75,000 while the average price of one katha of land in other places, including Dhanmondi, Baridhara, Gulshan and Banani, was only Tk25,000.
In 2020, the average price of one katha of land in Azimpur is Tk1.1 crore while the average price of one katha of land in Banani Tk3 crore, Tk5 crore in Dhanmondi and Tk6 crore in Gulshan.
"Azimpur was never a new name among city dwellers. During the 1610s, in the Mughal era, mainly aristocrats used to live in areas such as Lalbagh, Bakshibazar and the present-day High Court area and Sujatpur - the present-day Nilkhet," said noted historian Muntasir Mamun.
However, Azimpur began to lose its appeal as one of most liveable places in the city due to unplanned construction of buildings and a lack of maintenance and monitoring. People now show little interest in buying land in Azimpur.
Back then, there were only a handful of high-rise buildings in the area. The "China Building" was one of the few high-rise buildings there. Mostly Chinese traders used to live in this five-storied building.
The landmark China Building is still standing in Azimpur. However, many features of the area have changed with the passage of time. On a recent visit there, this correspondent found that the road in front of the China Building has now become so narrow that two cars cannot drive by simultaneously. The width of the road is, at best, 12 feet.
Now, like other Old Dhaka streets, the main roads of the area remain packed with rickshaws and buses during the day. During nighttime, the Azimpur bus stand turns into an illegal bus depot.
The road in front of the historic West End High School still has the backdated open-drainage system. The drain's pitch-black water is a carrier of the area's waste.
Amanat recalled, "During the late 1960s and 1970s, Azimpur was one of the best areas to live in. There were many playgrounds and open spaces for young people. Back then, it was one of the most well-planned areas in the city."
In the 1960s, when the Azimpur government colony was a bustling neighbourhood, the government had taken initiatives to develop Dhanmondi and Gulshan as planned residential areas for the city's growing population.
"Basically, Azimpur became habitable after the 1960s. The Shah Saheb of Daira Sharif began to sell plots of land to people who came from different areas," said Mujibul Haq, who came to Lalbagh in 1949 at the age of two. Mujibul Haq's father Zinnat Ali, a government employee, bought six katha of land next to the West End High School in 1948 for 1,200 rupees.
The sale of land in Azimpur began in the 1960s as many people migrated to the area. The Daira Sharif area is now known as Daira Sharif Residential Area in Azimpur.
"There were many playgrounds here and we used to play there. There was a playground in the middle of four buildings in the Azimpur government colony. We used to play there too," the 74-year-old Mujib, who still lives in Azimpur, recalled.
"In the 1960s, there was a pond in the middle of the jungle where we used to go fishing. No one dared to go inside the deep jungle alone. We used to go into the jungle in groups," said Mujib.
However, the landscape of Azimpur has changed with the passing years. The buildings have been constructed in an unplanned way, leaving little open space and playgrounds in the area. Most of them are narrow and congested.
The condition of the area deteriorated due to lack of maintenance and monitoring of the area by the regulatory body of the city. As a result, people opted to move somewhere where there are open spaces and playgrounds, and the quality of life is better. Naturally, people now show less interest in buying land in a congested area like Azimpur.
"The price of land was highest in the Tanti Bazar area in the city during the 1840 to 50s," renowned historian Muntasir Mamun informed, adding that the centre of a city shifts and the price of the land of the bustling areas depend on the commercial and economic value of the place as the years grow.
He also said that people's attitude toward land plays an important role in the land price hike. Muntasir added that following the independence of Bangladesh, a very small number of people showed interest in buying land.
"When land was allotted in Dhanmondi, many of my relatives did not take it, saying that what is the point of buying land in the jungle? The government even insisted people buy land," Muntasir added.
He said that those who had land in Dhanmondi were also allotted land in the Gulshan area. In spite of that, people showed little interest in buying land. Most of the land was allotted among bureaucrats.
"Many people were allotted land in Dhanmondi and Gulshan areas. However, people were uncertain about how Dhanmondi and Gulshan would turn out," said Muntasir.
He added, "Soon after the 1990s, people became land speculators as they began to buy more and more land to sell. People became aware of investment in land property. Then, the price of land rose with the implementation of infrastructure."
The price of a piece of land is higher in Gulshan, Baridhara and Banani because these areas were constructed in a planned way.
"The planning of the roads in Dhanmondi, Gulshan, Banani and Baridhara are still visible," professor Amanat said. He added that the benefits of enjoying the utilities and maintenance of sewerage systems are very important in an urban area.
"At the same time, security is also very important. There are warehouses in the residential parts of old Dhaka, which is a major security threat. For this reason, people want to live in Banani, Gulshan and Baridhara," the professor continued.
"The main reason why people show less interest in buying land in Azimpur is because you cannot drive your car on most of the roads. Most house owners also own a car. If you cannot move your car, why will you buy a house in the area?" asked Muntasir.
According to Muntasir, once the Metro Rail is established, the whole scenario will change. The demand for land in Uttara will further increase. The relationship between movement and land price are directly proportional to a development project.