It is a positive development that many new gated communities in and around several Indian cities are more organised in planning and implementing the sanctioned layout in accordance with the original intent of high quality living, writes Gita Dendukuri

A park within 200 metres of every residence to improve the quality of life and productivity of individuals was the prescription for ideal living recommended by the Executive Director of CII – Sohrabji Green Business Centre a few months ago.

This recommendation sounds like a dream in today’s concrete-dominated urban areas. Modified to present day unplanned urbanisation, the prescription was revised to ‘a park for every 2 km’, which would include larger Public Parks in towns and cities.

With rapidly increasing vertical living lifestyles, open spaces or lung spaces in urban areas have become a luxury and are rapidly on the decline. But what about the smaller park areas of up to 1,000 to 1,200 sq yds within residential areas?

The worrying feature is that such open spaces which are clearly ear-marked for common use as parks in the layouts approved and sanctioned by municipal authorities, have been misappropriated and sold as living areas or commercial centres. Regarded as “no-man’s land”, these minor open spaces which could have been developed as green spaces are easy targets for encroachers to usurp and misuse, even in ‘posh’ localities.

Individual plot and building owners are so preoccupied with acquiring and constructing their own dwellings, that they notice/realise the loss of precious open spaces only when it is too late and the ‘might-have-been’ lung spaces intended for common use are now part of the concrete jungle.

It is a positive development that many new gated communities in and around several Indian cities are more organised in planning and implementing the sanctioned layout in accordance with the original intent of high quality living.

A lot of importance is given to planting avenue trees within the layout right at the start and systematically developing generous areas of green spaces, jogging tracks and play areas for the benefit of residents, young and old. Well begun is only half done. And so, it is equally important that the cost of maintenance of common open spaces and green spaces is factored into the monthly maintenance cost payable by individual villa /flat owners on a ‘per sq ft’ basis.

Dual income families with an eye for quality living, do not grudge paying for maintenance of greenery. Continued maintenance ought not to be a problem with adequate supervision and replenishment of inputs such as good quality red soil, manure, fertilizers and plants. Some Municipalities have been ahead in encouraging the concept of greening amongst citizens. In Hyderabad, senior officials of the erstwhile MCH (Municipal Corporation of Hyderabad) experienced the daunting task of keeping track of and maintaining innumerable minor parks strewn across the city within sanctioned colony layouts.

They sensed that public initiative could be tapped for continued maintenance of urban green spaces and initiated a system of decentralised park maintenance with local community involvement. In the mid 1990s, a scheme of Park Adoption and Maintenance was drafted and launched by Administration and Forestry Officials of the MCH through sound agreements with cooperating RWAs (Resident Welfare Associations). This scheme is in place even today.

After the signing of consent letters and a mutual agreement, the task of development of the selected open spaces is taken up by the Urban Forestry Division of GHMC. It is first ascertained that all the basics are in place – civil works required for hard landscaping including walking paths, kerbs, seating, installation of a water source or borewell with the required electrical connection, illumination, protection of endemic plant species, selection and planting of perennials and shrubs appropriate for each park area. Next, the parks are handed over for regular maintenance to the Resident Welfare Associations. Teething troubles that are encountered initially are attended to. A scheme of periodic supervision is also set in place.

The central aim is to enable a system of uninterrupted minimum maintenance so that the concept of retaining and promoting greenery is not forgotten.

Plant varieties selected for the newly developed colony parks include a wide range of hardy trees and shrubs – Ficus, Bamboo, Tekoma, Bauhinia, Cassia, Plumeria, and a range of shade loving ferns, ground covers and grasses, which would survive under tough local weather conditions.

In many cases, existing old trees and rock formations are used as the basis for landscape planning of the colony parks. The shared cost of monthly maintenance calculated on the basis of area follows the ratio – GHMC: 75 per cent, supplemented by RWA: 25 per cent - with the GHMC providing its share at the end of every quarter.

Residents living in such areas as well as in new gated communities, actually live the dream of a ‘Park within 200 metres of their residences’. May their tribe increase and add to the efforts of Greening our Urban Spaces.

Secretary (Parks)

Methodist Colony Welfare Association, Begumpet