Playing in the open remains an elusive experience for many, courtesy the shrinking spaces that drive youngsters to the road or to the comfort of their gaming console.

For children and adults alike, playing outdoors sows the seeds of excitement, fun, camaraderie and competency. Several western societies are beginning to realise the value of playgrounds for children and open spaces in the city.

There is a growing need to create environments for getting back to nature. While schools agree that many skills are attainable by playing cyber games, they recognise that an active balance is needed with challenging out-door playgrounds.

In the early 1960s, city-planners of Chennai had ensured that playgrounds were designated in almost each neighbourhood. For instance, playgrounds near Venkatnarayana Road, Shenoy Nagar and Besant Nagar had become lively locations.

Recreation

While cricket remains the favourite game, where amenities have been provided, games like basketball, volleyball, tennis, practising traditional dance, music concerts and a range of interesting activities happen throughout the year. “Yoga and playing tennis with friends early in the morning allows me to study better,” feels Sanjana, a Std X student living in T.Nagar.

In the times before cars, playgrounds were a vital part of the neighbourhood. As cities grew, spaces for children to play were specially designated enriching life in the city. Vimal Nagarkatti, a retired school teacher from BVB Rajaji Vidhyashram, suggests, “With shady trees around, Chennai's senior citizens often organise informal social gatherings as they watch children play. In larger grounds, office- goers invariably exercise early in the morning or late evening.”

Besides playgrounds, the Marina beach has been an area for children to play alongside the sea. Beaches in South France, Australia and California encourage a range of games and have introduced new safety measures, besides designating zones. Similar facilities could transform Marina into a lively urban space.

Research by Joe Frost has often been a reference when city planners are confronted with the dilemma of converting playgrounds for other infrastructure. Bus-stands, metro-lines, car-parking needs, electricity sub-stations and other infrastructure are important amenities that need open space.

Cities like Zurich, Singapore and Paris are searching for ingenious ways to provide for these service needs while ensuring that they do not deny children their playgrounds. While the initial costs of constructing multi-level car-parks may appear high, the long-term benefits of saving vital open spaces in the city are being realised.

Inspiring change

With the creation of the Adyar Poonga, there is a new inspiration to explore Nature. School children visiting the Poonga are amazed by the variety of activities like identifying birds, plants and understanding ecology. Along with the beach and the playgrounds, the Adyar Poonga provides for spaces to learn and play. These playgrounds have no restrictions and every child, whether from a private school or Corporation school, can freely access them.

Significantly, many of India's best athletes, football and cricket players have emerged, playing from these little grounds in the city.

Making way for development

The Chennai Metro Rail Limited's 45-km-long Metro Rail network has resulted in it taking over the city's already limited green spaces. So far four parks have been closed to the public since their take-over by the CMRL. They are:

Chennai Corporation Park, Ashok Nagar

Thiru-Vi-Ka Park, Shenoy Nagar

Nehru Park, Poonamallee

May Day Park, Chintadripet

“We have restrictions on playing cricket on the beach and also on playing in the water. We find this unfair because we don't have any empty grounds near our house. We want an end to this situation.”- VIGNESH, Std X.

“We play volley ball at the beach every evening. We do find a lot of restrictions that are quite disturbing. The police come and warn us not to play. This may benefit senior citizens, but not us. We won't stop playing in the beach. “- RAMACHANDRAN, Std XI.

“There are restrictions but we are not bothered about it. We will continue playing whatever happens or else the government should allot some place for people who come to play here.” - GANESH, school student.

“I personally like playing cricket a lot. There are no open grounds near my house. So every weekend I go with my friends to the beach to play. But the restrictions are really disappointing. I find little time to relax and I want to spend it in a way that I like. I wish some action is taken regarding this.” KARTHIK, software engineer.

“Every day my friends and I go walking at the beach in the morning. We notice children playing cricket and other games there. But they don't't realize how much it hinders the public. It is good that police restricts them from playing in the beach because some action has to be taken. - RAGAVENDAR RAO, retired railway guard.

“These days children are addicted to video games and internet that they seldom go to play. Even as they step out to play, there are restrictions that stop them from playing. For instance, in Marina beach, children are not allowed to play cricket as a fact that it disturbs the people who come for walking. All empty lands are converted to buildings and so kids end up playing nowhere.” VIJAYA, housewife.

“There is only one playground in our area. Youngsters from other neighbourhoods also come there. It is very hard to find space to play, especially on Sundays, unless you get there early. The other playground was converted to a park recently and one's not allowed to even run there, let alone play. When they say we need to get out and play more, where do they expect us to go?” MAHEEDHAR RAMAN, 24, CA.

“Playgrounds in Chennai are limited and there are simply not enough open spaces for team games like cricket or football. Moreover, corporation grounds in Chennai are poorly maintained with no infrastructure whatsoever. Injuries are a common sight as no steps have been taken to clear the hazards that surround the ground. They also have no rainwater drains and the grounds are filled with stagnant water for days or even weeks after the rain stops, making it impossible for the public to use it. It also acts as a breeding ground for diseases. Security is another problem as anti-social activities are also a common sight.”- SYED IRFAN, 24, entrepreneur.

I don't find any enough open space for recreational activities. Even about five years ago there were many playgrounds. It's quite shocking to see many playgrounds now being converted into parks. Also some public playgrounds have been rented by schools thereby restricting others' access to play there. As the number of playgrounds has reduced drastically, they are now overcrowded and people end up playing on roads creating a nuisance for the general public. The authorities could reclaim some of the sparsely used parks and convert them to playgrounds.- DINESH MURALIKRISHNA, 24, software engineer and league division cricketer.

The author is a Chennai-based architect.

As per plan?

Eighty hectares for one lakh population for metropolitan parks, and 400 hectares of land along each of the three major corridors, and 800 hectares along the coast in the north and south are required for provision of regional level recreational facilities.

Local level recreational facilities have to be provided at the rate of 0.8 hectares per 1000 population for parks and play spaces. The spatial distribution of these facilities would largely depend on the availability of suitable land, particularly in built-up areas and hence had to be taken up at the level of Detailed Development Plans. The total requirement of open space in MMA in 1991 was 9600 hectares (96 Sq. km).

Source: Second Master Plan for Chennai Metropolitan Area, 2026

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