For N. Karthik, a parent of a 13-year-old, a big regret has been that his son has never climbed a tree or had friends outside school. Mr.Karthik often blames the inaccessibility of public spaces and cites the case of the nearby playground at R.A. Puram which in ruins with frequent cycle thefts reported. “Lack of security, poor lighting and cases of bullying are reasons why many children refrain from going there,” he says.
While issues such as these and the increasing traffic and alternative modes of recreation often discourage some people from using public parks and playgrounds, for others, they still form an integral of the growing up experience..
Chennai Corporation is in the process of improving 10 playgrounds chosen from each of the 10 Corporation zones into star-rated playgrounds. The one in Gopalapuram has already been opened with facilities for various sports, including volley ball. Nearly Rs.25-30 lakh is being spent towards improving each such facility.
While many parks have been provided with pathways, benches and lighting, some including the one in De Monte Colony suffers from lack of lights along the access road. “There have been incidents of thefts on this lane. We prefer to avoid it,” says G. Archana, a mother of a four-year-old.
Residents in Otteri, and Choolai say they do not have enough parks. A. Pandurangan, president of Kaviarasu Kannadasan Nagar, Kodungaiyur Residents Welfare Association, says that the playground in the seventh block is poorly maintained. “Youngsters often ride bikes inside the playground. We have been demanding facility to play volley ball and other games too,” he says.
The park at Kotturpuram that was closed last year, is being used as public convenience. Drainage problems and just two public toilets in adjacent slum housing board colony are responsible for the misuse, says S. Sekhar, a resident. The unused motors for the water fountain and rusted play equipment lie scattered and in their midst, lie freezer boxes to preserve dead bodies.
According to Mayor M.Subramanian there are nearly 200 playgrounds, including those in the open space reservation lands in the city. Some playgrounds with indoor stadiums have been provided with first aid facility.
Children at the play ground at Canal Bank Road have unhappy tales to tell. “When it rains, the playground gets flooded, and water stagnates for over a month. People have started dumping and burning waste behind the playground, making it almost impossible to play here,” says S. Karthik, Loyola College student.
The small playground in Venkatrathinam Nagar, Adyar, sharing its compound with a temple, may have coconut kernels strewn over, but is cleaned regularly. “We had a basket ball court initially but now only the poles stand. They might as well remove that,” says S. Shafeek (6).
However, despite all the broken and rusted equipment, playgrounds continue to attract children. While it is a good thing that play equipment in most parks now is made of plastic, it is important to maintain them, so that they do not get degraded in the sunlight, say experts. It is also necessary to regularly replace old equipment and ensure that the discarded equipment is cleared out.
The way the swings are laid is often leads to accidents, says Prathap Haridoss, associate professor, Dept. of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, IIT- M. “The play areas are bordered with bricks, causing children to trip and fall off,” he says.
Corporation Commissioner D.Karthikeyan says action would be taken on complaints regarding lack of soft landing area. Specific complaints on poor facilities in the playgrounds would be addressed.