Metroplus

Freeing public spaces

Parking spot -- Debra Effroymson’s fight for vendors -- Photo: Bhagya Prakash k.

Parking spot -- Debra Effroymson’s fight for vendors -- Photo: Bhagya Prakash k.  

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Author and NGO director Debra Effroymson talks about the need to make parks accessible to all

“Vendors and people in public parks are vital for public spaces and must not be excluded from any plans to make these spaces friendly for tourists,” argues Debra Effroymson, the regional director of HealthBridge, an NGO that provides support to various programmes ranging from tobacco control, gender and reproductive health, and liveable cities. She is based in Bangladesh and works across Asia.

She says, “I was on a small trip to Bengaluru and visited Cubbon Park. I enjoyed spending time there. I met some activists and learnt that there was a plan to evict vendors from the park to make it more tourist-friendly. I do not think it is a great idea. Public spaces need to be accessible to all. Governments have a perception about parks being empty spaces. They are wary of the litter caused by vendors and fear that the park would be used by anti-social elements. However, restricting entry to those who actually use the park is not a good idea.”

Debra adds, “The park is used by people for multiple purposes, with many people finding it an excellent place to exercise in the morning and evening. I think that spaces like Cubbon Park are the best places to keep obesity in check and remain fit, rather than being dependent on the air conditioned artificiality of gyms. I have seen people organise small picnics, with vendors providing tea/coffee or roasted groundnuts. We need more such spaces for people to be physically active. More people in the park would make it safer for people and prevent instances of moral policing.”

About keeping the park clean, she states, “You should involve vendors in keeping it clean. As long as they use biodegradable material and maintain cleanliness, I see no reason why they should be moved out. People like to eat something, when they are picnicking and this also provides employment to many people.”

Narrating her experiences in Vietnam, Debra contends, “Once, a vendor in a park there said his stock of a particular fruit was exhausted. Minutes later, I saw him giving a box to another customer. I realised that the customer was a regular and the vendor had saved the last batch for him. It made me realise that if you take the vendors out, such relationships would also no longer exist. Parks must be open to all.”

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Printable version | Jan 29, 2020 11:01:17 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/freeing-public-spaces/article7625171.ece

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