When the city grows, leaving no room for open spaces

The precious few: (Clockwise from above) The Durbar Hall Ground is a prime open space in the heart of the city; the open space near Aanaparambu at Eroor is an unusual sight in Thripunithura; and the Parade Ground in Fort Kochi.   | Photo Credit: H_Vibhu

Considering the city’s stinginess in terms of land, open spaces in town planning are almost absent. While the general guidelines of city and town planning require that there should be 10% to 12% of open spaces, in Kochi it is a paltry 0.3%.

There are efforts to include Mangalavanam, the protected mangroves, as part of the open spaces in the city to up the percentage to touch 1%. Mangroves are categorised as marshland, under the same category as paddy fields, which are not normally categorised as open spaces.

Open spaces are areas which could be green spaces, parks created for recreational purposes or naturally occurring spaces generally unused by communities.

It is up to the local self-governments to have a plan for such open spaces, say officials of the Town Planning Department. In fact, one of components of the Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation is to create open spaces, says a senior Town Planning official.

However, for a city that is bursting at its seams, and is forever plagued by complaints of encroachments of buildings on revenue land and waterbodies, far from creating open spaces, the civic body is unable to protect the open spaces that exist.

Master plan

The Town Planning Department, engaged in the master plan preparation of land use in Kochi city area and Kochi Corporation region, which includes nearby municipalities and panchayats, does not usually indicate open spaces. But the department will be providing a guideline for 2031 that calls for increasing the open spaces to 7%.

In 2009, the land in Kochi City region, which includes Corporation area, 13 panchayts and the municipalities of Eloor, Thrikkakara, Kalamassery, Thripunithura and Maradu, was said to be 369.72 sq. km or 36,972 hectares while in the Corporation alone it was 94.88 sq. km or 9,488 hectares. The open space is only 75 hectares. The guideline is to improve the open space to 1,650 hectares.

Officials in Town Planning say that as far as planning for open spaces is concerned, there is a dead end. There are a lot of controls on the sensitive land use category. The government can create open spaces only on revenue land or that which is vested with the local body. Much of the land being under private holdings makes it difficult to create additional open spaces.

Local bodies blamed

However, the attitude of the local self-governments is negative, say residents. In Thripunithura, the municipality ate up the open space it had near its earlier office building.

Prime open space in the region gave way to yet another building. The municipality could have conserved the open space by going vertical, says K.A. Unnithan, zonal president, Ernakulam District Residents’ Association’s Apex Council.

The residents are against the municipality taking over the open space near Aanaparambu at Eroor, which is now used by children as a playground. After much lobbying with the municipality, a walkway was built around the nearby pond, adds Mr. Unnithan.

Prime requirement

According to architect S. Gopakumar of Better Kochi Response Group (BKRG), the city is saved by its criss-crossing backwaters. The waterbodies cutting into the land provide a breather to the city’s developmental angst. Mr. Gopakumar thinks the master plan of a city should indicate open spaces too. “We only indicate roads and other public utilities. The government has to acquire land to create open spaces as it is a prime requirement.”

Citizens’ well-being

Open spaces will greatly enhance a city’s attractiveness and add to the citizens’ feeling of well-being.

Open spaces are just what the doctors prescribe in the era of lifestyle diseases, says Junaid Rahman, president, Indian Medical Association, Kochi. However, people are forced to indulge in their ‘prescribed’ walking by taking a drive to a different location, he adds.

The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Durbar Hall Ground, Marine Drive, Subhash Park, Rajendra Maidan and Changampuzha Park – there ends the list of public spaces for walking in the city. However, not all can access those spaces from where they live, adds Dr. Rahman. “Moreover, walking spaces are best utilised when available near homes. Unfortunately, our cities are not planned to provide such space, which is now considered a luxury.”

In Fort Kochi, Parade Ground and Veli ground provide some recreation space to the public. However, there are no noteworthy open spaces accessed by the people in Thripunithura or Kalamassery or most of the nearby panchayats. The Hill Palace premises in Thripunithura is utilised by some, but access is limited.

Edappally, Palarivattom, and Vyttila are among the busy commercial spots in the city. However, there has been no emphasis by the Corporation on creating green open spaces, says Mr. Gopakumar. With some vision, even small parks can be created on strips of land. Health parks can be developed as a project in about six to ten acres.

It is a vicious circle, says Dr. Rahman. “People are asked to give up land in the name of large developmental projects for which rehabilitation becomes a major issue,” he says, asking whether people will be willing to give up land for the government to create open spaces.

Housing Board project

Recently, the Kerala State Housing Board proposed a multi-storey building in 17 acres near Mangalavanam. The BKRG instead proposed the space for a botanical garden. Following protests, the Housing Board has changed the proposal to a convention centre, hotel and exhibition space. The BKRG considers it as an ecologically sensitive area and is against using it for any purpose other than as an open space.

Among the open spaces which the government could have offered to the public are the space behind the Vyttila Mobility Hub and the coastal road on Willingdon Island.

A long stretch of land along the waterfront behind the mobility hub could have been developed as an urban forest. However, there was no such consideration on the part of the authorities to let people utilise it for recreation, says Mr. Gopakumar.

In the case of Willingdon Island, the Tourism Department handed over the work to the Cochin Port Trust for creating an open space adjacent to the coastal road. But no landscaping was done for a better presentation. The government is not concerned about the requirement of the day, he says.

Amrut scheme

The creation of open green spaces is one of the thrust areas under the Amrut scheme. Five parks are in the process of being created. A sum of ₹4.01 crore under the scheme has been allotted for developing the spaces. While the one in Chilavannoor, a strip of 73 cents of land lying in front of the DLF building, has run into a controversy over CRZ violations, the others are St. John’s Park, Fort Kochi (72 cents), Vypeen Boat Jetty Green Space (1 acre), Maithri Nagar Park, Vaduthala (60 cents), and Kudumbi Colony Park, (57 cents).

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Printable version | Nov 20, 2020 4:44:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Kochi/when-the-city-grows-leaving-no-room-for-open-spaces/article29113981.ece

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