Green spaces are typically described in urban architecture as spaces designated for trees, plants, grass and shrubs, or in other words, forests, parks and gardens. Bengaluru is known as the Garden City of the country, but citizens have been fighting constantly to protect these green spaces, like Cubbon Park and several lake parks, from concretisation.
While the total area of Cubbon Park was around 260 acres in the 1950s, today, it is 197 acres and 31.5 guntas. Cubbon Park Walkers Association (CPWA) has alleged that the essence of the public park is being lost in the new construction coming up in its vicinity. They have also lodged a case against the Karnataka State Lawn Tennis Association claiming that their construction activity inside the park is illegal.
The Horticulture Department maintains that although some renovation work is taking place in some buildings, no extra space has been allocated for any new construction. Even so, according to the data provided by the officials, the built-up area of some major buildings, including Bal Bhavan and Public Library inside the park, amounts to 9,390.36 square metres or over 2 acres.
However, the CPWA argues that most of these buildings do not have legal survey numbers or proper documentation. Their main contention is that the spaces, which are leased out inside the park for various organisations, are misused and these spaces are more commercial today, moving away from being a public lung space.
“The tennis club, which originally was given for sports purposes, is now being used for eating, drinking, and other leisure activities. The Century Club was leased out as a place to rest and it is also being misused now in the name of membership. The YMCA has constructed a multi-storied building and a swimming pool, and it looks like a five-star hotel now. The nature of Cubbon Park is being ruined,” alleged Umesh S., president of CPWA.
Many citizens are also against the various tree parks and miniature Lalbaghs proposed to be created inside the existing lung spaces. Jarakabande Kaval in Yelahanka is one such example.
According to the local MLA, S.R. Vishwanath, an environmental awareness centre for children, a concrete compound, walking and cycling tracks, gazebos at sunrise and sunset viewing points and bird-watching points will be constructed in the proposed Atal Bihari Vajpayee park.
The volunteers of Save Jarakabande Forest are vehemently opposing the idea as they believe that these constructions will hamper the natural ecosystem of the forest area. When the government proposed to create a 400-acre tree park in Turahalli forest, a similar campaign under the name of Save Turahalli Forest was started by environmentalists.
“Is it not the responsibility of the Horticulture Department and the Forest Department to ensure the protection of these ecosystems? Why bring in construction inside every existing green space? We have enough of those in the city already. Leave the lung spaces as they are. These tracks and gazebos are not required there,” said a volunteer who has worked for both these campaigns.
Lakes turned into parks
The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagara Palike(BBMP), which maintains 1,128 parks across eight zones in the city, is planning to develop parks centred around lakes. Around almost every lake rejuvenated recently, the civic body has built a walking track on the tank bund, an open-air gym, and other amenities despite citizen groups opposing concretisation of lakes.
Rekha Swamy, a resident of Puttenahalli said the BBMP is putting up cement tiles near the lake to construct a park and a walking path. “Natural habitats of animals and plants around lakes should not be destroyed and the size of water bodies should not be shrunk to create parks and walking paths that are not necessary,” she added.
Building parks or concrete walkways near a lake will disrupt water inlets, says lake activists. V. Ramprasad from ‘Friends of Lakes, said, “Conversion of lakes into parks, playgrounds and commercial utility spaces is dangerous to the lakes which are already drying up naturally. This only adds to the disruption of water inlets into the lakes.”
Need more trees
Another resident of Kundalahalli in east Bengaluru opposed commercial activities around lakes, like construction of parks, organisation of boating, fishing, etc. “We don’t need these destructive activities. It’s better the civic body conducts massive tree-planting drives, which will bring back birds in large numbers to the lake area,” Arvind K.T., a resident from Kundalahalli said. He also suggested that in many places, instead of placing large concrete walkways on the bund, a gravel path could be paved to support plant life on the shore.
Ecologists feel that the concretisation will lead to activities that disturb the biodiversity of the area and lead to changes in the microclimate of the region. “We have enough concrete in the city. If you add concrete to the lung spaces, then it will be bad for the soil. We need to have as many non-concrete spaces as possible so that groundwater can be discharged. It is important for from the point of view of floods and groundwater levels. Fragmentation of green spaces is required as several species are sensitive to concrete. We only have a few of these lung spaces along with a few lakes, which needs to be preserved,” said Harini Nagendra, ecologist.