Chennai

Redefining open spaces

Snapshots of an event conducted at a park in Mumbai.

Snapshots of an event conducted at a park in Mumbai.   | Photo Credit: Handout

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Chennai residents can take inspiration from how two moms rewrote the definition of ‘open spaces’ in Mumbai

Two moms deemed it fit to take their children to parks, immediately after school-hours. That is when they realised there were “no parks” to go to. Of course, there is no dearth of parks in Mumbai neighbourhoods, but none would have its gates open at the hour when the final gong goes at schools.

Across Indian metros, most parks are open in the morning hours — usually from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. — and would open again in the evening, usually around 5 p.m. These moms, Tina Nandi and Anca Florescu Abraham, questioned the rationale behind having a long closing time during the day. Why not have parks that are open through the day?

As way of doing something about this, they started what they call Love Your Parks (LYP) Mumbai, an initiative that did not stop with getting the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) to keep its parks open for longer, but sought to address the question of whether “public open spaces” are being put to optimal use.

LYP Mumbai would seek to achieve this through community collaboration, where residents would take stewardship of and promote creative use of public open spaces in Mumbai.

In November 2018, they organised their first event — a community choir at a park — to initiate public dialogue seeking change.

“The best way to protest was to bring music to the park; and more than 200 people turned up for the event,” says Anca, mother of two.

Later, they got permission from the BMC to host regular events at the park. Over the last one year, LYP Mumbai has hosted more than 20 events, bringing people out of their homes for yoga, dance, scavenger hunt and other activities.

Redefining open spaces

“Our idea was to get more people to come to the park and thereby ask for change,” says Anca.

Later, when the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai was taking suggestions from the public for the new open space policy it was framing, LYP represented the voices of many citizens, in the draft. They came out with a draft policy that laid emphasis on accessibility, inclusivity and sustainability. The recommendations included having wide and unobstructed footpaths and safe cycle tracks leading to open spaces; consistent, multilingual and directional signages leading to them; and to keep open spaces unlocked during daylight.

LYP also suggested a 10-minute walk rule whereby every neighbourhood must have access to an open space within an 800m radius or a 10-minute walk from their residence.

“We pushed our recommendations through social media and more than 300 people shared our draft policy with the Corporation,” says Tina.

Efforts by various other citizen groups pushed BMC to effect a few changes.

In August, the BMC tweaked a rule and passed a resolution that open spaces in the city will stay unlocked from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

“BMC recently identified 23 gardens, one in each ward, that will be kept open 24x7 hours,” says Anca.

On the question of safety, Tina says in a city like Mumbai if public spaces are active, then it becomes more safe.

Redefining open spaces

LYP is now working on ensuring information about parks would be placed in the public domain. They have asked for a dedicated App and website whereby citizens can access information about any maintenance work in a park; and also to seek permission and book a slot to conduct a free class or workshop. The digital tools should also provide reliable information on the facilities and activities that can be expected at a park, and also about how to submit a query or file a complaint.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 7:20:41 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/redefining-open-spaces/article30059746.ece

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