Open spaces at a premium

Public spaces were earlier related to social spaces such as temple grounds, paddy fields, river banks etc., the concept of which has changed with time. But new ones have failed to evolve. Now, the government is coming up with reforms for reviving public spaces

Updated - July 22, 2022 12:33 pm IST

Published - July 21, 2022 08:15 pm IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM:

Open spaces in Kerala. File Photo.

Open spaces in Kerala. File Photo. | Photo Credit: Thulasi Kakkat

Open spaces in Thiruvananthapuram city have disappeared alarmingly with time. As per the Urban and Regional Development Plans Formulation and Implementation (URDPFI) guidelines brought out by the Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, open spaces can include recreational space, organised green, and other common open spaces such as vacant lands, floodplains, and forest cover in plain areas.

The master plan for the city reveals that the area under parks and open spaces in 1990 was 8% of the total area of 141.74 sq km. By 2012, the total area of the city was 215.86 sq km, but only 0.54 sq km was left as parks and open spaces. 

With a population of 9,86,578 as per the 2011 Census, the per capita availability of green spaces that include parks, stadium, and beaches was a measly 2.23 sq m in the city. However, the URDPFI guidelines recommend 10-12 sq m of open space per person. 

Manoj Kumar Kini, managing director, Kerala Tourism Infrastructure Ltd., who is part of a Public Works Department team preparing a vision plan for Kerala on infrastructure, says earlier public spaces were related to social spaces such as temple grounds, paddy fields, river banks and ghats. This concept of social public spaces changed with time, but new public spaces failed to evolve. Technology too had an impact on social engagement. 

The State government, he says, has now taken public space as a major concern. Accordingly, the PWD is coming up with reforms for reviving public spaces. Many parks and open spaces have been identified that will become a part of the public space network. There is also a need to foster a culture of flocking to these urban green spaces for lunch breaks, walks, games, cycling, and catching up. This is important for a healthy living, both physical and mental. Small public spaces will be identified and integrated. Even waterbodies such as ponds need to be revamped, he says. 

Jacob Easow, former chief town planner, says the city’s generic floor area ratio of four instead of the usual 1.5 to 2, is responsible for encroachment on open spaces in low-lying areas and their conversion. It also leads to an increase in land prices. Neither environmental nor town planning policies are followed in such instances. 

The city has limited public spaces such as museum and zoo, Kanakakkunnu, and Shanghumughom beach. Most of these remain crowded, while smaller spaces do not enjoy adequate patronage. Open spaces in areas such as Akkulam and Shanghumughom are allowed to have built structures.  

But more worrying than shrinking public spaces is the fact that such spaces are being paved with tiles in the name of beautification, rues Anitha S. of Tree Walk.

As a result, the services performed by these spaces are rendered worthless. The smell of the first showers, for instance, is lost. Open spaces in schools other than playgrounds are also being tiled or built upon to have a cleaner look. However, these deprive students of the priceless feeling of greenery or vastness. Green open spaces also reduce the urban heat island effect, and improve air quality, she says. 

Restrictions on use of existing open spaces also keep away the common man, says Federation of Residents’ Associations Thiruvananthapuram chairperson M.S. Venugopal citing the examples of Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium or the Thycaud police grounds.  

Absence of footpaths makes it difficult to conduct heritage or other group walks during the day, laments Bina Thomas Tharakan of Heritage Walk. Vendors have occupied most footpaths and zebra crossings more often than not do not have markings, forcing walkers to wade through vehicle traffic.

Transportation experts admit the footpaths are not pedestrian-friendly. Electric poles, roadside vendors, shop extensions, public protests and the like put footpaths out of bounds for pedestrians.  

While there is a good network of footpaths along the 42 km of city roads maintained by the Kerala Road Fund Board, it is not the case elsewhere. Land acquisition troubles prevent construction of footpaths which has of late led to foot overbridges on some crowded stretches. But compared to subways, they are less popular, especially among senior citizens, and are inaccessible to the differently abled. 

Sindhu Sudevan, Thiruvananthapuram district unit of the All-Kerala Wheel Chair Rights Federation, says she is tired of petitioning authorities pressing for more differently abled friendly facilities in the city.  

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