Urban Drive Environment

Our time in the sun: why we need open, green spaces now more than ever

I spent last weekend visiting a few of Bengaluru’s many outdoor spaces. Cubbon Park, Lalbagh Botanical Gardens, and the vibrant Church Street. A stark difference from my hometown, Chennai, where aside from the beaches and a few parks, it has little to offer in terms of vast, open spaces. Open areas aren’t just for people to get their time in the sun, but for everyone to come together — be it your neighbourhood florist or a teen in college kickstarting his baking business. Something that was refreshing to see in Bengaluru — from potters and artists displaying their work at the car-free Church Street to children skating and playing at the over 150-acre Cubbon Park.

All through lockdown in 2020 and even in the post-Covid scenario, outdoor spaces have proven to be lifelines across the world. People haven’t headed to a mall or the cinemas first, but to parks and open streets, as they offered what no built structure could: relaxation and a connection with Nature. So, why is this vital aspect of city design ignored in India, a country that has one of the highest population densities in the world?

The 2014 Urban and Regional Development Plans Formulation and Implementation guidelines suggest a norm of 10-12 square metres of open space per person. This means a 25-35% allocation of a city’s area to be earmarked as recreational and open spaces, in addition to environmentally sensitive areas (downtoearth.org.in). Given the fact-paced concretisation of our neighbourhoods over the years, it is no surprise that most Indian cities do not meet the standards of required land cover for recreational spaces.

Large, independent houses have given way to high-rise buildings and apartments for a few years now, and the lesser we see of this trend the better. However, rising levels of population and migration to cities tell a different story and should be proof enough that India’s share of green needs a massive boost.

An article in The Journal of Public Space, titled ‘Green public spaces in the cities of South and Southeast Asia’, talks about how parks compete for space in a city along with ‘...with capitalist-led pressure to build more condominiums and malls on public space as well as the propensity of local governments to erect multipurpose buildings on green spaces.’ The creation of green public spaces is expensive and a great opportunity cost in relation to deals that could instead be made with real estate developers.

Perhaps that’s why The Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins making a case for turning Buckingham Palace into a public space is timely. He addresses how millions of people have found refuge and comfort in parks. ‘...it is surely time for the monarchy to make a gesture. Every dynasty has donated open space to London. The Stuarts gave Hyde Park, the Hanoverians Regent’s Park, Queen Victoria, Epping, and Kensington Gardens. The House of Windsor’s record is bare,’ he writes.

Jenkins also highlights another vital aspect. With many more headed to such places and even other cities and countries in the months to come, how will these spaces cope?

With our cities shrinking, it’s time governments and urban planners took a serious look at what post-pandemic India will be like. Here are my pointers:

- Firstly, give impetus to creating more green spaces and not eat into what’s left after years of building projects in the name of development. The Aarey forest and Mollem are a case in point.

- Look at how accessible these zones are. An area that isn’t safe for women or one that isn’t built keeping in mind the needs of the elderly or the disabled will remain underutilised.

- Create car-free, pedestrian-friendly streets. While it’s followed in a few cities on a small scale, it needs much wider implementation. But with a few tweaks: ensure public transport to access these streets. Driving to a car-free zone and parking in the next street (and causing a traffic jam) is no solution.

- Bring in guidelines that ensure outdoor areas are well maintained. For instance, allowing only a few people at a time, setting time slots, ensuring social distancing, etc. The more spaces there are, the less crowded each is going to be. In Singapore, for instance, there is a government booking system that allows residents to reserve common public infrastructure for temporary private use.

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Printable version | Jun 15, 2021 10:42:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/energy-and-environment/why-open-green-spaces-need-to-be-created-now-more-than-ever/article34105524.ece

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