Play is the work of children. It’s very serious stuff.
And serious it is! Children playgrounds and open parks are increasingly becoming difficult to spot in our urbanised congested cities. The buildings are clamouring for space and shooting upwards; the streets are widening, and highways are almost knocking on our doors to accommodate the vehicles and ongoing traffic.
In all of this urban mess, where are the open green spaces that breathe life into the utter chaos? Where is the innocence of childhood that swings carelessly and slides away from all troubles?
Let me take you for a walk through the metropolitan city of Chennai, which thankfully can boast of 578 parks within the city limits, a feat that needs to be applauded and appreciated.
The Greater Chennai Corporation or GCC can be credited for its initiative of building and maintaining park areas within the city.
An official of GCC told The Better India, “578 parks in Chennai have been created by GCC for the public. All these parks have been developed by GCC. At present, 40 parks have been handed over to various agencies for adoption and maintenance for one year which would be renewable every year based on the maintenance performance.”
So who decides where to construct a park? The GCC primarily makes these decisions, based on the availability of vacant OSR (Open Space Reservation) land. According to the specifications of the Chennai Metropolitan Development Authority or CMDA, an open space area for the community should be reserved for a building or development plot area exceeding 3,000 sq m. The main purpose of this is to use the area for recreational purposes or community needs of the resident’s association. According to GCC officials, residents or residential welfare associations too can request the corporation for parks.
Besides, 38 new parks are under creation under the Atal Mission For Rejuvenation And Urban Transformation (AMRUT) scheme, to be completed and open for public use by the end of this financial year. A budget of eight crores has been set aside for this scheme.
The GCC, of course, has set its targets and like all cities, the planning and maintenance of parks is a significant duty. However, unlike, say, Delhi, which is famous for its historic gardens, or Kolkata which is blessed with the central Maidan area or Chandigarh which is a planned city, Chennai does not have similar advantages.
Thus, the effort of actually building parks around residence complexes or converting available OSR into parks is a conscious decision undertaken by locals as well as the government.
However, on the other hand, it is estimated that Chennai has only 0.81sq m of open space per capita, which is low compared to other metropolitan cities. Officials argue that this number is a lower estimate since major open areas such as the Guindy National Park are designated as protected areas.
Also, Chennai is nowhere near the top 10 green cities in India, in fact, only a little about 2% has a green cover, as opposed to 33% as per the National Forest Policy.
But essentially, not all parks have a healthy green cover. Earlier, designated park areas were usually constructed with concrete and shrubs provided for the only greenery. However, this is changing where officials look to keep at least 70% of the park area under green cover and the remaining 30% for children’s equipment, furniture, walking tracts and more. Read the 2016 report published in The Times of India.
Not delving too deep into numbers, let me say this. I have been living in Chennai for the past eight years and only when I began to take my child outside the home to play, did I realise that the city had quite a few of them. In most areas that I frequented, I was pleasantly surprised to see an open gate park area, which had its stock of swings, slides, see-saws, benches and walking paths. Some were small and sufficient for the adjoining residence complexes, whereas, others were big enough to accommodate people from other localities as well.
The parks are not only a good source of play-time for toddlers and children but also act as leisurely walk areas for the elderly and in many cases also as exercising zones for fitness enthusiasts. Nageswara Rao Park is a perfect example of how a park is a place for the culmination of many things.
As Sangeetha, a frequent visitor to the park says, “It is refreshing to come here. The kids enjoy playing, and I can do a quick walk myself.”
A shed area within the park is a common place for youngsters and groups to practice their various art forms of dance and drama. The open badminton court area is often active with people forming pairs and enjoying a game or two with the racquet. However, what strikes most is the little gym area very recently opened within the park which is a great place for people to flex their muscles for free. This very recent development was a sweet, pleasant surprise for the park visitors.
Needless to say, though some of the bigger parks are maintained and regularly upgraded, like the Nageswara Rao Park, Semmozhi Poonga (a botanical garden set up by the Horticulture Department, which boasts of a variety of flora) or the Guindy National Park. However, there are lesser known local parks that take the brunt of negligence and may consequently lose out on their true essence.
A local park in Santhome area, for example, is in sad shape, with almost every play item distorted or broken.
The slides are damaged, some have the ladder missing and the see-saws precariously hinged.
Similarly, the play park a little away from the main Secretariat area lacks tree shade and looks almost like a decrepit desert zone, with the slides and swing poles standing out like cacti.
As mentioned by a GCC official, “The parks are inspected regularly by the Park overseer on alternate days. In addition to this, the concerned Assistant Engineers (AEs), Assistant Executive Engineer (AEEs), and Executive Engineer (EEs) inspect the parks periodically.”
It is heartening to see green spaces within the city and more so when they also incorporate children’s play areas. With many newly-constructed apartments making it mandatory for play areas to be a part of the complex, the future doesn’t look too bleak.
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As concerned citizens, if you find any parks near your locality or elsewhere that need attention, post your grievances online at www.chennaicorporation.gov.in or through the 1913 complaint cell.
(Written by Tasneem Sariya and Edited by Shruti Singhal)
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