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Friday, March 9, 2012

Let’s give ourselves the space we deserve

If there's one aspect of city life that has upset Mumbaikars the most over the years, it is the poor availability of open spaces. There aren't enough parks to stroll in, grounds to play on, or beaches and promenades to simply unwind. 

    Open spaces like gardens, waterfronts and green patches not only positively affect the physical well-being of citizens, they also help soothe the stresses and strains of the 24x7 life in a metro. Health experts agree that playing in the outdoors not only takes children away from their sedentary lifestyle but also teaches them how to interact with nature, 
develop friendships and become independent. 
    On the face of it, the BMC's open space policy says there are 2,398 spaces reserved for gardens, parks, playgrounds and recreation grounds in the city. In reality, not even 50% of the reserved open spaces (a mere 19 sq km or 2.1% of Mumbai's land mass) has been acquired by the BMC. When a team of city architects led by P K Das traced 2,053 of the 'open' spaces, it found a quarter encroached upon. Another survey, by the Urban Design Research Institute five years ago, found that 45% of the city's open spaces had been completely or partially cov
ered up or encroached upon. 
    Whatever the figure, the crime is obvious: There are several open spaces out there, but they are not being acquired as green lungs for the city. Meanwhile, many of them fall prey to illegal slums and land sharks. 
    The Times of India seeks to open a debate on not just the complaints against such official apathy, but also on the solutions offered by citizens, professionals, social organizations and governmental agencies. In TOI's 'Mumbai For Me' campaign, we seek to bring together various sections of society to discuss how the quality of life can be improved by en
hancing the availability and quality of open spaces. 
    Das and his team have drawn up a plan that seeks not only to protect and develop reserved open spaces, but also develop public areas along lakes, ponds, beaches, hills, mangroves, promenades and other green zones. It seeks to create and integrate open spaces in a manner that they "intermingle with daily life", says Das. (An exhibition of the team's solutions will run at the NGMA from March 15.) 
    There is no reason why a city with a wealth of untapped reserved areas, a national park within the municipal limits, a 34-km coastline, a profusion of beaches, lakes, and creeks, and promenades with world-class potential, has to languish in congested and concretized confines that offer just 0.03 acre of open space to every 1,000 people. 
    That sorry figure was computed 40 years ago, when Mumbai had a population of a little under 9 million. Today's 12.4 million Mumbaikars must demand the environment and atmosphere they deserve.

TOI will help debate the solutions to Mumbai's lack of open spaces


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