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Home Cover Features Parks, Need of the hour - Concluding part

Parks, Need of the hour - Concluding part

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Though the city has seen a flurry of quality parks in the last few years, it is more of buildings, buildings, buildings and traffic, traffic everywhere with little open space. With development everywhere, Hyderabad’s green lung spaces are shrinking and parks barring a few mega ones, are becoming more of garbage dumps; sheltering anti-social elements. Old timers lament the speed of fast vanishing parks, degradation of quality in most parks and the decline of open spaces.

Last month's article focussed on the problems afflicting parks, this month's concluding part talks about the solutions and what the government and we as citizens can do. Read on to find out how you can make a difference!

SOLUTIONS
As Hyderabad struggles each day with issues ranging from air pollution and congestion to sprawl and the loss of open space, the authorities need to work hard and enlist the cooperation of local communities and their leaders to craft local solutions that both enhance the city’s economy and protect the environment. The need of the hour is to build strong, healthy, livable cities with enough lung spaces and parks - where future generations do not feel they must choose between a healthy environment and a strong economy, but understand that without one, we cannot have the other.

Haphazard development, urban disinvestment, and a deteriorating quality of life have led to one what is called simply as "sprawl." Sprawl only paves over the countryside, drains the vitality from our cities, and hurts our quality of life.

Numerous studies have revealed that urban parks and open spaces play a significant role in increasing the health of communities, reducing juvenile crime, increasing educational scores and boosting property values. They have also revealed that city folks rate sprawl as the number one local issue concerning them. This genuine, and quite understandable, worry reflects the reality that in many areas of our city or for that matter all Indian cities. Historically it has been proved that cities grew and prospered where geography, climate, and other natural assets were most favorable. Cities can continue to thrive only by safeguarding the natural resources that are the underpinnings of both their economies and their quality of life.

One solution is to reconnect urban residents to their environment by increasing our investment in the environments closest to them -- urban parks and open spaces. IT professional Suresh Sharma suggests, “Smaller patches of green cover of two to three acres, must be created wherever possible. Native tree species should be used.” His friend interior designer Vinita Kumari recommends, “Government should go in for more partnership with private industry to promote green spaces around the city. Many industrial houses are interested to contribute in such areas. The Government can make use of their interest to build more quality parks or maintain existing ones, from mega to small.” To reduce pollution, language translator Sagar says, “We need to move towards a public transport-based society like Europe, instead of a car-based one like the US. This will help to free up more open spaces, the same of which can be used to build more spacious parks.” HR professional P Nagraj feels, “It’s not just about preserving lung spaces in the city, it’s also about replacing the greenery that’s being displaced thanks to ‘progress’. This has to be a citizen’s initiative. Everyone should plant at least one sapling.”

Apart from being clean and green, parks need to have more facilities and made livelier. Farida Tampal agrees and points out, “Parks need to be made more interactive, so that visitors should be able to take back some new information from these parks. There should be areas demarcated for amusements, food zones, other public utilities like clean toilets, etc. All parks must have a user fee and strict enforcement for any violations should be not in terms of monetary penalisation but in kind viz., cleaning the park, picking up litter, cleaning the place where they have urinated, etc. Those who pay and visit parks do not mind paying fines and getting away. Punishments like the ones mentioned above are a good deterrent.”
Rahul Singhal, a city-based businessman suggests parks need to be placed in the care of better managements even though current ones are quite good. He says, “Management should comprise of individuals who are more in tune with people’s pulse and understand what they want. Mega parks are currently quite well managed, but it’s the smaller ones scattered across the city that needs to be given a strong shake up. I also strongly recommend that offenders must be penalised hard and made to atone for their acts. Another point I suggest is that children’s play-area with proper facilities must be added so that they can spend their time usefully and in fun spirits.”

Dr S Jeevananda Reddy strongly urges that parks need to be kept free of anti-social elements. He says, “When the government is collecting huge charges from the public as entry and other kind of fees, it remains their and park management’s responsibility to ensure that the parks are not kept open free with bushes, etc for anti-social activities. Also, Government must ensure that all new layouts with proper facilities must develop localised parks open to all, free from commercial activities; this is compulsory in the West. I also feel that the existing amenities in parks are not at all adequate.  Unfortunately even where facilities are available they are available for a high price and are within reach of only those with money.”

Vasant Roy agrees with Jeevananda Reddy on the assessment that parks currently, especially smaller ones, have become a haven for anti-social elements. “I have seen several anti-social events taking place and strongly recommend that people who do not adhere to norms of public behaviour must be debarred from entering parks. This will help bring down the ratio of anti-social activities. Also, parks must be made livelier with fun activities, like say music shows and games, etc. Further, there should be quality eating places, restaurants selling eatables at reasonable rates to make the place livelier. In addition, we need to have basic amenities like rest rooms and toilets. Currently city parks are more like silent movie places with no activities. As such there is a crying immediate need to make parks more user friendly, more so, when it comes to old people/senior citizens. We also need more facilities for children - dedicated play areas, swings, slides etc. Its time our authorities take a leaf from western countries where parks are such lively places.”

Security is another factor that needs to be looked at strongly. With the city becoming more susceptible to not only anti-social, but also anti-national activities, authorities must beef up the parks security infrastructure. Dr P Vyasamoorthy suggests, “Mega as well as medium-scale parks need to have more robust security. Look at Lumbini Park, where only after the terror accident; security was brought to decent levels. Strong security teams with latest security gadgets and sound security enclosures are a must for these parks. Already we have lost ample time in this regard and we cannot wait for another terror attack to wake us up. Also, I suggest volunteers, suitably empowered to supervise the maintenance of cleanliness in parks, should be utilized. This may be taken over by interested senior citizens or retired people, since they have time to spare. They should have authority to impose fines or implement other means of compliance. Another factor that I would like authorities to take note of is that initially, when parks are set up the municipality provides complete set of play equipments. But when they are broken and need maintenance, repairs done are woefully inadequate. This should be looked into fast and swift so that children can get back to enjoying them.”

Khanapur Krishna Rao suggests that the Government should involve more and more corporates to build and maintain parks. He points out, “With our huge population we can also have world class parks in our cities and towns like in the West. Where there is a will there is a way. Government and municipalities should identify suitable open lands for this purpose. The same should be developed. But then, as usual the Government will say no funds. Forget it, if that’s the case. Instead they can bank on the corporate world and give them the task to develop with limited rights for their advertisements. There are many corporates like Dr Reddy’s Labs, GVK, GMR, NCC, Satyam, etc who are willing to develop and maintain parks. Let the Government provide open land to them. With good lighting, pathways, rich lawns, ponds, water fountains etc, they will develop the parks and make it a pride for colonies nearby their place. More quality parks will also help in reducing pollution, if any in the area and increase oxygen levels.” He further suggests, “The municipalities should be directed to include the creation of parks compulsorily in their master plans, like it’s done in the West, prescribing the norms for their numbers area wise in acres, locality-wise by passing a suitable legislation that will give teeth for their implementation.”

Collecting reasonable fees allows parks management to beef up their revenues and help upkeep the parks. He agrees with this point and asserts, “Of course, we cannot have free entrance to all parks for users as our country is not a fully developed country to absorb the cost. An entrance fee of one rupee may be levied for each visit. Alternatively a sum of Rs 10 per month can be levied to subsidize the maintenance costs. In Hyderabad some of the parks do not have an entry fee. This must be done away with and if the entry fee policy is strictly implemented all over the country, we will move ahead in the right direction and overall, it will benefit the health of our citizens.”

OTHER CITIES HAVE DONE IT-- WE CAN, TOO
Cities across the world particularly in the developed world, are building parks to attract economic development, and the strategy is working successfully. Chicago transformed 16.5 acres of commuter rail lines, a surface parking lot and another 8 acres of shabby parkland that fronted historic Michigan Avenue into Millennium Park, attracting billions of dollars of new investment. San Jose and Louisville in the U.S. built waterfront parks and attracted about four private investment dollars for every public dollar invested. Parks are good business.

Talking of developed countries cities, why is it that they seem to have plentiful world class parks? And what’s more, even their small parks are far better than our mega parks? Why is it so??  Dr S Jeevananda Reddy answers, “I visited and worked in several developed & developing countries. In U.S.A, the town planning including building activities go as per norms. Violators are punished severely.  Here in Hyderabad, it’s the opposite, law-abiding citizens are punished and violators of law are rewarded handsomely. In the West, while developing a colony, it is mandatory that the developer must provide all types of amenities including children’s play facilities, parks/green belts, etc.  In Hyderabad and Indian cities as a whole, no such provision exists. Rather, all the numerous tall talks of having world class parks, small or big, in every locality, are merely to play to the gallery. What happens? Nothing, the plans are consigned to papers, dumped into folders to gather dust for years and generations in some ruckus of a place in a state department office.”

The difference in civic or for that matter any kind of consciousness, between the Westerners and Indians is so glaring that it’s as wide as the gulf between swanky Madhapur and smelly Dhoolpet. Jeevananda Reddy acknowledges this and opines, “In my opinion, people’s attitudes play a vital role. The Westerners follow rules and keep their surroundings as well as public places clean, but Hyderabadis are famous for subverting rules and follow less than 10% of the rules. They are champs in flouting the rules and they do it in royal style. Another thing about the West is that even children are trained to follow and obey rules. Here, only some children follow rules and that too they are coaxed by their parents to follow them. And the rest flout them and begin their journey to become future champ violators. Also, in India, everything is commercialised with closed enclosures. If we keep the parks open with attendants going round keeping the park clean, the poor as well as rich can have access to the park. Another important issue is maintenance of hygienic toilets in parks, it’s of paramount importance.  We rarely have proper hygiene either in parks or anywhere else as such. Also, in the West general public visit parks but in Hyderabad people are afraid to visit parks because of the prevailing anti-social activities. In the past, Hyderabad was known as city of parks & water bodies. But sadly, now they are not fit to be called as such, as they have turned into commercial activity hubs.” Darshan Goswami who stays in U.S.A. and is an occasional visitor to the city discloses, “Parks in the West are under the jurisdictions of township, or municipalities, who are responsible for maintenance. The parks are kept neat and clean because no person, influential or ordinary, is allowed to either throw litter or urinate not only in parks, but even on or near the streets, highways, roads or just about any public area. There are very heavy fines imposed, on those who throw litter or urinate or spit in the West.”

Farida Tampal, who is a frequent traveller abroad, concurs with Goswami’s views. She states, “Open spaces abroad are very well-kept and guarded very zealously. Most people spend their weekend in such parks and the public utility services provided are properly maintained to facilitate this.” When asked as to what makes them tick, she answers,” These nations are economically ahead than our country and people there are more disciplined than us Indians who do not feel or rather understand that public property like parks etc are developed with the help of tax payer’s money. Even the most educated in India needs more education plus counselling on how to use parks and other such public utilities properly.”

Not only are parks in the West better maintained, the Westerners too help in keeping them well-maintained, driven by a feeling of pride in their cities upkeep and well-being. Dr P Vyasamoorthy adds, “Not only is civic sense among Westerners high, but also punishment for littering and other unhygienic acts are very high. The Westerners appreciate the need for maintaining a certain quality of life. This requirement comes only after basic requirements of food & shelter are met.” Vasant Roy is all praise for the way parks are made available abroad to people and feels, “Parks abroad are definitely cleaner, user friendly and a pleasure to be in.”

Indians are known for keeping their own environs clean and neat. But when it comes to public spaces, they are utterly callous in their civic behaviour and have no qualms in throwing garbage or urinate openly. On the other hand, Westerners treat even the public domain as their own and see to it they are not defaced in any manner. They take pride in their surroundings and have great respect for public facilities. Khanapur Krishna Rao points this out and says, “In the West especially in Canada and United States, I have seen large parks well maintained by the authorities for use by their citizens. Every park has excellent lawns, quality benches to sit and decent eating zones. Also, no vehicles are allowed inside except bicycles of small children. The parks beauty is further enhanced by water fountains, ponds with live fish, ducks etc, and play-tools for children with very good flowering trees.”

GHMC ON THE MOVE
The last few years have definitely seen GHMC (Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation) take a lot of initiatives to restore back the city’s lung space, but a lot more needs to be done particularly in residential localities, that are present in less posh areas like Sultan Bazar, Malakpet, Koti, Old City, etc. It has identified over 50 vacant lands in Banjara Hills and Jubilee Hills to be developed as parks or playgrounds as per the need and requirement of local residents. After their identification, ex-GHMC Commissioner C.V.S.K.Sarma had instructed officials to construct compound walls for all the identified properties on top priority basis, provide water fountains, waterfalls, good lighting and solicit the advice of hydrologists for identification of groundwater for the development of such parks.

The citizens of Hyderabad can rejoice in the fact that they will soon have additional lung space to breathe fresh air. The Municipal Corporation proposes to create a Rock Garden-cum-Theme Park with boating facilities called a “Designer Garden”, on a 35-acre land between Jubilee Hills and Toli Chowki. According to senior officials of GHMC, plans for the proposed garden are getting ready and work would begin soon. The six-crore project will be a blend of Shilparamam and NTR gardens, which have become major tourist destinations. This park will have restaurants, water theme zones and pathways. However, the GHMC is yet to decide whether it would be a pay and use park like the Brahmananda Reddy Park or the NTR gardens. The authorities feel that the possibility of making it into a pay and use park is more probable. It’s heartening to note that even the GHMC is of the opinion that more and more such parks would not only add to the beauty of the city but would also help in improving the ecology of the city.

Recently, the city saw two excellent parks, one at Narayanguda and another at NGOs' Colony, Vanasthalipuram. Both have beautiful landscape gardens on a well-spread mass of land with shrubbery entry banquet garden, joggers' pathway, swimming pool, children's play area and many other attractions. Five more parks are slated to come up in Vanasthalipuram for creating the much-needed lung space. Work on all the parks has started and they would be ready by Diwali this year. In addition to this a sprawling 47-acre park is being planned in Autonagar, an area which was earlier a massive garbage dump.

GHMC authorities must be complimented for conceiving SKVBR (Sri Kotla Vijaya Bhaskar Reddy) Botanical Garden or Kothaguda Botanical Garden. Spread over 128 acres of reserved forest area in Kothaguda, just two kilometres from Madhapur, this delightful garden is a mix of developed and wild landscape. Laced with some truly exotic tree species and fauna and an artificial lake, it is a boon to the city that is so hung up on malls, multiplexes, amusement and theme parks. Top off it, it is also untouched (thankfully, so far!!) by the disease of neglect and decay that characterises a majority of the parks in the city. Very well-tended and professionally managed, it is a fine example of how an eco-tourism property can be developed and maintained.

To quicken up the need for more quality parks across every nook and corner of the city, the new HMDA could do very well to chart a new beginning and break from the past by creating a task force on ‘Liveable Communities’. The task force can work with various development agencies to expand the choices available to communities, to revitalize the city and its suburbs; encourage new investments; bring historic neighbourhoods back to life; develop alternative transportation methods; increase regional cooperation; protect the environment; create parks; preserve open spaces; and foster smarter growth. The task force could form a high-powered committee to oversee how funds are spent and used to support projects such as parks, high-occupancy vehicle lanes, ridesharing, bicycle and pedestrian paths, improved transit facilities, and scenic beautification.

As the pressure on any city to go vertical increases, the need to make space for greenery and lung space also increases. These issues may seem insignificant, but they are not. The authorities constantly need to come up with innovative ways to keep our city green and healthy.

FINAL POINT
Besides the vital environmental aspects, parks with green spaces give a city a unique character and something special to its citizens — a visual treat and place to relax. Interior designer Sabita Reddy speaks of her recent experience of New York’s Central Park. “There’s a lake with benches around it, an area where musicians can play, a kids’ theme park, a rollerblading area and a jogging track. There are zones for different purposes and it’s all beautifully maintained. Also, Central Park is a sight for sore eyes after the concrete and traffic of Manhattan. It’s well-designed with the purpose of attracting tourists and residents alike.” Asked about other cities she has visited, she replies, “Even Kuala Lumpur and Singapore have green pockets that welcome tourists as they land. It’s all been thought and implemented. A city like Paris might have a lot of concrete, but also has perfectly maintained green spaces along the Champs Elysees and the Seine. Every town should have spaces like that, just small landscaped spots.”  It’s every Hyderabadi’s fervent wish that such kind of initiatives are attempted with success by city’s municipal administration.

Says Sameer Khan, an architect, “Green areas should not exist just in pockets, but should be inter-related like a necklace, so people can locate green areas within a 200-metre radius.” Asked which city has integrated green spaces most perfectly with structured growth? “London,” he says, “but I do believe India can be better.”

German cities, for instance, maintain 40-45 per cent green cover, while Hyderabad has barely 7-8 per cent. This wide gulf should be corrected by our authorities. The need of the hour is to have more and more parks. Not only do urban parks improve air quality, create habitat for wildlife, reduce storm water runoff, and cool the temperatures of heat islands in the city, they also most importantly provide that vital place for children to play and their parents to relax. They function as areas where people can get to know each other as neighbors in safe settings. Not everyone can go to spas or luxurious theme parks to get away from the hustle-bustle of city grind, but they all can go to and enjoy themselves in one place and that’s parks, isn’t it??

Simply put, urban parks act as the cornerstones of vital, healthy urban communities.
The United States celebrates an annual event called ‘National Park(ing) Day’ every year. It’s a concept created by San Francisco art collective Rebar in 2005 to re-imagine the potential of the metered parking space; create temporary parks in public parking spaces. In 2006, in collaboration with TPL (Trust for Public Land), REBAR founded "PARK(ing) Day": a global exploration of the creative potential of streets. Coming to Trust for Public Land (TPL), what’s it? It’s a US non-profit, land conservation organization that conserves land for people to enjoy as parks, community gardens, historic sites, rural lands, and other natural places, ensuring liveable communities for generations to come. The goal of ‘National Park(ing) Day’ is to celebrate parks and promote the need for more parks in America’s cities. Today, American cities are renewing their investments in parks since their civic leaders have come to recognize that close-to-home parks, gardens, and playgrounds are essential to not only make their cities just liveable, but also lovable.

Why not have such events in India? Hyderabad can take the lead in this respect since such kind of events would not only inculcate among our authorities the urgent need for more and more quality parks for a liveable lifestyle, but also would help in instilling in Hyderabadis a feeling of pride for our city. 
Recently, British researchers have revealed that creating more parks and green spaces in urban areas could cool cities by up to 4°C – possibly enough to offset the warming from climate change. More parks mean more green space, and more natural space and that’s vital to a city’s ecosystem. Today more than ever, quality parks are the need of the hour for they give the city that vital ingredient called “LUNGS."

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