The Breathing Space exhibition held over the weekend at the Mahalaxmi racecourse, saw a crisp presentation on Saturday evening, when a number of speakers talked about what open spaces mean to them. The venue, SoBo’s most coveted open space, was symbolic of the need to preserve and fight to conserve whatever little fragments of open space the city has left.
Vivek Jain chairman, RWITC when asked whether it was ironical that the racecourse was holding an event on preserving green spaces, when the land itself is being eyed for ‘development’ said, “that’s the whole point. To communicate and inform people to keep the race course open and green, and away from land sharks. We especially want the centre of the race course to be untouched.” In addition, Jain said that Tribe@Turf, an RWITC initiative, wants to play a leadership role on causes relevant and necessary for Mumbai.
Milind Deora, while stating that the issue of open spaces must be politicized so that it receives the attention it deserves, touched a chord when he shed off the political speak and talked about his childhood. “I remember there was a garden opposite to where I stayed at Breach Candy when I was a child. Today, a tower has replaced that. I am sure we all have such memories,” he said to the audience at the member’s lawn of the Mahalaxmi racecourse .
Neera Punj convenor, Citispace said that open spaces were a “necessity” not a “luxury” and added that the global yardstick was 14 sq feet of open space for one person. “We had insisted that the BMC and corporators come here to be part of the exhibition but maybe the reporters will do their job and the politicians will read the reports,” she added. Nayana Kathpalia, co-convenor, Citispace said that, “We had reached out to political parties time and again to make open spaces a part of their manifesto during election time. However, somehow this has not got the support it deserved. We need the support of citizens at the ground level too.”
Kathpalia cited a few examples of skewed thinking with reference to open spaces. “Some time ago, somebody came up with the idea of creating a Persepolis in the open space at the Dadar Parsi Colony. Then, somebody went to New York and saw Central Park. Politicians decided they wanted to recreate Central Park in Mumbai and wanted to join Azad Maidan, Cross Maidan and Oval Maidan for that purpose.
These are the ad hoc, random thoughts authorities often tout, instead of a holistic vision for the city. In Kandivali, one recreation ground was turned into a wedding ground. When there were objections it was said that the ground could be used for religious functions for a set number of days a year.
When asked how a wedding was a religious function, activists were told: pandit hai, havan hai, it is a religious function,” she said to laughs from the audience. Last up, it was Leslie Lewis, singer who sang four songs, “not a full-fledged performance which would be for two hours,” one in particular to make this a better world for children. He egged the audience on, to clap and sing with him, rounding off the last song saying in Marathi jocularly, “What are you all clapping here for? Go on home now.”