Spacing it out for Mumbai

Nov 17, 2018, 08:49 IST | Shunashir Sen

An initiative seeks to bring the best out of Mumbai's parks, by placing the onus of preservation on citizens

Spacing it out for Mumbai
Joggers Park in Bandra West. Pic/Bipin Kokate

Earlier this year, this paper had launched a sustained campaign that laid bare the sorry state of BMC-run public gardens and parks. The mid-day Garden Audit was conducted over three months, backed on data collected from city-wide test drives of these open spaces that exposed a range of issues. These were discussed at a round-table we organised where senior officials from the BMC were brought face-to-face with activists and citizens. Questions were asked, problems were raised, excuses were furnished and solutions were offered. And eventually, the exercise bore fruit. The corporation passed an order on September 21 saying that henceforth, all parks under its fold would remain open from 9 am to noon, and then again from 3 pm to 9 at night. This meant that Mumbaikars could now access these spaces for an extra five hours, since most were earlier open for only seven hours a day. So, it was a win for the city, to reuse our own words.

But even while lamenting its handicaps, the BMC, in a significant statement, had also put the onus on citizens to ensure the health and maintenance of open spaces in Mumbai. An official had told mid-day about how people defiled toilets, for instance, adding, "Some cooperation from citizens will ensure that these parks can be enjoyed for years to come." In other words, sensitising the populace about proper civic behaviour within gardens is the need of the hour. A part of the solution lies in our own hands, after all. And that's why Love Your Parks Mumbai (LYPMumbai) — a community-driven initiative that's in the works — is definitely a step forward in the right direction.

An open mind


Anca Florescu Abraham

It's the brainchild of Tina Nandi Stephens, a photographer, and Anca Florescu Abraham, a Romanian architect who has made the city her home for the past 13 years. Both are young mothers with little children who were left rankled by inane rules like balls of any kind — even if it's a little plastic one, and not a full-blown football — being disallowed within the privately owned Joggers Park in Bandra. "Then there is Bajaj Park in the same neighbourhood, where the moment a child walks on to the grass, a watchman comes running, which stresses the kid out," Abraham tells us, adding that the frustration born out of such unjustifiable regulations is one of the reasons they have embarked on this campaign to make people — and the authorities — rethink the way they approach all open spaces in Mumbai.

Tina Nandi Stephens with her family
Tina Nandi Stephens with her family

So, there is a clear four-pronged goal they have in mind. "First of all, we want to create awareness. Most people don't even know what gems there are in Bombay in the form of small, but beautiful, parks. That's why we are creating a guidebook of sorts in which these will be mapped out. Secondly, we want facilities to be upgraded. Even basic requirements like bathrooms and drinking water are missing sometimes. Thirdly, we want to improve timings. I know that mid-day has also been working on this front, and I see no reason why parks can't be kept open throughout the day. The trees should be used for their shade, right? And fourthly, there is a never-ending list of rules and regulations, which don't actually make sense anymore. They are completely antiquated, and it's about time for us to have a look at them and decide what makes sense and what no longer does," Abraham elaborates.

Community matters
The modus operandi they have thus decided on is to initially organise a flash choir in a Bandra park on December 8, wherein a group of volunteers being trained by city-based Dutch conductor Tristan Knelange will surprise visitors with a sudden musical performance. That same experience will be recreated in a different park on December 14. And the conversation these two events start will then be furthered with activities like story-telling, and art and photography exhibitions held within multiple gardens up until at least February, when the weather is still favourable.

Tristan Knelange conducts the LYPMumbai Chorus
Tristan Knelange conducts the LYPMumbai Chorus

But there is strength in numbers required. When we meet Abraham and Stephens at the Bandra space they are operating out of, around a dozen people are following Knelange's instructions for vocal exercises. It's a start, for sure. But community-driven initiatives ideally need at least hundreds of participants to bear results. So the onus, as the BMC official had made clear, now lies on citizens to join hands with LYPMumbai to actively extend the "cooperation" he had sought. For, it's one thing to grumble about the apathy of the authorities while twiddling thumbs, and another to actually take up the cudgels.

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