Let there be open green spaces in cities

The open green spaces are not just the nature reserves, but also serve as a gateway to other needs of the people living in the city. 

Mumbai, the financial capital of India, was in news last year for the protest between the civil society and the government bodies. The reason for the protest was Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation’s (BMC) plan to make Aarey colony one of the limited open green space into a growth hub. Although, BMC’s plan also involved a theme park and various small recreational parks, it was highly opposed by the civic bodies. In order to understand the anger amongst the citizens better it is important to answer the question of what purpose do the open green space serve in a city.

Jacquelin Burgess, Carolyn M. Harrison and Melanie Limb tried to answer this question by looking at the popular meanings and values for open spaces in the city. As per their study, the open green spaces in the city like the parks and natural reserves act as “gateways to a high quality sensory and natural world.”

Their study involved conducting in-depth discussion, neighbourhood based social survey, and interviews. Based on the in-dept study, the authors mention the three important aspects of the role open spaces play in people’s lives:

First, open spaces are experienced holistically as an integral part of the built environment rather than isolated from it. These places include the neighbourhood parks where you go for jogging, the garden in your backyard, the central park in the city like Cubbon Park in Bangalore. The integral nature of such spaces makes them a part of the everyday life of people living in the city.

Second, parks and open spaces are filled with personal and social meanings. The open spaces in the city are havens for social interaction amongst the citizens themselves, and between the citizens and the nature. As the authors of the paper mention, it is in these spots that children can explore, learn and play together in safety, and the adults can come to escape the stressful urban life. Example being the Aarey colony, which has been an important “picnic spot” for decades now.

Finally, beyond and above the previous points, people also look for a variety of environmental features and leisure facilities in open spaces. Generally, people living in the cities also want to experience various aspects of nature not very far from home. Most of the wildlife sanctuaries and National Parks in India cater to this need of the society.

The green spaces in the city are undoubtedly as essential to a city as are the built up spaces. Hence, in this trade off between open space and growth hubs, it is time that proper weightage is given to open spaces. The relevance of these green spaces is best summed up by the authors of the paper.

“The value of green spaces is not to be measured in physical terms: the sum total of acreage or facilities do not provide any indication of the social and symbolic meanings associated with them.”

Devika Kher is a policy analyst at Takshashila Institution. Her twitter handle is @DevikaKher.