Another mega park, but what are the real benefits?
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav shared this photo on his Facebook page yesterday, with the title- “I would like to share with you the first exclusive pictures of Janeshwar Mishra Park. This 400 acre Global Standard park has a beautiful walkway, water bodies, jogging track, cycling track, landscaping and much more.”
This park, being developed in the Gomti Nagar area of Lucknow, is modeled on London’s Hyde Park and will cost Rs 168 crore to build. Akhilesh Yadav takes pride in highlighting the green-ness of this grandiose scheme from the erstwhile Chief Minister Mayawati’s much-touted Ambedkar Park, which was widely criticized for taking the form of an infrastructure project strewn with stone structures and little greenery. A news item says the park will have “beautiful landscapes, two huge ponds spread over 38 acres, golf course, horse riding trail, lakes, sports centre, gymnasium, cycle track, jogging track, theme gardens, children’s play area, lawns etc.”
I grew up in Lucknow and have strong linkages with the city. My attachment to Lucknow urges me to ask three questions.
1- Do these large park projects really mean the creation of city commons? Or are they exclusive gated spaces more accessible to the elite and subtly less accessible to the poor?
2- Whose land was this and the older park developed on? Were there slum evictions involved? Akhilesh Yadav has made a press statement that implies that the park was conceived to “save the land from land mafia”? What does that even mean?
3- How does a city that desperately needs affordable housing justify a project that not only consumes a large tract of valuable land but also is sure to push property values and housing costs further up?
To offer a background, Lucknow has the dubious reputation of being a city that is in denial of the existence of slums! The municipal corporation doesn’t report any slums in the Census 2011! Yet, the State urban Development Authority estimated in 2000 that 11% of the city lived in slums. In the absence of any substantial addition in the housing stock of EWS/LIG homes in the city and with continued increase in urban population (decadal growth rate has been around 40% for the past decade), one can only imagine that those living in substandard housing with insecure tenure would have increased, not come down to zero.
While I very much appreciate the creation of green infrastructure and open space in the city, I see the park as another proof that city governments in India are obsessed with beautification projects and have very little vision or interest in what the city actually needs. I would have much appreciated the integration of such a project with meaningful amenities for the city. Golf courses (the city already has a functional golf club) and horse riding are clearly exclusive. Why not a govt-run public sports complex instead, open air gyms and an urban forest, not manicured lawns? I would be curious to see what the park’s designers (I believe they are from IIT Kanpur for hydrology and SPA, New Delhi for design and layout) have to say about its impacts on the city’s air pollution or groundwater levels. Despite its multiple ‘green’ features, I would like to ask whether their plan relates to the city’s needs for environmental sustainability. Also, was there any public consultation on what kind of public space the residents want or need?
Plea to Akhilesh
To the CM, I would like to offer a piece of advise. Move the propaganda around these mega park projects moves beyond beautification and to the real stuff. I know you will not answer my provocative questions about urban poverty and elitism, but do ask your PR department to talk about the real benefits of this park if indeed there are any. We, the public, would be very happy to know how this beautiful park will contribute to a more sustainable, economically strong and socially inclusive Lucknow.
I turned 37 two days ago. On that day, I was in Chandigarh enveloped in the warm love of dear friends who have been, for the most part, closer than family and the lucky recipient of the unadulterated affection of my two most wonderful children. Considering I was born in that city, I could not help thinking that life keeps coming back in full circles, again and again. These were the tree lines beautiful avenues where I spent the first few years of my life. Despite its inevitable expansion, Chandigarh retains its laid back feel and its vast, accessible public spaces give it a special charm. No other city in India that I have visited comes close to Chandigarh in the sheer amount of green open space available to citizens to walk, play and lounge as they feel fit. Those who live here are cognizant of the huge advantage they have and are reminded of their luck each time they leave town, so I am told.
We stayed the weekend with Nupur’s sister and her family in Sector 30 and the park right next door to her home became our first port of call. Naturally, for Aadyaa is an ardent park lover. And if the park has swings and jungle gyms in it, no force on earth can keep her away! As soon as we dumped our bags at home and gulped down our evening tea, Aadyaa has dragged us down there and passed her infectious enthusiasm to her brother as well. Nupur and me spent an hour watching the kids go up and down the slide over and over again, make friends with the local children and also observe interesting turf wars with them, fortunately none of which ended in fisticuffs!
Next to the slides, a group of young men were playing soccer. They seemed to be members of the local RSS Shakha, a thought that was confirmed when I was woken up the next morning by the chants and shouts of their weekend morning lessons! Mothers sat on park benches nearby, while others watched their kids from inside their homes while they cooked dinner. Men played cards in a corner, some people were engaged in a brisk walk around the park. I heard from didi that the sector had mixed income residents, living in employee housing for officer level as well as Class 3, Class 4 workers from government departments. The mixed income character is critical from the point of view of the usage of public spaces. The sheer vibrance of the neighborhood park Aadyaa chose to play could not be compared to the rather bland nature of the larger, better maintained sector park nearby that boasted some decent walking paths and a musical fountain that played Punjabi music!
Other highlights of the Chandigarh visit were the Rock Garden, Sukhna Lake and Sector 17 market (sataara, as Udai correctly picked up!) and I will blog about those experiences as well. The first evening spent soaking the the green open spaces and the fresh nippy air was, however, the best of all!