WHILE open green spaces are considered the lifeline of urban citizens, Dhaka city is alarmingly losing its parks, playgrounds and other public spaces to people with political and economic leverage or simply because of the negligence and corruption of city officials. Against this backdrop, the right activists’ demand to build community-based parks and playgrounds is legitimate. In a workshop organised by Work for a Better Bangladesh Trust, Health-Bridge Canada, Block by Block and UN-Habitat, as New Age reported on Saturday, right activists placed the demand describing the lack of green space in Dhaka. The participants also pointed out the need for making parks and playgrounds accessible to all citizens, including women, people with disabilities and children. If the designs were made taking the opinions of all, they said, parks and playgrounds of the city would become accessible to all. Even the few parks and playgrounds that exist are also disappearing fast. According to Paribesh Banchao Andolan, of the 47 parks under the city corporations of Dhaka, only a few now exist. Any big city needs enough green space but the demand for open spaces in Dhaka city has been ignored by all authorities for decades.
There is a direct and significant relation, as psychologists and criminologists say, between the frequency of crimes by youth and the number of parks, open spaces and playgrounds in a city. It is evident from the opinion of urban planners and researchers that the government and city authorities seriously lack the political will to reclaim the parks and playgrounds from land grabbers. The land grabbers and developers, using their political influence, are continuously grabbing parks, playgrounds and open spaces in the city. Not only the influential quarters are occupying park areas, in many cases city authorities themselves have set up structures, compromising the main recreational goal of public spaces. In violation of contract, the city authorities have allowed Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority to install pumps inside many parks while clubs have been allowed to construct buildings inside the facilities. Often, the existing open spaces are not maintained properly and occupied by drug addicts, thugs and goons making them inaccessible for ordinary people and children. In 2000, the government enacted a law to maintain playgrounds, open spaces, parks and natural water bodies in municipal areas, but the law is hardly enforced. The much-talked-about master plan for the capital supposedly has clear direction on reclaiming public parks and restoring water bodies, but the authorities have not been sincere about its implementation.
The government, therefore, must reclaim the existing parks, playgrounds and open spaces in the cities from grabbers and prevent any future encroachment. In doing so, the authorities must ensure regular maintenance and security of open spaces. Conscious citizens also have the responsibility to become organised and mount pressure on the government in this regard.
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