THE limited number of parks and playgrounds that exist in the capital has been inaccessible to the public as the city authorities have kept them closed for renovation. A photograph that New Age published on Saturday shows children playing on a road at Hazribagh as the nearby playground has been made out of bounds for years. In 2017, the Dhaka South City Corporation began renovating 18 parks and 11 playgrounds with an estimated Tk 200 crore. The project completion deadline has since then been extended twice and the cost icnreased to Tk 343 crore, with about 30 per cent of the work still being incomplete. Similarly, in 2018, the Dhaka North City Corporation started renovating 22 open spaces and the work was scheduled to be completed by March 2019. Work on only four parks has so far been completed. Dhaka’s north mayor blamed the COVID-19 outbreak for the delay as the work has been suspended since March.
There are 70 public parks and playground in city. Keeping to the detailed area plan of the Dhaka city, a neighbourhood with 12,500 people needs at least two playgrounds, each measuring an acre. City people in reality have per capita space less than one-ninth of what the World Health Organisation suggests. The city has lost its open space to unplanned development, illegal occupation and the commercial use of parks and playgrounds. Government agencies and influential quarters have used open spaces compromising their recreational goals. Experts have repeatedly urged the government to create open spaces as physical exercise is crucial for growing children and ageing population. In the COVID-19 outbreak, when people are asked to avoid crowded streets, open spaces are only options to maintain physical fitness without risking virus infection. Many, especially people with non-communicable diseases have already complained about the lack of access to greenery and the way it has been impacting their ailing health.
While open green spaces are considered the lifeline of urban citizens, cities are alarmingly losing their parks, playgrounds and other public spaces to people with political and economic clout or because of the negligence of city authorities. The government must, therefore, immediately take initiatives to expedite the renovation and ensure an unhindered public access. It must take steps to reclaim illegally occupied open spaces. In the COVID-19 outbreak, the need for green open space is more important for physical fitness. In the name of renovation, such protracted restrictions on access to public parks is unacceptable.
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