I wonder how I will answer my child when he asks why the taxi parking lot is called Children’s Park. Over the years, Gangtok has developed in leaps and bounds – by that, I mean developed into an urban shanty (as an architect friend of mine remarked when he visited Gangtok). The land is premium and every square inch has been utilised to build large concrete structures of progress. Building stacked one over another. Is this what we want our children to inherit?
In Gangtok, we often complain that our children do not want to go outdoors and that they spend a lot of time in front of the Idiot box or playing PlayStations or computer games or Mobile phones. The menace of gaming is eating our present generations and we have no one to blame but ourselves.
We boast about how we used to be outdoors during our holidays when we were younger – how we loved flying kites or playing marbles and then lament over why our children do not want to do the same. However, upon contemplating it, the answer is simple. There are simply no playgrounds or open spaces for children to play. We see every space as a building space or a parking space.
Most children stay indoors in their rooms with mobile phones or computers. Nuclear families, study pressure etc., have further created this disconnect in cities. Most do not want to socialise with their families. All this may manifest into acute depression in the future. It is a silent but growing depression. Public and urban spaces have always been found to be useful in preventing this menace.
A Personal Experience
Some eight years back, my son used to study in a relatively small school. He was in love with the school and didn’t want to transfer to another because then, he would have to leave his friends.
When we first arrived at Tashi Namgyal Academy, he was not happy. We literally had to pull him inside the gate when we took him along to show the campus and procure the admission forms. He had to be nudged, tugged and pulled. His unwillingness was made us a bit wary of whether we should stick to our decision of changing his school.
After the formalities, we took him to the junior block, showed him the classrooms. By then, he was in tears. We told him that the school also had a playground. As soon as we said that his eyes blinked – he was interested! Taking the clue from his changed behaviour, we took him towards the TNA playground. His steps became lighter. He walked faster.
As soon as he saw the playing space, he was wonderstruck. He raced inside the playground, took a maiden run and sprinted back to us. He was all in smiles. Gasping for breath, he said, ‘Yes! I want to study in this school!’ What all our coaxing, pleading and explanations had failed to convince him – a playground did the trick.
The M. G. Marg Experience
The M.G. Marg is a respite from the clogged roads of Gangtok. And boy, how we love it in its present form! How we love strolling the well-lit streets or sitting on its benches or how we feel pride when we showcase this possession of Gangtok to our guests who visit from other places.
A little thought and effort were all it took to create a breathtaking breathing space for market-goers. This is real urban development. This is what we mean by quality of life. Initially, there was a lot of resistance since people did not think it was correct as it could hamper businesses or make it difficult for people to shop, but they slowly understood the value of this place and voila!
In no time the crowded and crammed, vehicle populated road was transformed into India’s best M. G. Road (considering that every city in India has a road by that name).
Here are some suggestions that I believe could be helpful in planning new spaces:
- With the Smart City plan, the planners could try and create some open urban spaces for the general public within the city. Restrict government building within the city in the plan. Work with the UDHD and Municipal bodies to try and have a park in every ward. (The one above Palzor stadium is a good example) .
- Upgrade existing urban spaces like Guards Ground.
- The space above Kanchenjungha Shopping Complex and Children’s Park has the potential to be converted into a good open space rather than being used for ‘melas’ or become a hub for other menaces.
- Many institutions have unused playgrounds after school hours. Try and work out with management committees to open up these places for children and the general public so that everyone has a stake in it. Together, we could maintain the sanctity of the place and also have a playground.
- Think of open spaces beyond car parks (today even the ridge road is crammed with parking spots).
- Parents should encourage children to go out and play. Also, make hikes and treks the ‘in-thing’.
Conclusion Urban spaces are not a ‘nice thing to have” but is of utmost necessity and a basic human need. Green spaces or open spaces also become a place where we meet people and make friends (ask the people who simply wave at each other during morning walk even if they do not know each other). It implies that even a causal link provides social integration and well-being. On one hand, an individual sense of belonging to the city and the society is created and on the other, it also hones the social skills of Children and provides space for physical activity.
By Satyadeep S Chettri. The writer is a regular columnist and can be contacted at email@example.com )
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