Who owns Bengaluru’s playgrounds? Do the city’s urban planners and developers see free access to open spaces such as playgrounds as basic rights of citizens? Are playground spaces set aside as dedicated areas for public access?
In the public space discourse, why do parks get more attention than playgrounds? More importantly, as the city’s population has exponentially grown to about 13.1 million people in 2022, has the city planned its public spaces to accommodate playgrounds?
The Open City Data suggests that many wards – Kempegowda, Chowdeswari, Kuvempu Nagar, T Dasarahalli, Nagavara, Kacharkanahalli, Kadugondanahalli, Kushal Nagar, Gangenahalli, Peenya Industrial Area, Malleshwaram, Benniganahalli, Hudi, Devasandra, Ramaswamy Palya, Jaya Mahal, Garudachya Palya, Kadugodi, Marathahalli, HAL Airport, Jeevanbhima Nagar, Bharathi Nagar and Shivaji Nagar – have zero sq m allotted as public space for ‘playgrounds’.
Right to playgrounds
David Harvey, a renowned urban theorist whose conceptualisation of the Right to City is oft quoted in discussions on urban planning, suggests that “the right to the city is far more than individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. (This) freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.”
Keeping this definition in the background, it is pertinent to question if Bengaluru’s citizens, especially its younger population, have this freedom? That is, their right to have adequate playgrounds and access to them.
Apparently not, it would seem. It has taken much effort from individuals, and civic groups to ensure that at least some lakes and parks are looked after – either by the BBMP or in collaboration with civic forums. But in creating and maintaining parks, it is observed that playgrounds don’t always get enough attention.
The playground in Pallavi’s life
Citizen Matters spoke with Pallavi S associated with the Dream a Dream, an organisation, which focuses on after-school Life Skills Programmes and Career Connect Programmes for marginalised communities. Pallavi, who lives in the Bommanahalli area of Bengaluru, initiated the negotiation of retrieving a playground in her neighbourhood that the government wanted to sell it to private builders to build an apartment complex.
In her capacity as a facilitator, Pallavi started holding conversations with local community leaders and legislators about the importance of the playground for the growth of a child’s learning abilities. Pallavi managed to persuade the legislators to use Rs 12 lakh of their own funds to upgrade and maintain the playground after inviting them to a few life skills sessions. Bommanahalli neighbourhood’s 12–15 schools currently share this playground.
“The Bommanahalli playground is part of my identity,” said Pallavi. “I learnt my life and leadership skills because of this ground. People in my community respect and listen to me today because of the ground.” Pallavi, a Dalit Christian, found her identity, dignity and livelihood as a football coach at this playground. “Today I am a leader in my community and want to make leaders here,” she adds. “I feel very happy and satisfied to see a ground full of children and adults coming and playing sports.”
Pallavi’s campaign also highlighted another unfortunate aspect–that playgrounds have become gendered spaces, generally associated with boys and men. And their disappearance could adversely affect the already negligible public space available to women.
Paucity of space
While talking about the overarching urban planning model of Bengaluru, a faculty member at the R V College of Architecture, Bengaluru who did not want to be named, says: “As per the consecutive master plans for Bangalore, all planned layouts must have 15% land allotted for open spaces and another 10% land allotted for civic amenity sites, which cover a vast range of public and semi-public civic facilities (including parks and playgrounds). Many of these open spaces are used as playgrounds until they get partially or fully converted to a park or some civic amenity. In other instances, part of the open tract is developed as a gated park while the rest is maintained as a playground. Also, BBMP maintains the city’s parks while BDA is in charge of civic amenity sites. Therefore, one sees several variations in public open spaces across the city.
“Also, one resident’s need for a green park with a tot-lot and walking path, should not have to compete with another resident’s need for a playground for sports activities. However, the paucity of public open spaces and resources to maintain them, contribute significantly to competing claims by different user groups. ”
“Unfortunately, this is a sad state of affairs that playgrounds are indeed shrinking and relatively parks are preferred over playgrounds,” said Prof Vishwanath S, visiting faculty with the Azim Premji University “Young-teenage boys are not a favourable set of population,” said Prof Vishwanathan when asked what could be the rationale behind such a preference. “On the other hand, parks, which are curated gardens with walking tracks, generally frequented by middle-aged and older populations are considered socio-culturally appealing. Moreover, parks are symbolised as ‘Development’, unfortunately playgrounds are not.”
Nitin Seshadari, a resident of the Koramangla region of Bengaluru puts the same thought differently. “The older population is a voting population,” said Nitin. “Thus legislators listen to what they say. Younger people do not have that kind of political relevance and hence are not an ideal clientele for those wanting votes.”
HC verdict on playgrounds
In the S.G. Heble And Ors. vs Bangalore Development Authority case in the High Court of Karnataka, the Court observed that the government cannot just offer space specifically allotted for a playground for other purposes.
The Court’s verdict reads: “The BDA has no right to divert the said site for any purpose other than the one for which it is reserved; The BDA having due regard to the necessity of a public playground in the locality should reserve this area for the public playground as in any locality a public playground is much more than an amenity and, the allotment in favour of respondents 3 and 4 is violative of the scheme and Section 38A of the BDA Act.”
Land for the development of civic amenities in each layout is allotted by the BDA. Until the BDA builds or leases them to private parties for development as schools, hospitals or medical facilities, the public frequently uses such vacant civic sites as playgrounds.
But leaving the onus on individuals and civic groups to fight the shrinking space for playgrounds without state support will never be enough.