Social spaces for young lost to growth

Social spaces for young lost to growth

Historically, Bengaluru's parks, playgrounds, streets and street corners have been accessed by 'common people' as recreational and social spaces. These neighbourhood commons have been steadily eroded over the past two decades with increased demand for land to feed urban growth and 'development' while the international urban discourse on liveable and child-friendly cities grows louder about the need to protect spaces for the young.

City authorities justify the appropriation of playgrounds and parks because they are 'free' and 'empty' (absence of privately owned buildings). They appear 'cost-effective' resources as there are no eviction and compensation costs, the city (BBMP) being the 'owner'. However, it turns a blind eye to the fact that these spaces are collectively owned by people who use and inhabit them, and that the cost of loss to the community cannot be quantified.

The BMRCL's decision to move the location of the station from Cantonment Railway station to the Madina Masjid Maidan in Bamboo Bazaar has perplexed many. Technically-competent individuals continue to challenge the alignment which, they argue, goes against the BMRCL's mandate for seamless integration with multiple modes of transport.

Besides the critical issue of integration, location of a metro station in the Banda ground (the affectionate appellation that refers to the rocks on the western boundary) raises other concerns relating to the well-being of children and youth in the city.

'Ground' realities

The Banda ground draws people from a radius of 10 km (according to a regular) and is the only one to accommodate several games in the area. It is shared by schools, including the Abdul Bari school which is one of the oldest in the area, and has now absorbed the spillover from the Chota Maidan in Shivajinagar which is slated to be part of the Shivajinagar metro and bus station complex and, therefore, out of bounds for sport.

The majority in the field are residents who are unable to play in the narrow streets without endangering themselves and their neighbours. To them, the playground seems like a spacious ocean. At any point, there are multiple games in progress - regular cricket played by adults, mini pitch cricket, 'leg cricket', kite flying, bicycle riding, all conducted with due respect to others' boundaries.

Mushtaq, a young computer professional who grew up in Bamboo Bazaar moved to Ring Road. He returns every weekend to play and reconnect with his childhood. The ground is where his bonds were forged. "We connect through the game first - then we become friends, learn each other's language and share our problems also."

A local youth, Khalid, feels it is a healthy social space. "We don't hang out in chai shops and all... this a place to meet friends." Anxiety about the well-being of children is uppermost for Pasha, a small trader, who grew up here. The loss of the ground could have health implications, he fears. "Most of the patients in the hospitals today are children – if we cannot give them a good healthy childhood what is the use?"

Mushtaq fears that children will be forced indoors with no avenue to expend their energy. "They will have to stare at a screen - TV or a mobile. How will they grow and learn to get along with real people? Should 'development' be at the cost of our children's health?"

Despite international programmes such as the Child-Friendly Cities and the Growing up in Cities projects, there is very little in our urban development plans that include children's needs or voices. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989, to which India is a signatory, mandates the participation of children in matters that concern them. My conversations with children suggest another scenario.

Seventeen-year-old Surya and his friends are unaware of the future of their playground. "Some people came and talked to the adults. They dug the ground...but we don't know anything more" he said. When asked whether they had sought a clarification, he added, "We are nobody to question them - we are only children. If we did, they would scold us and tell us to get lost."

Where would they play if the ground was taken over by the metro, I asked. Surya replied with resignation "We will go and look for someplace ..what else can we do." Picking up his kite, he walked into the ground, as if to stake his claim while it was still there.

(The writer is an educationist and anthropologist who is studying Bengaluru's neighbourhoods and common spaces. All names have been changed.)