Studies indicate that Mumbai has lost about 40% of its urban green cover in the last 30 years. Another article calls it out for being one of the cities with the least green cover (1.8 square metres per capita of green space) in the world while both Government of India guidelines and the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend at least 10 square metres per capita.
According to the onground mapping and assessment done under the ‘Harita: The Green Footprint’ fellowship program in Mumbai, the actual figure is only around 1 sqm per person. At a policy level, it is understood that built green spaces such as gardens and public parks play a crucial role in meeting these requirements. The general public, especially young Mumbaikars with an increased sense of ownership and passion to protect the city’s green spaces and heritage, have wholeheartedly accepted this view.
The idea was to train and work with Mumbai’s young sustainability champions to mobilise public action and work towards better green spaces in the city through citizen and institutional engagement. Various experts from urban planning, landscape management, communications, sustainability and urban governance helped them learn:
- On-ground mapping
- Data analysis and documentation
- Community research methods
- Digital software basics
- Storytelling and strategic communication
- Stakeholder conversations
Our Fellows interacted with residents and community members, ward administrators, public representatives and municipal officials for a 360 degree view on ward-level state of green spaces. So, local teams were organised at the ward level with sets of 4-5 members across 24 municipal wards of Mumbai led by an urban planning expert.
Spearheaded by Project Mumbai in collaboration with the Ministry of Mumbai’s Magic, the programme engaged 100 students and young professionals from diverse fields including urban planning, architecture, commerce, social work, design and humanities.
Since Mumbai’s rapid urban growth has exacerbated the problems of air pollution, carbon emissions, water scarcity and poor public infrastructure, an enlightened citizenry including the youth needs to be empowered to find solutions along with local bodies. Including their voices in sustainable urban development plans is essential to achieve the aim of a green and liveable city for all. The Fellowship was a step in this direction.
PUTTING OUR PARKS TO THE TEST
84 fellows mapped and graded 488 public parks – close to three quarters of the total public gardens in the city – on a 3-point scale. They interacted with ward administrators, public representatives, municipal officials and residents and community members for a 360 degree view on ward-level state of green spaces. Led by an urban planning expert, local ward level teams with 4-5 members each were formed across the city’s 24 municipal wards. In their assessment, everything from ward details to amenities, infrastructure, safety and lighting, accessibility, parking and more was looked into.
VOX POP: STORIES BEHIND THE NUMBERS
Grades only tell one part of the story. To dig deeper for actionable insights, the fellows looked beyond scales and scores. Maintaining COVID protocols, they spoke to nearly 700 residents to understand their relationship with the park. What was the on-ground reality of these public spaces? Who took care of them? How did people use and interact with their parks? Or perhaps, they couldn’t do so at all? The Citizens’ Response Survey enabled a more holistic mapping process. Responses ranged from maintenance to accessibility issues, security and more.
- 83% felt gardens were well-lit and maintained
- Many felt the urgent need for parks to be disabled-friendly
- Need for public toilets was highlighted for larger parks
- Need for drinking water facilities within easy reach
- At least 70% found a garden within a 10-to-15 minute walking distance, a good planning indicator about the per capita availability of open space in Mumbai
The conversations that led to these insights gave life to their data. For instance, Ruchika Madhaar’s observations on Durgadevi Udyan captures her methodology as well as the joyous observations of the park attendants and users. Krina Kanabar’s humorous observation piece about the multiple universes that exist inside a community park.
PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER
At the end of their on-ground study, our fellows put together comprehensive reports and recommendations to the municipal corporation which included overview of green spaces, space mapping, data, analysis and documentation pointers.
This massive youth-led initiative gave us a clear and simple insight on the overall health of Mumbai’s green spaces. It also led to the first detailed and digitised database of each garden in the city.
SO, WHAT’S NEXT?
The city civic corporation’s (BMC) Open Space Policy is being revised and Development Plan 2034 promises 6.13 square metres of open space per person including forests and mangroves, along with a commitment of additional 100 new parks. We believe this one-of-its-kind park assessment report can help civic authorities meet their goals more effectively. The Garden Superintendent of BMC acknowledged that the study would inform their future strategy to develop new green spaces and also create an implementation framework for overall park maintenance and governance.