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HindustanTimes Sun,28 Dec 2014

Where have the community spaces gone?

Smruti Koppikar, Hindustan Times  Mumbai, December 14, 2012
First Published: 00:51 IST(14/12/2012) | Last Updated: 01:39 IST(14/12/2012)

Community spaces where citizens can gather, converse and group together are not only few and far between, but simply not accessible to a large majority of Mumbaiites, showed the study on Privacy and Public Spaces, done for the on-gong Mumbai Lab project. Respondents ranked “not available/accessible” the maximum number of times in a multiple choice question, which urban researchers say, points to an alarming trend.

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Community parks – which are woefully short of the city’s requirement – are the most community spaces, followed by religious places that Mumbaiites use for extra-religious activities of grouping and bonding.

It’s important that Mumbaiites perceive a real threat to such community spaces and believe that they must be protected and made safer. The maximum threat comes, respondents said, from redevelopment which has pervaded into every area of the city and altered its socio-economic character; 21 per cent said redevelopment had impacted their community spaces.

Combine this with the 20 per cent that listed “local mafia” as a threat to community spaces, a phenomenon that has been a part of the redevelopment initiatives in an areas, and there’s a clear pointer to what ails the city’s community spaces. The lack of cleanliness in such spaces ranked as the third threat to losing community spaces in the city.

“Around 45 per cent of respondents said that community spaces were not available and this was backed by responses that we got in our qualitative survey, said Reshma Ludbe, research associate of Partners in Urban Knowledge, Action and Research (Pukar). “Redevelopment, which is seen as an answer to Mumbai space crunch is actually seen as a threat to community spaces,” she added.

The community spaces that Mumbaiites believe are available to them include religious places, community swimming pools and parks. The highest use of these spaces is, however, for festivals and religious activities followed by recreation and family events.

Urban policy analyst Dr Amita Bhide said space-related discussions in the city usually revolved around private spaces such as slums and luxury high-rises, but Mumbai “would pay a heavy price if public spaces were ignored” and kept out of debate.

 “We knew anecdotally that Mumbai is starved of public spaces, but we have a whole new set of data to prove it. However, what’s most striking is citizens’ approach to public or community spaces — they simply don’t think it’s their right to have them,” said Ludbe, “The well-off have such spaces but don’t use them.”

PUKAR conducted the survey for the travelling urban think tank BMW Guggenheim Lab as part of their Mumbai Lab. The survey covered 800 respondents in ten public spaces, and included 39 video and audio interviews, and photo documentation.

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