How transformation of a park set precedent for reclaiming unsafe spaces in Delhi
Keeping the back doors and windows in their apartments shut had become a ritual for the residents of Kalkaji Extension’s Pocket 3 and 4 till two years back.
They did this to avoid the sight and smell of hundreds of people defecating at the seven acres of barren land located behind the locality.
“It wasn’t just the unbearable stench; the frequent incidents of snatching had made the place unsafe. Residents were forced to shift somewhere else and rent out their apartments,” said Amlesh Gupta, a Pocket 3 resident.
Surrounded by the narrow lanes of Govindpuri jhuggis on three sides along with the unwillingness of jhuggis dwellers to clean up the space dissuaded the municipal corporation to redevelop it for years, say residents.
“This continued until a rape incident was reported here in 2011 and later, the place became notorious for crimes. This forced me to step in and urge the civic agency’s officials to develop the place into a public park,” said local councillor Chander Prakash.
Work was carried out, but within days of planting trees, locals again started using the place for defecation. Disappointed, Prakash said he now roped in local young men and formed a team to restrict people from misusing the place.
“After councillor’s efforts, all eyes were on us to transform the area from a barren land to lush and green park. It took us one-and-a-half year to beautify the place. But our job was not over yet,” said Alok Kumar, horticulture director, South Delhi Municipal Corporation (SDMC).
“We didn’t want the park to become a haven for anti-social elements again, so we decided to bring major structural changes,” he said.
The civic agency compared the situation with other such criminogenic places in India and around the world and decided to implement the concept of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED).
“The CPTED concept emphasises on reducing crime at unsafe places by adopting certain strategies such as reducing the height of the boundary wall and installing wire fences over the walls so that everybody can see inside activities,” said the horticulture director.
At Govindpuri Park, the civic agency trimmed the hedges for a clear view inside the park and installed open gyms, play areas for children and gazebos to increase footfall.
The residents welcomed the transformation.
Savitri Maurya, 45, says the park is the only open space available to 60,000 people living in the narrow lanes of Navjeevan, Bhoomiheen and Nehru Camps in Govindpuri.
“It is a good escape from the dark, dank and cramped 6x5 rooms and narrow lanes. We can now see the sky, enjoy sunlight and sit here for hours,” said Maurya.
Following positive feedback from the residents, the civic agency took the CPTED concept to Rock Garden in Munirka, Ratan Chand Sharma Park in Hari Nagar and Jamunwala Park in Khirki Extension near Saket.
“Since these places had a similar history and they too were undergoing complete makeover last year, we found it the best time to add more features,” said the official.
For example, a 450-metre walkway was developed to cover the irregular shape of Rock Garden Park while rest of the area was landscaped without cluttering it with hedges or plants. “The height of the boundary wall was reduced to four feet. To further increase the footfall, an amphitheatre was constructed later,” said an SDMC official.
“It would be a little stretch to say that the redevelopment of the park has made the place crime free. But yes, there has been a massive improvement,” said Ashish Khurana, a resident of Munirka Village.
The civic body is now planning to develop 100 more parks in South Delhi within a year on the same pattern.
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