London’s newest park is an example of what Mumbai can create from Aarey
Mumbai has large natural areas, but most of it — the forests and private clubs — is not accessible to the publicUpdated: Jul 22, 2019 00:33 IST
London has just inaugurated a 96-hectare — almost one square km — municipal park. Where did this city, which has some of the most expensive real estate in the world, find such a large plot of land for a new park?
The park has been created out of a century-old public golf course that had been seeing fewer footfalls as the sport lost popularity. The course closed in October 2016 and has been reborn as a recreational and natural area with the help of a grant from a lottery.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that parks, recreational grounds, forests are important components of an urban ecosystem, providing a refuge from noise and pollution. Physical inactivity, caused due to poor facilities for walking and low access to recreational areas, accounts for 3.3% of global deaths, the organisation says.
Mumbai has a lot of green space: it is one of the few metropolises to have a forest within its boundaries, with over 270 species of birds, nearly 35 types of mammals, hundreds of plant species and at least three dozen leopards, the forest’s top predators. The forest covers an area of 103 square kilometres in Mumbai and Thane districts. Mumbai also has 65.9 square km of mangrove forests.
So Mumbai has large natural areas, but most of it — the forests and private clubs — is not accessible to the public. In reality, the city has only 14 square km of open space, including gardens, playgrounds and other green areas. With 12.4 million residents, this is 1.1 sq m of open space per person. London has 31.68 sq m per person, New York 26.4 sq m per person.
So, where will Mumbai find the land to create more green areas? One way is to follow the examples of cities like London in converting derelict urban facilities into open spaces. Cities across the world are doing this. Seoul in South Korea demolished a road built over a rivulet and restored the stream, creating gardens and recreational areas along its four-mile-long course. New York City has created what is known as the ‘High Line’— a public park built on a derelict freight rail line in Manhattan. Instead of tearing down the line, the city laid out gardens, walking paths and venues for cultural events. Berliners use the city’s Tempelhof airfield, shut down after the city built a larger airport in the outskirts, as a venue for public events.
Mumbai is not a greenhorn when it comes to fashioning public spaces from unutilised urban infrastructure. A few years ago, the city inaugurated a garden created out of a defunct sewage treatment plant in Parel. The garden is spread over more than 10 acres of lawns, flower beds, meandering paths and water pools created out of the sewage tanks.
In the 1980s, a 37-acre forest was created by the Mumbai Regional Development Authority, with the help of Worldwide Fund for Nature, out of a garbage dumping ground in Mahim.
For creating more accessible green areas, the city should look at Aarey Milk Colony. The facility has outlived its use as a milk production centre. Set up in 1949, the area is spread over 1,281 hectares (3,160 acres) of which 1,740 ha is used for milk production. Over the decades, milk production has dropped to 100,000 litres daily, with the city getting most of its supply from co-operatives and companies located in western Maharashtra. The city needs 50,00,000 to 60,00,000 litres of milk a day and Aarey meets less than 2% of that.
Does the city need to set aside such a large area for inefficient milk production? Except for a plan to create Eco-Sensitive Areas (ESA), which includes parts of Aarey and the Sanjay Gandhi National Park, the area has no protection from construction.
Environment group Vanshakti has located documents from the forest department that says that 2,076 ha of Aarey land, marked as ‘unclassed forest’. Of this, 575 ha are to be kept aside for a recreational zone. The city should claim this public space.