by Meghana Injeti
As Mumbai continues its haphazard development, open spaces all over the city seem to be shrinking. ‘Where is the space?!!’, I hear many young children and adolescents complain when they get chided for playing cricket in their neighborhood and have broken the third window in a row this week.
What are Open Spaces, you might ask? Well, open spaces are the playgrounds children play in, they are recreational grounds where you and your partner go for your morning walks, they are gardens and parks filled with a variety of plants and they are also scenic natural assets such as coastlines, hills, mangroves, creeks and beaches.
The People Place Project interviewed Anca Abraham and Tina Nandi, founders of Love Your Parks Mumbai abbreviated as LYPMumbai.Born out of two mothers' collective desire to encourage usage, stewardship and the betterment of Mumbai's public open space, LYPMumbai is an initiative working towards community building and policy change.
A sense of frustration with the restrictive and crumbling infrastructure of local parks, restrictive timings, safety issues and more, led the team to take initiative to change the status quo. They started with local parks and took it forward, advocating for welcoming, inclusive open public spaces.
Their first public campaign advocating for open spaces took off in November 2018. LYPMumbai introduced a community choir which, after six weeks of brainstorming and rehearsing; put together two free public concerts at Patwardhan and Joggers Park in Bandra, under the tagline #SingForYourParks, which drew more than 200 people.
This performance in the true sense was just a trailer before their trail of main feature films, instead of preaching or generating speeches, the agency straight up introduced to people what place activation, celebration and sense of community feel like, by closing the gap between the general public and their neighborhood spaces.
LYPMumbai has garnered unanimous support ever since their unique endeavors and advocacy for open spaces. “Since then, LYPMumbai has been advocating for Mumbai's Public Open Spaces through social media and created more than 30 free, inclusive, on-ground events in collaboration with talented local entrepreneurs”, says Tina.
Since the inception of these initiatives they believe there has been a change, people take on a sense of heightened responsibility and accountability which was missing prior to this. The founders further impress on the fact that the city’s funds for current open spaces and infrastructure projects should be responsibly spent, prioritizing sustainable and inclusive projects. “Our vision is that one day every Mumbaikar will have access to abundant, welcoming, and user-friendly public open spaces”, say Anca and Tina.
They stress on the term public in regard to open public spaces, because they believe Mumbaikars from all ages, backgrounds, be it from the slums or affluent backgrounds are free to access and experience what these places have to offer. “For anyone who is willing to think about the fact that the decisions we make today will have repercussions years from now. It’s important to remember that we do not own this land, we just borrow it from our children”, says Anca.
Tina rightly so adds, “We strongly believe that public open spaces are the backbone of healthy, democratic and evolving societies. It is in these spaces that we learn civic sense, we engage with other people who may be different from us, thereby increasing our tolerance and understanding of each other and it is essential today more than ever”.
The duo goes on to tell us about their projects and enlightens us about the opportunities present, inspiring us to do our two-bits or lend a hand in these initiatives which are of, for and by the people.
They host free programming events in public parks in this unstoppable city to garner a sense of community, by closing the gap between the general public and their neighborhood spaces, collaborating and associating with like-minded initiatives like Mahim Beach Clean-up, Save our Coast Mumbai, Bombay Greenway, Smart Commute Foundation, Soch Sayani, Aarey Forest and WWF-India, via social media, public forums and co-hosting events.
Heavily involved in their advocacy efforts, in August 2019 when MCGM put out a call for recommendations on the New Open Spaces Policy they submitted a six-page recommendation, covering themes of accessibility, inclusivity and sustainability, supported by 250 rallying individuals and, the efforts paid off when the municipality (MCGM) declared parks would stay open from 6 am to 10 pm, instead of the earlier restrictive timings. “Who could have thought that a simple act of creative civil disobedience could reignite a conversation about the state and importance of public open spaces?”, says Tina.
They are also behind the recently organised exciting community art festival known as ‘Festival at the Steps’ at the newly inaugurated, inclusive and multi-use open space called St. Stephens Steps in Bandra which is tuned to be open and accessible to cyclists, the differently-abled, people of all ages, ideal for community performances.
LYPMumbai strongly believes in supporting initiatives that address Climate Change and the impact it can have on the city’s future. “It’s 2020 and the warning signs are loud and clear. We believe that as a city, we should be focusing on taking cars off the road and planning holistically for a city that is pedestrian-friendly, cycle-friendly, has excellent public transport and makes the best of our natural resources”, say Anca and Tina. The concern led them to associate with an Anti-Coastal Road Initiative when the Coastal Road Project blind-sided the people, by advertising bounds of open public spaces but in actuality, the road would be cutting off the natural access to the ocean and the promised open spaces were all designed in between the highways. The collaboration organised a Marine Life Photography event on Worli Sea face and an art and music celebration at Tata Garden to remind people of the value of these scenic and natural open spaces, the unique marine ecosystems, bringing awareness to how the destruction of these coastlines will impact us in the long run.
“Climate Central has released a revised projection on the effect of sea-level rise: by 2050 millions of people in coastal cities like Mumbai will experience annual flooding. This information should lead us to urgently re-examine all infrastructure projects that are environmentally-destructive”, broaches Tina.
They’ve also helped organise Chala Mumbai - A City for People forum to RE-IMAGINE Mumbai, highlighting the need for an Integrated Transport Authority and promoting responsible, sustainable and inclusive public infrastructure while impressing on optimal utilisation of the city funds available for the infrastructural projects. Anca rightly mentions, “With the pandemic, this seems indeed vital for social distancing, and controlling pollution levels, which is deemed to affect Covid-19 outcome”.
Truly LYPMumbai and its founders are unstoppable! Although currently, their projects are on hold due to the prevailing pandemic, they are already planning out their next hallmark “free programming” dynamic event to mobilise people, activate public parks and increase the community’s confidence during these intense times.
“Where’s My Footpath” campaign continues to raise awareness about pedestrian rights in Mumbai. They decided to start a Wednesday #wheresmyfootpath Challenge. This challenge will showcase the reality of footpaths in our city, anyone who takes up the challenge has to just go on a 15 minute or on a 1km walk on the footpaths in their neighbourhood while documenting their experience of it, uploading iton social media tagging @lypmumbai and their local MLA and getting them to take on the challenge for themselves , to make them realise the need for fixing these deteriorating spaces. The yare also working on a project called ‘Children’s Audit of Play in Mumbai’, aiming to include voices of children,the main stakeholders in dialogues regarding open play spaces. Further, they would also like to declare that they have other similar projects and ideas in the pipeline and welcome interested volunteers, interns, writers and collaborators to get in touch with them.
Anca and Tina describe their envisioned future for the city in the words of Enrique Penalosa who says it perfectly, “children are a kind of indicator species, if we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for everyone”. Further, when they think of their children and step into their shoes, it means the ability to safely walk or cycle on the city’s streets, having access to safe and affordable public transport and the ability to play and socialise in a public space within 8 km radius of anyone’s residence.A City is safe from the worst impacts of climate change, rising sea levels and air pollution is what makes ‘a successful city’ for Love Your Parks Mumbai (LYPMumbai) initiative.
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