Monday, July 15, 2024

Shrinking open spaces

Residents of Dimapur have cried hoarse over the years in their attempts to goad the State Government into taking care of the city’s ageing and creaking bridges. Not very long ago, four precious lives were lost after a bridge straddling Chathe River had collapsed. The tragedy, seemingly, spurred the authorities into action and new bridges have come up ~ not without delays and controversies, mind you. But the rehabilitation or reconstruction project has left one key crossing/flyover untouched: the one on NH 29 near Hotel Tragopan. This provided the backdrop to Dimapur Police’s announcement on April 12 that it will be conducting conduct a 2-day trial run of traffic diversion in relation to rehabilitation work on said road over bridge (ROB). From April 14 at 4 a.m. till April 15 at 10 p.m., the bridge will be completely cut off for all vehicular movements from both sides. Naturally, there will be heavy traffic snarls across the city. Aside from the offshoot in the form of traffic jams, this predicament also highlights the problem of diminishing open spaces in downtown Dimapur. No doubt, this is a problem found across towns and cities in India. The rapid and unregulated pace of urbanisation has led to the conversion of open spaces into commercial and residential areas. The reduction of open spaces has several negative impacts on urban communities, including health, environment and social. Studies have shown that loss of green cover and recreational spaces in urban areas can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and reduced physical activity among residents, which can have negative impacts on their health. The reduction of open spaces can lead to increased air and water pollution, as well as contribute to the urban heat island effect. It can reduce opportunities for social interaction and community building, which cause negative impacts on social cohesion. Also, the loss of open spaces can reduce the economic value of urban areas. To address the issue of reducing open spaces, urban planners and policymakers need to prioritise the preservation and creation of open spaces in urban areas. But this can be achieved only through policies and regulations ~ and we have neither of these, at least not in terms of implementation. The citizens’ role is equally crucial. They should follow the practice of creating and maintaining open spaces in their communities to ensure sustainability. We do have an Urban Development and Municipal Affairs Department but it has failed to come up with workable policies and regulations to systematise the process of urbanisation, especially in Dimapur. Even outside the Smart City project, it can plan and map out sustainable use of existing open spaces ~ and identify areas where new open spaces can be created too. This can be achieved using geographic information systems (GIS) and satellite imagery, which can help identify areas that are currently underutilised and suitable for open spaces. Technology (Smart City or not) can still be integrated into open spaces to enhance their functionality and management. Open spaces can be designed to serve multiple purposes and meet the needs of diverse communities. For example, parks can include children’s play areas and spaces for community events and gatherings. It can also be designed as green infrastructure to provide ecological benefits such as improving air quality, reducing the urban heat island effect and promoting biodiversity. Open spaces need to be easily accessible to residents to ensure their use and enjoyment. Urban planning can prioritise the creation of safe and accessible pedestrian and cycling routes that connect open spaces to residential and commercial areas. As stated, community engagement is critical to the success of open spaces. City planning can incorporate community input into the design and management of open spaces, ensuring that they reflect the needs and desires of local residents. Incorporating open spaces into city planning is crucial to creating liveable, healthy and sustainable cities.