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Let’s regain our public spaces

June 9, 2016 Written by a HealthBridge guest blogger Advocacy, Cars, Dhaka, Exercise, Funding, Happiness, Livable Cities, Public Spaces, Urban Planning Post a comment!

Livable Cities interns and WBB staff make the case for parklets in Dhaka.

By Sneha Sandez, an intern with our Livable Cities program in Dhaka

Having grown up enjoying the beauty of Western Ghats in a small town of South India, moving to a highly dense city like Dhaka was a huge challenge.

In contrast to the morning fog, roads meandering between the hills, coffee orchards and chirping birds, in the city lives were constrained and controlled by technology and machines. I was surprised to see the never-ending chain of motor vehicles, busy movements of people, and public spaces overtaken by cars – or in other words, a struggle between human life and machines. Alas, the situation of Dhaka city is nothing unique; cities around the world suffer the same infatuation with motorized vehicles at the expense of people.

Over time our conception of modernity and development of urban space are being governed by the number of vehicles, flyovers, pedestrian bridges and shopping malls. In the name of development of urban spaces, we build and support spaces for motorized vehicles rather than people. We construct endless roads to reduce traffic congestion, but people simply drive more, so it is never enough. As a result, we have no space for people’s need to sit and relax or simply interact with each other. Then why not prioritize people rather than space-wasting vehicles? Could we not give less space to vehicles and create more spaces for our public?

One solution to this problem is ‘parklets’. A parklet takes a car parking space and turns it into a small park, creating right in a city street such amenities as seats, tables, bike racks and interesting landscaping, all while beautifying spaces.

As part of my summer internship at Work for Better Bangladesh (WBB) Trust, I, along with four other friends/fellow interns and our host organization, initiated a public demonstration to promote parklets. This involved taking the space occupied by a single car, and building a temporary parklet to show the differences we could bring. Young children, students and parents interacted and actively participated in the demonstration. Passersby and participants shared their thoughts about limited urban spaces, parks, playgrounds, increased number of vehicles, illegal parking on sidewalks and the necessity of accessible spaces for public use.

One of the major challenges was convincing people about the possible benefits of parklets and the changes we could achieve with them. A few people were concerned about what the government thought of this idea. Some people asked where they would park their cars. The reality is that no matter how much space we give to cars, they will always demand more. It would be far more sensible to take some space back from cars so that it can be used by larger numbers of people for activities that are more beneficial, both environmentally and socially.

Maybe cities like Dhaka can never provide the true experience of nature which so enriched my childhood, but building little parks and other accessible public spaces for interaction will certainly enrich our urban life with more laughter and fun. 

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