Extent of open space in a city like parks, green spaces, and other open areas define the character and the quality of life in the city. It is best index to signify how rich or poor the people living in the city. Urban open space is often appreciated for the recreational opportunities it provides.
As humans live more and more in man-made surroundings i.e., cities he risks harming himself by building and acting in ignorance of natural processes. Urban open spaces also serve as islands of nature, promoting biodiversity and providing a home for natural species in environments that are otherwise uninhabitable due to city development.
That an attractive, active, well-functioning public space can jumpstart economic development in a community from a small rural town to a big city is being recognized increasingly around the world. India should not be an exception to this belief and what is good for others will be good for us too.
It is not an exaggeration if we say Indian mega cities are among the most dynamic regions on the planet. During the last fifty years, the population of India (today 1.3 billion) has grown two and a half times, but the urban population has grown nearly five times. This perhaps fully explains why we are struggling to save open spaces in our cities.
Globally cities occupy less than three percent of the global terrestrial surface, but account for seventy eight percent of carbon emissions, sixty percent of residential water use, and seventy six percent of wood used for industrial purposes. This is the global phenomenon and Indian cities too are no exception to this fact and in fact Indian cities fare poorly against global average. Of course, many city planning authorities in India have been proposing the increasing open space area in their successive plans. Unfortunately, all these plans remain only on paper and often we find the open space provided for or mentioned in the plans has been used for other purposes.
There is no standard open space criteria which is universally applicable and the standards which are there have undergone changes over a period of time. Also, standards vary from region to region depending upon local standards. International minimum standard suggested by World Health Organization (WHO) and adopted by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is a minimum availability of 9 sq. m. green open space per city dweller. AMRUT (Atal Mission for Rejuvenation and Urban Transformation) guideline has benchmarked per person open spaces in plain areas at 10-12 sq. m.
It is true that the ever-increasing demands for the building and paving in the urban area have impaired physical environment to the extent that the spatial patterns have become more fragmented and confusing now than ever before and our cities have become less humane in nature. Unfortunately, the gap between the urban man and nature has widened than ever before. As a result, cities are becoming less liveable.
Ever increasing population in the urban areas and the physical expansion of the built-up area beyond the city limits is affecting the open space availability in our cities. On many occasions, the local governments have even relaxed regulations to accommodate ambitious development projects encroaching on prime agricultural lands and vital green space. The rapid and unplanned expansion may ruin the city and make it more vulnerable to land use change. Due to rapid urbanisation, unhindered construction activities on encroached lung space question the significance of the existing law protecting the green cover of the city. There is urgent need for stricter enforcement of prevailing laws to protect green spaces in our cities to avoid them from becoming concrete slums.
Green spaces and other nature-based solutions offer innovative approaches to increase the quality of urban settings, enhance local resilience and promote sustainable lifestyles, improving both the health and the well-being of urban residents. Parks, playgrounds or vegetation in public and private places are a central component of these approaches. Law makers and the citizens, both need to understand this.