Innovative public space utilization got a boost earlier this month when Mumbai’s first Under-The-Flyover Garden was opened to the public.
Nanalal D. Mehta Garden is located under the busy Tulpule flyover on Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Road in central Mumbai. This beautiful and unique garden includes a 600 metre walking-cum-jogging track that meanders across the garden with plants and grass on the sides. The underside of the flyover has been lit up with appropriate LED lighting and has ground lighting along the walkways. The garden’s beauty comes alive at sundown when the extensive lighting converts what was once a dead space, into one very attractive green space, which every passerby would like to visit.
The idea to convert the space into a garden was a concept and initiative of ‘One Matunga’ residents’ group, who took it upon themselves to free the space under Tulpule flyover from misuse and underutilization. Over a period, unsocial elements had taken over the space and it became a gambling den, with all kinds of illegal activities taking place. Besides, the dirty and unkempt space was an eyesore, as the flyover is a prominent one and located in a high traffic area.
Mumbai is a city starved of open and green spaces, and in recent years, resident activism has seen a rise, with a lot of public initiatives being taken forward. The residents of Matunga area, especially those residing near the flyover, felt an acute need for space to do walking and jogging. The idea of converting the space under the flyover was a natural outcome and soon ‘One Matunga’ resident’s group approached Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) with a proposal to convert the flyover into a garden-cum-walking park.
After initial hesitation due to its mid-road location, BMC finally gave the go-ahead and sanctioned funds for redevelopment of space under the Tulpule flyover, as per design suggestions of the ‘One Matunga’ group. The Rs 5 crore initiative was inaugurated on 13 June by Mayor Snehal Ambedkar in the presence of politicians, officials of BMC and representatives of ‘One Matunga’. Had it not been for political sparring between Congress corporator Nayna Seth and Trushna Vishwasrao of Shiv Sena, the flyover would have opened to public much earlier.
Lessons for Mumbai and other cities
‘One Matunga’ initiative sets an example of how conscientious citizens can come together to take up local welfare and environmental initiatives. Mumbai is an over-stressed urban quagmire and innovative use of public spaces can give a part of the city back to its residents. Spaces under similar other flyovers can be utilized in this way for public usage and the key lies in its maintenance. If these newly developed spaces are not well-maintained, then over time, people stop patronizing such spaces, and ultimately, the space goes back to being misused by unscrupulous elements.
Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) in Delhi is another good example of people’s initiative where several parks and public spaces in Delhi have been re-developed with government support and have been converted into clean, healthy and green spaces. However, utilizing space under a flyover for developing a garden-cum-jogging track is certainly new and must be taken up in other cities too.
There are lessons for the political class as well. Each locality in each city has public spaces that are lying unused or misused. With the help of local people and some funding support from the local municipal bodies, these can be re-developed into healthy and green spaces that will be welcomed by all. It’s only a matter of interest and initiative.
Singapore is a good example of government– public intervention
In 2014, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) in Singapore invited design ideas for redeveloping The Lawn at Marina Bay, spaces along the Singapore River, Woodlands Civic Plaza, and the open space at Sultan Gate at Kampong Glam.
The competition called ‘PubliCity: Your ideas for Public Spaces’, received terrific response from the people and today, these redeveloped spaces stand out as shining examples for other cities to emulate.
Marina Bay has a giant playful swing, the Singapore River Promenade now has an elevated green deck that is sinuous, the Woodlands Civic Plaza has a new forested steel canopy and the Kampong Glam at Sultan Gate has colonnaded walkways in the middle. All aesthetic and loved by citizens!
There is enough opportunity for creative renovation in all towns and cities in India and its time local governments became more proactive along with people in taking up similar initiatives in their respective areas.
We need more Nanalal D Mehta Gardens for sure!
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