Saturday, May 28, 2005

Garden City? New areas have no lung space

Hi! We drive to our walk

Driving from Bannerghatta Road to Lalbagh to get a breath of fresh air in the morning? That's a bit funny, but not many have a choice in the matter

The Hindu

Recently I decided to go for a morning walk to get some oxygen. After much deliberation I decided against a stroll in my own neighbourhood (nothing fresh and green there) and head to Cubbon Park. Halfway there I realised I was doing a moronic thing: actually driving to my morning walk!

But when I reached that patch of greenery I was looking for, I realised I was not the only moron around. Six in the morning, I couldn't find parking space! That's when I realised that I was part of an urban phenomenon — of driving to your morning walk.

Urban sprawl

What else do you expect, with the city expanding into one big sprawl without a thought for lung spaces? There are only three sizeable green pockets in Bangalore — Cubbon Park, Lalbagh and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) campus. The rest of the big lung spaces belong to the armed forces and the public have no access to them. Even the IISc. campus, which was frequented by residents of Malleswaram and nearby areas till recently, is now not open to all.

How do people cope?

Take the case of Kannan, a 35-year-old software engineer who lives in a posh apartment on Bannerghatta Road. Kannan was promised lots of green space around the apartment by his builder, but soon found out that the builder was going to build another block of flats instead of creating a small park. Advised by his doctor to get some exercise, Kannan now drives to Lalbagh every morning for a brisk walk.

"I have no choice. I paid good money for my flat thinking that I would get place to exercise but now I have to drive everyday to get some exercise. There is no space to even walk around my flat and nobody with half a brain would try jogging on Bannerghatta Road in the condition that it is now," he says.

Does it bother him that he is actually adding to the city pollution as he drives to get a breath of fresh air himself?

No way. "I can't help it. I know it is silly but I have no other choice. Even cycling is not an option simply because of the distance and the time factor. I have to got to office also," he says.

Traffic is another factor that keeps most people off the neighbourhood roads in the morning. With the BPO and IT boom, traffic on their roads has increased in the early mornings and residents in areas such as Koramangala really suffer a lot.

"So many roads in Koramangala have become one-ways now. Traffic on these roads becomes heavy even as early as seven in the morning. You just can't cross roads, it's too dangerous. That's why I gave up walking in the morning," says Jerome Nirmal Raj, a resident of Koramangala.

"Another reason for not using neighbourhood roads is the bad state of pavements. It's very easy to injure yourself. You are definitely better off in the big parks even if you have to put up with the crowds," he adds.

As a result, the big parks are a beehive of activity in the mornings. You have laughter clubs, long-distance runners, aerobics classes and spiritual types... everyone vying for the same piece of peace and tranquillity.

"I come to Cubbon Park every morning to attend aerobics classes. It is better than working out in a gym. The fresh air really helps," says Anjali, a homemaker from Indiranagar, unmindful of the crowd at the park. And a sizeable crowd it is. In Lalbagh, for example, you can hardly walk or run in a straight line because of the number of people who take to the meandering trails.

So, are we looking at a completely hopeless situation? Not really. The park around Sankey Tank has been restored and some of the small parks in Indiranagar have been done up similarly. But it's the new expanding areas that are a cause for worry, as lung spaces are not being planned in them.


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