Environment and Open Spaces

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The city of Mumbai has grown by leaps and bounds, to a city of more than 13 million inhabitants. It boasts a higher density than any other city in the world with 30,000 people crowded into one sq. km and some areas like Dharavi touching the phenomenally abnormal mark of 2,00,000 people per sq km. In a city where its citizens have started using malls for their morning walks, the lack of open space is felt tremendously. In the recent past the city has seen its already limited open spaces increasingly being privatised or beautified or both. In this context, it is unfortunately the urban poor who are perceived as encroachers and become unwilling targets and get wrongly labelled as hindrances to Mumbai’s growth.

Of the numerous surveys on open spaces conducted by many groups, the latest estimates that 0.5% of the city has been reserved for parks and gardens. Another 0.8% has been reserved for playgrounds and 1.6% for recreational grounds. This means 2.9% (or around 14 sq km) of Mumbai’s 482.7 sq km has been reserved for open spaces, like gardens, parks, recreation grounds and playgrounds. If 14 sq km is divided by 12.4 million (Greater Mumbai’s population), then Mumbai has an average of around 1.1 sq m or 0.03 acre of open space per 1000 persons. The National Commission on Urbanisation (1988) suggests that the ideal ratio of open spaces is 4 acres per 1,000 persons. New York City has 6.3 acres per 1000 residents or 25% of its area as open space. While we know that such rosy figures or norms cannot be achieved in Mumbai but the proposed DP should at least ensure some respectable improvement in access to open spaces. It should formulate policies to maximize the optimum use of scare open space the city has, along with the challenges of “creating” new open spaces in the city. Mumbai, now more than ever, needs “real” open spaces; accessible to all. We – through this document – attempt to place the broad arguments and demands regarding the issue of Open space in Mumbai in the coming DP.

Major issues
Open spaces: A report stated that of the 3246 open spaces in the city, 1999 are inaccessible to the general public. Of the 1247 accessible spaces, many have time limits and other factors which restrict access. Also, there are 835 spaces which have been occupied by encroachments. On paper, the development plan’s amenity spaces ratio is 0.2 acres per 1,000 people. Of this, 82 per cent is taken over by slums so that the actual ratio is 0.03 acres per 1,000 people. This is the lowest in the world. By Indian standards it should be 4 acres per 1,000 people. This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed immediately so as to make the city more habitable.

Depletion of green cover and mangroves: Mangrove ecosystems serve as a buffer between land and sea. They actually protect the land from the impact of the sea and by trapping silt they also maintain the integrity of Mumbai’s shoreline. For a major economic port like Mumbai, this is very crucial to maintain stability along the coastline and avoid accidents. However, the city has not yet learnt to appreciate this service done by mangroves. Mumbai is surrounded by over 5000 acres of mangrove swamps spread over various areas like Mahim, Madh, Thane creek, Versova, Gorai and Ghodbunder. Of these, Mumbai has lost almost 40% to reclamation of land for construction and developmental projects. Similarly, trees are being cut down owing to various infrastructure projects. No check is kept upon how much green cover we are losing by doing this.