Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Amenity Spaces, City & the Citizens!



“There is a message for all city makers here. It is that with the right triangulation, even the ugliest of places can be infused with the warmth that turns strangers into familiars by giving us enough reason to slow down.”... Charles Montgomery  

 What a wonderful  description of the spaces which we call Public Place by none other than Charles Montgomery in his book,  Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design , where he wrote the above words for urban planners!  By the way I am sure not many know about this name so, Charles Montgomery is an award-winning Canadian writer and urbanist. Well known for his books The Last Heathen and Happy City, Montgomery has adviced and lectured planners, students, and decision-makers across Canada, the USA and England.  And I am sure the decision makers in those cities as well countries has benefitted by his advice or else we wouldn’t have kept sending our officers as well decision  makers to these places all the time to learn a things about urban planning (what they learn from such visits is another topic of sharing though). At the same time no wonder neither our country nor any of our city’s names is included in the list which has taken advice from Charles or else we wouldn’t have been dealing with urban mess we have created under the name of Smart City around us! 

Well, with hundred percent respect ( and faith too) in our urban planners who unfortunately neither are decision makers nor that visionary as Charles, that’s why I have  used the term Urban Mess for us! And I am saying "us", so I am considering myself as well my fraternity (real estate & engineers) also, at blame for this use of terminology which might (must) have offended many! And the guilty list includes not just Urban Development i.e. UD dept but PMC/PCMC/ PMRDA, Town Planning, Police, Judicially, MSEDCL (MSEB), PMPML (PMT) (along with their various arms such as road, traffic, drainage, water supply etc), Telecommunication (BSNL, MTNL, do they exists anymore!), MGNL (Pipe Gas), latest entrant is Metro rail & all such along with real estate segment & media & Public i.e. Janata Janrdan i.e. we the people. And I will put the decision makers regarding urban planning at last i.e. The Govt which we can call as PM, Cm, Mayor or any elected body who supposedly has to decide fate of any town, city or Metro City!  I am sure many will frown their faces (nose I meant) as how come I can keep decision makers of the city last that to while blaming about the chaos our cities have become, are they not the one who can make the difference & decide wisely! Indeed that’s what the decision makers are supposed to do i.e. decide wisely for the city & citizens but then for that we the people have to choose the decision makers wisely, isn’t it? And then after choosing if the said decision makers are not acting in the interest of the city & the citizens who is going stand against them & make them change their decisions, all the names in the list above, isn’t it? This is why I kept the name of decision makers in last as first no more their interests & our (read as common man) interests necessarily match & the outcome is, delayed civic projects, poor public transport, poorest public health infrastructure & the list goes on!

 In all such poor list, one more thing has been forgotten & that was & is, public places in the city. Well, there are gardens around & many of them, thanks to the garden dept of the city but apart from the gardens can you name any public places which will serve the citizens, such as art gallery or convention centre or a museum or some big square where people can gather & spend time or any recreation centre (not mall) or performing place or an exhibition ground or say space. And then considering the size of the city which now has been spread over 400 plus sq kms, you can’t have such spaces in one corner of the city but they has to be evenly distributed in & around the city, then only all the citizens can have their own public places or say spaces! And now close your eyes (just a phrase) & think how many such places you can think of or know around your work place or residence, I think, one need not have to close his or her eyes also to answer this as most will say “None’! And exactly this is why our planners or urban thinkers or policy makers have created a terminology named Amenity Space when the DP (Development Plan) of the new area (again don’t ask what old & new) included in PMC i.e. Pune city. By virtue of this provision any land which was supposedly being developed for any development then 15% of that land (if the land is bigger than 1 acre (approx 46,000sft) has to be kept physically open & handed over to the PMC as amenity space! A noble thought which created many problems for the land lords as well the developers as indirectly you are reducing the plot size by 15% damaging its TDR potential as well there was 10% of open space mandatory too. So the plot was reduced to 75% of its original size & if there is road widening then blame your bad luck, is all I can say! And anyways yet people (read as builders) accepted it as there was no other option, you can’t fight with policy makers & expect to win, is the code word for real estate! And so the developments kept happening & amenity spaces kept on getting handed over to the PMC! These were prime lands as all around the city & as I mentioned the objective was to create various public facilities all around the city.

And now it’s these amenity spaces are the reason which is why I used the quote of Charles as well created the blame list for urban mess! Now, one will wonder when the public places objective has been achieved by the planners & decision makers why I have to blame for! Well, because the policies & its outcome never goes in hand as the execution of the policies which fails  & due to the decision makers, that’s why all chaos on the front of our urban planning! Recently our policy makers which by now we know mostly works on decision maker's moods (or interests) came up about policy regarding the amenity spaces which are in possession in PMC mean the city that out of hundreds of such spaces PMC will sale or lease out to the private parties' (many will take read it as builders) & obviously knowing our Smart City & it’s Smart Citizen, a public cry has evolved about it. As I have been getting many what’s app messages & online petitions, some against this policy & some for the policy & letters to authorities that how this is illegal etc & some letters how this will be beneficial (for whom) & sure this will go on for a while till the decision makers make their mind & decide about it. Here is why I said we all keep mum till something wrong happens & then we keep shouting to correct it, how we love this game in Pune especially when it’s about urban planning! 

As if leasing or selling amenity spaces to private parties is illegal then was it legal to take it in first place from some other private parties, is the question I will ask! And I have few more questions to ask for all of us about this amenity space, as why the use & purpose of amenity spaces wasn’t defined while making DP of the new city when you know you will be getting these spaces, rather right when you were passing the proposals why at the time of handing over only the purpose of use of every amenity space wasn’t defined, wouldn’t it be easy that way? Well, we are not good when its vision agreed but then many of the amenity spaces are in possession since last ten or more years why our policy makers didn’t tried to put forward a proposal to create a master plan of all the amenity spaces in possession & define uses or purposes of the same according to need of the localities? Why the provision to build the so called amenities wasn’t made on a single such amenity space in last ten years (or more)? In any reservation land policy (to my little logical knowledge) when you take away land from a private owner under name of reservation & later you don’t use it but decide to sale it to another private person, then doesn’t the original owner has first claim on such land? While giving away, I mean selling or leasing such amenity space have our policy makers decided what kind of amenity will be developed on such lands, has any such study or master plan is in place or will it be at the wish & will of the buyer of such land to decide use of the amenity space? And if it’s so then who will guarantee that such use will be followed post construction, what infrastructure our civic body has to keep control if the amenity spaces get misused? And if there is no such policy & its will & wish of the private party to decide the use of the amenity spaces then what guarantee is there that such purpose will act in benefit of the citizens who needs that amenity space for some different purpose? Why such amenity spaces are not being leased on revenue sharing basis to other govt/semi govt organizations like MSEDCL, PMPML, BSNL (does it exists?), MGNL, Metro (well, well) or State Transport , Police, Registrar Offices (revenue dept), MHADA, Public Health Dept (At least this we should), Disaster Management (yes there exists such dept); as all these depts' are always crying over not getting enough spaces in & around city because of the souring land prices & shield their poor services to the citizens behind this reason! And last but not least if you are making a policy of giving up existing amenity spaces to private parties anyways, then why not remove such conditions itself for sanctioning new projects & create more amenity spaces a process which is still ongoing every day for every new proposal?

I know few wise minds which are reading my sharing will smile to themselves about my foolishness of asking above questions as the famous Galib has said; "Kisase wafa ki ummid karte ho Galib, is shehar me to parchayianbhi apani nahi rahi ab"! With due respect to Galib, it means, "from whom you are expecting trust guys, as in this city even your reflection in the mirror doesn’t looks like what you are! It’s a phrase I used to explain the scene around us on the front of urban planning as when entire policy process works in reverse way, i.e. first you decide something what you are going to do anyway & then you start making policies & call it as a planning, then the outcome is bound to be a chaos for many, which may not be for a few & these few are the decision makers! I am not in favour of selling amenity spaces nor am I opposing the policy to sell the amenity spaces, all I want to point out is it’s high time for we the people to decide our city’s fate & then act accordingly! The recent pandemic has exposed our weaknesses on many fronts right from less hospital beds to lesser Doctors & trained staff to man power for handling such panic situations & at the same time we couldn’t provide citizens safe homes where they can maintain social distance & it was just one pandemic! We are a failure to handle heavy rains & we are a failure to handle lesser rains too! We were already in dreadful condition on traffic management front & today if we are seeing clear roads that’s outcome of pandemic & not our credit! And I am not even thinking about education or social fronts! Guys, urban planning is not just few polices about some land, it's about people & their lives, not lifestyle of just a few! 

Amenity space's use realted policy is just tip of the iceberg of our short sightedness as today we are not yet recovered from the war with an unseen enemy & this won’t be the last war even if we win, if at all something can save us as a society then it’s what we plan today & execute tomorrow or else there won’t be day after tomorrow, for sure; is all I want to share! 


Sanjay Deshpande 

Sanjeevani Dev.

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