Community Engagement as a way of advocacy to reclaim underutilized public spaces!

                                                              

Community Engagement as a way of advocacy to reclaim underutilized public spaces!

ESAF - Livable Cities Project
Solution proposed by: 
HealthBridge Canada, Livable Cities Network, Kerala
In a Nutshell: 
Public spaces in India are underutilized due to poor maintenance and encroachment. ESAF has been building capacity of the community and other stakeholders in three Indian states to reclaim the space. We have succeeded in the same with involvement of elected members and bureaucrats by earmarking funds for the maintenance.
Where and When: 
Since 2009, we have been building the capacity of the communities in Nagpur, Kerala and Bangalore – all in India. Community has been engaging with the program and reclaimed 14 parks so far. Scaling up the program through Self Help Group Members can be easily replicated in any other places.
Challenges: 
In most Indian cities, excessive use of gadgets and television took the children and adults away from the public spaces. Safety concerns deter the few who wants to use the public space. Under utilization of the public spaces led to poor budget allocation which in turn resulted in poor maintenance. With cities going cosmopolitan, ownership of public spaces became nobody’s concern aiding encroachers. Officials in Government departments that take care of public spaces have no clue about many of the spaces nor are interested in reclaiming the ones that got encroached.
Innovation: 
Mapping of the existing public space in these cities and collating it with the list available with the government gave us an understanding of the public spaces lost. This was the first attempt in India to understand the availability of public spaces. Self Help Group (SHG) members of ESAF were trained to mobilize community for reclaiming the public space. Engaging with stakeholders involved in public spaces created onus on them to reclaim the space. Awareness programs organized for officials by linking role of public space in health helped in budget allocation and taking up of maintenance work.
Concept: 
Non Communicable Diseases (NCD) in Indian cities are growing at an alarming rate due to sedentary lifestyles. Availability of adequate public places and right utilization is one of the ways to reduce the risk of NCD. Any public space that is well maintained and easily accessible encourages people to use them. But in many Indian states, most of the public spaces are either encroached or are non functional. Sometimes community does not have details of the public space available in their locality. The right information could be disseminated only when we have an updated list of space which is why mapping becomes important. The mapping done in the cities gave the current scenario of public space available. While some are encroached by land mafia, most of them are underutilized due to poor maintenance. The vicious circle of under utilization and poor maintenance need to be tackled with the twin strategies of community mobilization and advocacy efforts with concerned officials. Awareness about NCD’s and it causes encourage people to adopt active lifestyle and government officials to allocate budget for creating and maintaining public spaces. Media including social media network can play a major role in spreading the message to likeminded individuals and organizations.
Description: 
Public space mapping was undertaken in three cities to have an understanding of the current state of public spaces in the respective cities. The mapping included assessment of quality and utilization of space and the infrastructure available. In two states, the public spaces were underutilized whereas in Bangalore, few parks were missing or encroached and the list given from the department were not matching with the existing parks. Compilation of the information collected through street by street mapping of public space in Bangalore will become a document for the government. In Kerala and Nagpur, parks were found to be non functional. Awareness programs organized with different stakeholders such as community, government officials and other likeminded organization led to the formation of a network. These people were trained and helped to build their capacity to reclaim their space. Another strategy used to mobilize community was to identify the Resident Welfare Association (RWA) and SHG’s in the locality to advocate for functional park in their locality. The interest shown by the community and other stakeholders made the government to allocate budget and closely monitor the development and maintenance of public spaces. In Nagpur, advocacy efforts resulted in making parks inclusive which allow access to differently able children as well. In Nagpur, we have developed two inclusive parks and government agreed in principal that any new park designed will be made inclusive. In Kerala and Bangalore two inclusive parks each are in the pipeline. We have roped special schools to make use of the space so that the designed space is utilized optimally. Many other special schools have requested our help to design inclusive parks in their area.
Impacts: 
Community was made aware of the need of public spaces and with their help 14 parks have been re designed and reclaimed. Officials were convinced about the need for inclusive parks and two inclusive parks were designed and constructed. One city has in principal agreed to make all new parks inclusive. There has been an increase in media instances on the importance of public space and their role in fighting against NCD after our campaign. RWA has taken initiative in reclaiming two parks which were encroached. We have seen increase in budget for parks in two states.