Neighbourhood parks of Chennai and the play areas in them see much activity in the summer. The schools are on a break and residents seek reprieve from the heat in some green cover. With the frequent lockdowns in the past few years, visiting the local park and play areas had become a rarity. But with the first signs of normalcy, the number of residents looking to spend time in parks for leisure is on the rise again.
However, not all parks and play areas get the necessary amount of upkeep. Many smaller parks have faced much neglect, with the residents unable to use the facilities as a result.
Issues with infrastructure
During a routine walk around my area, I pass by a park in Officer Colony, 1st street, in Adambakkam. The park is rather big, spread over 1414 square metres, and has 2 slides, a small tennis court, footpaths and a public toilet.
On observing a little more closely, I noticed that the play area in the park was maintained quite poorly in terms of the quality of amenities available. The most striking example was a rather large and jagged hole in one of the slides. This hole was big enough for an adult foot to get caught in, so one can imagine the danger it poses to small children, who I saw playing around the slide. Another slide did not even have proper side handles for climbing, making it a hazard for small children.
In addition to this, other neglected areas started to become visible. For one the footpath had tiles missing or loosely placed. Side handles to aid those with disabilities while walking were broken and strewn across the ground. The small tennis court seemed irregularly leveled and worn out. A staff member at the park even mentioned how he had not received his salary for a month.
Slow response to complaints
Parks and playgrounds are ultimately key sites of public leisure and community gathering. It is a place set out for people, especially children to relax, play, and feel safe in the otherwise busy city space. This is why it is important that civic authorities constantly strive for this sense of safety to be maintained. This negligence of parks as an important civic amenity was even reflected in the ways the city’s governing bodies have responded to complaints I raised on the matter.
Shortly after I noticed the issue in April, I took pictures of the various infrastructural gaps and put them up on the complaint portal of the Greater Chennai Corporation’s Namma Chennai App. After the initial complaint was closed without addressing the issue, I made a second attempt. I filed each issue as a separate complaint. The first complaint was regarding the wear and tear of the footpath. The second and third were regarding the two slides. After this, I also put up a complaint about the tennis court in the park.
There was no direct response to most of these complaints. In response to the footpath complaint, a few patches of the area were corrected. However, some loose rocks and tiles still remained. There has barely been any proper action regarding the slides and tennis court as well. I noticed that a supervisor would often visit the park. On telling him about the issue and the complaint raised, the supervisor put up a sign telling visitors to not use the slide, and patched up the hole with packaging material. It has been a month since and no efforts have been taken to actually put the slide back in use.
Over the course of the past month, I contacted the Zonal Office as well as the Area Engineer (AE) so as to ensure that the complaints would be acted upon satisfactorily. On contacting the Zonal Office, they mentioned that they had never seen such a complaint in the first place. After this, I reached out to the AE of Adambakkam. On speaking to the AE, he provided assurance that the issues will be dealt with. How they will be dealt with was again not mentioned. Considering how the previous attempts to deal with the issue were half-hearted, it will be a waiting game to see what the outcome of this conversation will be.
Read more: Who looks after the OSR parks in Chennai?
Maintenance of Chennai parks by private contractors
Over the course of my engagement with the issue, I was unable to contact the private contractors who are actually in charge of maintaining the park. The park is under the maintenance of Alva Builders as of March 25th, 2022. This is actually part of a larger push by the GCC to partially privatise the maintenance of parks, which started prior to the pandemic.
While the push was lauded as a means to ensure smooth and efficient maintenance of parks and public spaces, many residents have complained that their local parks continue to be poorly maintained despite such promises. Many parks which have been privatised , with some even charging an entry fee. Watchmen and cleaning staff are often not present and many watchmen have even complained of not receiving their salaries after the change in contractor.
As per the tenders that were issued by the Corporation inviting bidders for parks over the years, the new contractors are to maintain the corporation property and accessories. While the park has only recently come under the new contractor, the lack of initiatives to tackle these issues is concerning, as what we are dealing with is a matter of danger rather than just maintenance.
It has been a week since I spoke to the AE, and so these problems actually might see some resolution soon. But the larger context to this issue is the need for civic bodies to actively identify and maintain public spaces across Chennai parks. The absence of such monitoring, as can be seen in the case of this park, can lead to these spaces becoming rather dangerous for all those who come to relax and play.