Children lack access to open spaces to play, have fun and live their childhood. Everyone agrees that open spaces are important for a wholesome and enriching childhood. But, the key ingredient – open spaces are in short supply. So, what can parents do about it? How can parents help the children to run around and well, be children?
It is a hard task. On the face of it, parents can say that children do not have access to open spaces simply because there aren’t open spaces around. What can they do about it? It is the Government’s responsibility to ensure the availability of open spaces and make it accessible to children. That’s all. The buck is passed and we, as parents, can have the satisfaction of having done our duty.
I also thought like this. What a single person or a group of people can do for a civic amenity? Then, I happen to look around. You also look around wherever you stay. Can you locate the open spaces? Actually, they are right outside your house/below your apartment/round the corner. Ok, they may not be huge but there are open spaces all around us, good enough for children to play and enjoy.
Where and what are these open spaces hiding in plain sight robbing the children of the opportunity to indulge in their childhood? If there are open spaces all around us, why cannot we see them and make it available to our children? Well, these open spaces have been taken up by a certain thing that has come to rule our lives.
Walk the area surrounding your house/apartment. We may or may not find the trees and bushes, or the stray animals. However, we are sure to find lots and lots of cars. The parked cars, stationary and lying idle, not going anywhere. These cars, in the process of going nowhere, take up lots and lots of open spaces.
All of us are aware that cars are hazardous when they move. Cars cause pollution – air and sound, traffic snarls, road rage, accidents etc. Yes, the cars on their own do not do any of these, the people driving them do. Similarly, when the cars are parked, they don’t do any good either. Again, it is not the matter of the cars per se, but the people owning the cars that create the issues.
A car owner shall not allow any play involving a ball in the vicinity of the parked car. Actually, a car owner shall not allow any play equipment to come near the car for the glasses may get broken. Even worse, a car owner shall not allow a child to touch the car or even come near for the car may get scratches. Leave aside football/cricket, even tag/hide and seek are not allowed when a car is parked.
The car does not just occupy space as per its dimension/size when parked; it actually occupies space as per the car owner’s whim and fancies to keep the car unscathed. And, this space is much larger than the physical size of the car. After accounting for this mental space of the car owner around her/his car, there aren’t any open spaces left for children to play. Rather, even stand and talk.
One might say that cars are a required evil. But, how can even the parking of cars be evil? Per capita land availability in Indian cities is abysmal and that gets further compounded by cars parked indiscriminately, everywhere and anywhere. Why a dedicated underground parking lot is not considered a mandatory requirement to buy a car?
Some people might get offended by the idea of compulsory underground parking that it is too expensive and not a practical idea. For that matter, aren’t cars pricey enough to deserve a covered and committed parking? Why are cars parked on road-sides like stray animals and they can’t even be shooed away? Be it RWAs or commercial establishments, cars will be chaotically strewn around.
Have you ever tried speaking to a car owner about moving her/his car so that children can play? We try, the responses have been stares and outright indignation. For the car parked in front of our house, the truant owner removes the entity in question mumbling under the breath. For other cars parked in the lane, we are told to mind our business and not disturb the resting place of the prized possession.
If the cars have a utility to be driven, why can’t it be parked unobtrusively when not in use, without trampling upon the right of open spaces for children?
Reclaim open spaces
Imagine the open spaces that would be available for children to play and fool around if there are no cars on the ground except for moving on the roads?
Imagine the sounds of children revelling in joy and banter as compared to the ghastly silence of the parked car. Both of them vie for the same space in India and the car wins outright, as of now.
Along with children, imagine the space available for trees and plants, shrubs and bushes, if not for the idle cars lying around?
All the above and more are possible if we reclaim open spaces for the sake of children from cars.
What are your thoughts about the availability and accessibility of open spaces for children? Have I tried to over-simplify the problem by blaming the cars? What will it take for children to reclaim open spaces that are rightfully theirs?