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Central Park in Panjim

Through Mr. R, I came across a Facebook group that’s campaigning for a Park in Panjim. Initiated by Jason Keith Fernandes, the group has an ambitious dream – to convert land reserved for an IT park into park-land. From their official group page:

This is dedicated to converting the land earmarked for the IT Park into an urban natural preserve along the lines of New York’s Central Park, Bangalore’s Cubbon Park, Delhi’s Lodhi Gardens and London’s Hyde Park.

The Park will meet not only the many recreational needs of the residents of Dona Paula, Taleigao and Panjim, but also work to create a local economy for those who were earlier dependant on the land, and generate a vibrant local ecology.

The group will seek to draw greater attention to the need for more open spaces in Goa’s urban spaces that are fast turning to concrete jungles. In this particular case, we would like the Government to confirm the use of the land for the urban natural preserve and then set up a body of locals to manage the parkland.

Having lived in Mumbai, the green spaces of England came as a shock to me. It seemed unbelievable that you could actually have a park (little lakes, swans and all) in the middle of very big, busy towns. Now, town planning in India may be non-existent, but perhaps we can do something to make it better.

I mentioned to Jason examples of NGOs across the world doing similar things to make their cities a better place. Bette Midler (the actor) started her own charity called the ‘New York Restoration Project’ after she saw the state of the parks and streets in NYC. Today, her NGO has made more than a token difference to the neighbourhoods they have targeted.

In Mumbai, we have Citiscape who are trying similar things. Perhaps you know of other groups.

The Facebook group (as of writing) has 102 members. Many of us are currently NRIs and we enjoy our green spaces and have better lives because of our access to open spaces. We’d like to see the same in India. Instead of open (public) spaces being used as wedding maidans or dumping grounds for construction debris, we’d like to see them being used as a retreat for the general public. Joggers Park in Bandra is an example, as is the Bandstand Promenade. (There are some negative points here regarding the environmental impact of the reclamation, but for me, the sheer lack of public spaces makes up for this.)

I believe that if any change is to come, it will (has to) happen from the people. Leave things for the politicians and nothing will get done – that’s a given.

Panjim is an unusual city in that respect. For a MW (and people outside Goa), the city is a delight with its pavements and tree lined streets. Few places in India can boast that. *This*, along with the beaches, is what brings domestic tourists here. Walking on clean pavements without bumping into hawkers or stepping over a slum dweller is an unusual experience for a regular Indian. Add to that the charm of Goa and you have a dream destination for the domestic tourist.

Forget about the tourists for a moment.

Goans have long cherished their green heritage. But with the way things are going, it won’t be long before the hills are covered with buildings, open spaces turn into corporate parks, old houses are demolished to make way for a multi-storeyed car park. What will then distinguish Goa from the rest of the country?

If Goa is to retain its unique identity and place in the Indian (and global) psyche, preserving its heritage – green or otherwise – becomes a matter of urgency. Politicians are not in the business of making a (positive) difference; that is left to you and me.

So, what can we do? For starters, if you are on Facebook, join the Central Park for Panjim group. A pressure group can make a big difference. Goa has seen this successfully happen recently, as in the case of the GBA. No reason why this new initiative can’t have the same impact.

Imagine being in Goa – either as a resident or a tourist. Find your way to the outskirts of Panjim and instead of a maze of concrete, breathe in the cool air, walk among tree lined paths, have a picnic on green grass. Enjoy the silence and serenity.

Both versions are possible. Take your pick.

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