Thirty percent of the wards in Dhaka city do not have any playground or park, which particularly harms the mental and physical growth of children as they have no space to play and interact with friends.
According to the draft Detailed Area Plan (DAP), 25 out of 75 wards under Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) and 10 out of 55 wards under Dhaka North City Corporation (DNCC) do not have a single park and playground.
About 20 million people live in the capital, and considering the density of population in each ward, there should be over a dozen parks and play spaces in a ward, opine urban planners.
"One playground should serve a minimum of 2,000 people. Let's say this number is 5,000 for Dhaka -- even then each ward would require around 15-20 playgrounds. On average, each ward is home to over one lakh people," Adil Mohammad Khan, general secretary of Bangladesh Institute of Planners, told The Daily Star recently.
He also said of the two planning standards -- making space for playgrounds at walking distance from people's homes and creating space based on population -- the latter is widely practised in the world.
As most wards do not have a playground, those that do are overwhelmed by the huge demand for the spaces, said Adil.
"If there is a playground in every ward, then ideally there is space for everyone to play. But there's a dearth of open spaces, and the ones available get too crowded. Ultimately many children are discouraged to go to the few playgrounds we have," he explained.
Adil said a city requires three types of playground -- a playlot or small ground for children aged between three and eight; a semi-ground for children between 8-14, and an international standard field for people aged 15 and above.
He also said three types of parks – a small one for each neighbourhood, one for the community and a big city park -- are also required for a city to be viable for living.
"Ideally, a neighbourhood park is required for every 5,000 people while a community park is necessary for 20,000-30,000 people in a ward. More than one city park is required for a large city," Adil explained.
PEOPLE PAY THE PRICE
Adil said in absence of enough playgrounds and parks, children may develop depression and mental illnesses.
"It also leads to rise in social crimes and the disturbing development of teenage gang culture can be attributed to the lack of entertainment available through sports," Adil said, adding that children confined to home nowadays are becoming addicted to cellphones and screens.
Mohammad Ullah Firoz, associate professor of cardiology at Sir Salimullah Medical College and Hospital, echoed Adil's concerns, saying the physical and mental development of children are being damaged due to the lack of socialisation at open spaces.
Dhaka has been expanded based on economic demand but public health was not taken into consideration during the planning, said Dr Aliya Naheed, scientist and public health specialist.
"We eat a lot but exercise less now, because lifestyles have changed," she said.
"There are spaces to eat but no spaces to get physical exercise to burn the calories. Yet that is required to maintain a healthy metabolism. Those who cannot stay physically active lose nutrition," Naheed said.
"When a child plays regularly, their mind and body reaches balance. They also become part of a community of kids during the play and learn, socialising in a healthy environment," she added.
"Physical activity balances children's appetite, and regulates their sleep schedule. They remain mentally stimulated and find joy in their studies as well," said Dr Naheed.
But when children remain alone and have to keep themselves entertained with electronic devices only, they do not get a sense of healthy competition and community, she said.
"Lack of play can cause children's minds to wander into negative thoughts, that can lead to negative results like drug addiction, sexual harassment, etc," opined Dr Naheed.
Meanwhile, elderly people's health deteriorates faster if they do not get any exercise. Eight percent of Bangladesh's population are elderly.
"If older people can exercise regularly, their quality of life improves, and they too get a relief from loneliness through community interaction. If they are unable to do so, they soon become dependent on their families, and families often consider them burdens," explained Dr Naheed.
"Yet this elderly population could be a resource for our society," she added.
IS THERE A SOLUTION?
Architect Rafiq Azam said renovation of existing playgrounds and parks is not enough.
"Of the total area in Dhaka, around 5-8 percent are green spaces, when the required percentage would be around 25-30, said Azam.
Of the existing green patches in Dhaka, only one or two percent are accessible to the general public, said Azam, adding that the green space in the old airport at Tejgaon, the BRD headquarters in Pilkhana and the Parliament area are off-limits to general people.
Contacted, DSCC mayor Sheikh Fazle Noor Taposh said they have taken initiatives to build playgrounds in every ward.
Acknowledging that there is lack of space to play in every ward, Taposh said they have already recovered spaces in wards 42, 26 and 13 and have taken initiatives to set up playgrounds in those places.
"We will gradually ensure parks and playgrounds in every ward. If necessary, we will acquire land," he said.
DNCC mayor Md Atiqul Islam said they have already taken initiatives to modernise the existing 24 parks and playgrounds.
"Some of them have already been opened for people after the renovation works. In some wards there is no place to set up parks or playgrounds but we are working to find space," he said.
Atiqul said they have already taken initiatives to set up multipurpose park and playground in the new 18 wards under DNCC.
In 2000, there were 47 parks and 10 playgrounds under the undivided Dhaka City Corporation. Now, DSCC has 18 parks and 11 playgrounds while DNCC has 25 parks and 6 playgrounds.