PLAYGROUNDS and open spaces serve, quite literally, as a city’s lungs that give its residents a breathing space and its younger population an opportunity to grow in a healthy way. City-planners and architects at an event recently underscored this message before decrying the dearth of playgrounds in Dhaka, where the average square footage of open space (playgrounds, parks, walking spaces, etc.) per person is awfully short of the WHO standards. While there should be at least nine square feet of open space for every citizen on an average, one estimate puts the figure in Dhaka at only one square foot per person. This speaks of the insanely chaotic housing development that has scarred the city through the decades—with children, deprived of play areas in schools and neighbourhoods, emerging as one of its biggest casualties.
We have often highlighted in this column the importance of playgrounds for a healthy childhood. Playgrounds are where children make lasting memories. Without the opportunity to play and bond, children not only risk growing up unfit, they also find themselves stranded indoors and consequently exposed to various mental health issues. The tragedy of Dhaka is that only 42 of its 235 or so playgrounds and open spaces are open to the public, while the remaining spaces remain occupied by unscrupulous people and business entities. These spaces/playgrounds need to be freed and made available for the public, especially the children, and new ones should be created simultaneously. The government should understand that Dhaka’s problem is not so much its lack of space as its unplanned use, which can be addressed by leaving city-planning to the real experts instead of bureaucrats riven by partisan interests. As a city-planner said at the event, it is still possible to create playgrounds within walking distance for everybody within 10 years. All we need is proper planning.