As we take our daily walk in the parks of Doha, I am sorely reminded of how I am missing even this small privilege in my hometown Chennai.
Even today if we are to scrutinize the old blueprints/location maps of vintage landholdings/real estate properties of our metropolis, we can find that, there were many, many identified lung spaces situated right in the heart of our good old Madras that could have been converted to parks. We could have had these beautiful landscapes and walking and cycling tracks had not the public places earmarked for community utility landed in private hands during successive corrupt Dravidian regimes. Not even the reserve forest areas have been spared, violating laid down norms. Illegal encroachments get legal sanction with periodic regularization: that is Tamil Nadu.
Today if we see the skyrocketing of real estate prices in Chennai, it is not without a reason. Those middle-class families born and brought up in the city for generations cannot afford to live in the heart of the city thanks to our corrupt politicians. A 3 bhk apartment with car park in city limits costs in crores that most of us cannot afford. Only those old families who owned houses prior to the 1970s in Madras are now proud houseowners in the heart of the city. Of course there is the new rich always who have been able to afford expensive homes. A small percentage of the upwardly mobile can realize their dreams. But by and large, the middle class sections of our society have been pushed to the peripheral suburbs, that Chennai has seen multiple revisions of the Outer Ring Road in last 20 years. The next revision may peg the road at Kanchipuram. Not a joke.
City is sprawling in all three directions no doubt but there is also this sense of hopelessness in the old time Madrasis that they may not ever afford a modest home within the city limits. I have known so many many Mylaporeans who had to settle for properties 40 or 60 km afar as the city became unaffordable to them.
Only the IT guys and the NRIs and business community apart from settu (!) and bhai (!) and (both of whom are notorious for unaccountable money, the second especially for hawala) can ever buy homes now in Chennai. Believe me, had those of us few lucky not inherited anything from our parents, we would be holed up against our will somewhere in Perambakkam or Medavakkam today who knows! Seriously!
Agreed the OMR and ECR and the new business districts of the city. City center is shifting and it is no more our Anna Salai. But if you check the working population in the IT industry, you may find that a vast majority of them are floating population who do not know old Madras like you and me.
Violations in ECR and OMR are rampant, with handing down of ‘wet areas’ to IT parks in silver platter.
What about the landed estates doled out to engineering colleges and medical colleges that mushroomed during MGR and KK period.
Parks have been specifically lost to the denizens denying us a breathing space to unwind, except for our crowded beaches. Even the beaches seem to have lost their charm. How beautiful were once the Santhome beach and the Marina (Gandhi) beach. Santhome was our regular.
With very few parks left from the pre-independence era, we have had one or two even from this minimum taken over for development activities. Glaring examples are the Thiru Vi Ka Park of Shenoy Nagar and Nehru Park in Egmore that have turned out to be Metro Rail stations. Initially there was a promise of restoration of green cover although it remained a mystery how a underground metro rail station can be fitted out with a park anywhere. Now there is not a single word to this benefit and covid times have made things worse.
Googled on this and was pleasantly surprised to discover hundreds of parks listed in Chennai Metropolitan city limits! Few do survive against all odds. Wouldn’t want to talk here about the optimally utilized Nageshwara Park in Myalpore or the Panagal Park in T. Nagar. Or the Anna Nagar Tower park. These are the much needed respite to the locals. Memories of going to Nageshwara park with my father and feeding the deer and rabbits there still stays fresh in my memory. Adyar with its concentration of parks can be called the garden of Chennai.
There is one small park even in Harrington road. Most of the surviving parks in Chennai are as small as this one. There are quite a few like this even in Anna Nagar every kilometer. These are hardly parks, still even this small space is smartly utilized for walking and other health purposes by our citizens.
Thiru vi ka park and the corporation ground opposite it used to be hotcakes. Next to them is a swimming pool. They are of immense utility for the residents of the area. With the Thiru vi ka park closed, the corporation ground is seeing excess crowds that it is not able to handle.
The Eco Park in Chetpet and the Semmozhi Poonga in Cathedral road are like small solaces compared to what has been stolen from the general public.
Good that our temples have tanks in front of them. Congested Mylapore has some breathable air thanks to the three temple tanks situated in the thickly populated area. For this reason, even our temples have saved some precious space for our public. This is how now I view our temples now. When I see 100 acre temples like Thiruvannamalai, Tanjore etc., my first thought is, ‘Appa, they can’t plot out this area for real estate!’
To what pitiable condition have the Dravidian governments reduced us public.
There is a lean patch called park even in Haddows road. I realize that even a few mercifully saved square meters of public land is now touted as park by our city corporation.
I wish there are more parks opening up.
How about parks on reclaimed land from sea.
Mumbai is mostly on reclaimed land from sea.
Here in Doha, the Museum park where we go for regular walk is on reclaimed land.
But I understand that what we have is a bay here that has backwaters whereas Chennai has roughest seas. We are a port city.
Project technically may not be feasible.
Besides, this may be one very expensive investment that the government may not prioritize.
How about hanging parks with a walk way.
I am aware, the damage done by successive govts with making a piecemeal of our public places and doling them out to corrupt politicians, cannot be reversed now for practical reasons.
But Chennai can still have some breathing space. If we lack it, we can create one why not.
I am for hanging gardens on over-bridges with lookout platforms, and also for parks on reclaimed lands two hundred percent. If land reclamation is not ideal, we can still go for overhead parks. This is truly my dream and vision for Chennai.
There can be a park all the way from Besant Nagar to Chepauk zigzagging our skyline why not.
There can be a park overhead from Mogappair to Thiruvanmiyur.
When we could do elevated and subterranean metro rail sections at the same time, why cannot overhead parks be feasible in five to ten years. Just a thought. What revenue is our metro rail generating presently. How many years to break even. How many years did it take the MRTS to break even if at all it has managed that! So why not an elevated park crisscrossing our city skies?
Ambitious. Expensive. But NOT frivolous! Instead of promise of freebies for elections, how about our political parties promising something like this for the general public.
Chennai badly needs some decent breathing space. Lung space.
When I cross over a red tarmac road in a park here in Doha during my evening walk, on climbing a manmade incline (imagine a greeny green acre plus park with an artificial mound on flat desert surface, now that’s what I would call patriotism and love for nature), to the other side of the road, I station myself at the summit for a while. My heart longs for this kind of scenic view of my hometown Chennai from such an elegant elevated nature park.
Make such a park pay for itself like toll. Charge robustly or introduce membership. This way initially atleast we can keep off miscreants. Gradually the general public can have access to such parks. Vandalism not be tolerated at any cost. Post security and maintain the park shipshape. After all there is no shortage of manpower in India. Disallow most importantly, liquor in the skywalk park which already exists in my dream!
This is truly my dream project for Chennai.
India sadly lacks visionaries who can think ahead by a hundred or two hundred years. Chennai with the Dravidian muck are a hopeless lot. It may be too much on our part to expect them to come up from something grand and utilitarian like this.
An elevated green park can change the way we live in our city. This can change our lifestyle. This can change our thinking process. Chennai will become even more endearing!
And I realize i am daydreaming. Such a beautiful thought would not even cross a dirty stupid Tamil politician’s mind. My heart sinks.