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Bhubaneswar takes the lead in designing children-centric smart, green city

Under the Smart Cities Mission, there are currently 160 projects in 60 cities for creating green corridors, development and innovative use of open spaces

Children's Day went without celebrations, particularly at schools in the Capital as pollution levels hit the roof. But this is not to say that cities have not done their bit to preserve the environment. As part of the Smart Cities Mission that mandates developing green and natural play areas, a number of cities have introduced projects focusing on rejuvenating greens, riverfront development as well as developing parks keeping children in mind.

Under the Smart Cities Mission, there are currently 160 projects in 60 cities for creating green corridors, development and innovative use of open spaces, designing walkways and cycle tracks, riverfront development and eco-restoration projects, says Kanak Tiwari, Team Lead at The Child friendly Smart Cities (CFSC) initiative by the National Institute of Urban Affairs that is dedicated towards mainstreaming the needs of children in the urban agenda and is supported by the Bernard van Leer Foundation.

Theme-based parks like nature park, beach park and riverfront green areas are being developed in some of these cities such as Bhubaneshwar, a children’s science park in Belagavi and science centre at Kakinada, a themed nature park in Coimbatore, happiness areas in New Delhi, riverfront parks in Guwahati, and Indore and lakefront development at Jabalpur.

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“All these projects provide an opportunity for exposure to nature, while also creating awareness on preserving natural features of the city. These smart cities have focused on designing new parks and play areas for children and even redevelopment and retrofitting of existing parks and open spaces. All 20 lighthouse cities have a component of refurbishing the existing parks and play areas, she says.

The Amrut mission mandates one children’s park in every city every year for the five years of the mission. In many cities the focus has also been to replace fabricated play equipment with eco-friendly materials, she says, adding some cities have also gone ahead to provide an all-abilities park such as Vizag.

Bhubaneswar was perhaps the first of the 20 smart cities to have conceived its smart city proposal keeping children at the centre of design and planning. A child-friendly city centre or the Bhubaneswar knowledge centre in the office of Bhubaneshwar Development Authority was also been set up.

Bhubaneswar Urban Knowledge Centre (BUKC) has been set up with a focus on improving aspects regarding children in city planning. A pool of professionals and experts have been engaged to conduct research on global best practices on how to make cities more livable and child-friendly, Aadish V Nargunde, Programme Manager, Bhubaneswar Urban Knowledge Centre, an extended technical wing of the BDA, told Moneycontrol.

In 2017, the city completed mapping of neighbourhoods in 57 out of its 67 wards, gathering data on the number of children in each ward and the services available to them, such as anganwadis, schools, hospitals, health facilities, parks and access to public transport. It involved children to highlight the problems they faced such as  parks not being accessible, lack of footpaths, streetlights, and safe places to crossroads; lack of public transport to get to the nearest school. Children and youth of the city were actively involved in framing the proposals.

“BUKC has been working closely with city and state agencies for designing, developing infrastructure such as roads, parks, recreational and play areas, heritage conservation and information dissemination, etc. A conscious effort is being made to integrate child-friendly design and planning aspects into every possible field,” informs Nargunde.

“Out of the 20 parks identified, seven have been redeveloped. In the remaining 13 parks, retrofitting interventions such as kiosks, toilets, play areas have been undertaken. Legible signages have been used to help children navigate their way through. All parks had the same design language,” he says.

Activity zones have been created in all these parks. Children are encouraged to get creative and paint on blank walls, several ramps have been constructed to enable children with special abilities to enjoy the facilities. Lighting has also played a vital role in parks design. We have also utilised parks to promote our annual international storytelling festival called BhuFeSto, he says.

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Last year, the festival was conducted in three parks and this year the city plans to hold the event in five parks from Dec 23 to Jan 1, 2020. A unique feature of the festival and a special highlight of the festival is that it is an inclusive festival with special storytelling sessions for children with hearing and visual disabilities. Other children centric activities conducted in these parks include kickboxing, karate classes among others. All events across parks in the cities are curated by a programme manager who has been appointed for the purpose, he says.

Roads have been designed keeping the needs of children in mind. Dedicated pelican crossings/signals have been installed under the smart cities initiative in around six places near schools. A pelican crossing enables pedestrians to turn the traffic lights red or green whenever they want to cross the road.

The city has also experimented with colourful zebra crossings for children. It has also designed a dedicated children’s plaza near the busiest area of the city. By February or March next year, the city would be implementing its low carbon mobility plan. There are also plans to go live with a dedicated child-friendly city website, he says.

The proposed development plan 2040 for the city would also be incorporating child-friendly city planning aspects, he says.

The development authority has also mandated that construction of a child-friendly multi-purpose amenities centre as part of every housing project. Real estate developers have been showcasing this as their USP now, he says.

Suggestions from children have been incorporated in all these initiatives. BUKC carried out a survey among children in which they were asked to analyse the present condition of one of the busiest roads and suggest improvements, he says.

A group of seven kids from different backgrounds in the age group of 6 to 14 came up problems they faced while walking on the streets. The problem areas included lighting, broken footpaths, fear of getting lost, inability to read the signages as most could not read English, fear of crossing the road, fear of open drains among others. All their suggestions were incorporated while designing the city’s busiest junction, he says.

Other Indian cities that have undertaken similar initiatives include Bengaluru that hosted the 5th Bangalore Open Data Camp. The smart city organised a  Pollution Party to look at the growing problem of pollution by spending two days examining the role of data. The meet focused on building data collection networks and installing sensors transcending state/ city borders to get a real sense of pollution problem. This also included a sensor building workshop for kids aged 12-17 years to build environmental sensors for detecting air pollution

Pune has set up real-time CCTV networks and children’s smart devices to use wireless networks to locate missing children as quickly as possible. A stretch  in Aundh has been turned into a play zone for kids where the Pune Municipal Corporation has installed a skating track and designed a  play area, and an amphitheatre.

Belagavi is working towards developing one city-level park and 20 neighbourhood parks by 2020. New Delhi has also designed happiness zones with children activity areas.

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First Published on Nov 14, 2019 10:08 pm
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