Old Dhaka, the historic quarter of the capital which is popularly referred to as Puran Dhaka, was the centre of commerce and civilization in the Bengal region for hundreds of years.
Abundant parks and open spaces, along with freshwater lakes and rivers, once made Dhaka a city nurtured by nature. But the city gradually lost its waterbodies, while one-by-one the open spaces became hostages to development.
Many of the 15 parks, playgrounds and other open spaces that have managed to survive in Old Dhaka remain occupied by land grabbers, or are too dilapidated to visit.
According to local residents, many of these parks have fallen into a state of disrepair due to a lack of maintenance and the apathetic nature of the authorities.
Children who still consider going outside to play sports like cricket with their friends, can often be spotted mulling outside these parks, wondering if there are no guards around to sneak in and play a few overs.
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Bangladesh Maath, widely known as Pakistani Maath, is a popular destination for aspiring young cricketers. But the state of the spectators' sitting areas will discourage anyone to show up to encourage those youngsters Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune
For all the social criticism towards children opting to play video games instead of outdoor sports, it does little to no good if there is no space to accommodate sports.
But parks are not only for children. Elderly people who would like to go for walks instead find themselves shut up in their homes.
Health experts have warned that the forced inactivity of the young and elderly is contributing negatively to public health.
Also Read- Who will save the parks of Dhaka?
“Sport helps to develop the brain and builds leadership and responsibility,” Dr Bijay Karmakar, a child specialist, said.
“The physical activity is imperative for a sound growth. It is high time our city planners felt the need for open spaces and parks in their plans for Dhaka’s future.”
A Bangshal resident, Fazlur Rahman, lamented the neglect of green spaces in the historic heart of the city.
He said: “We used to play once upon a time in Bangshal Triangle Park. The park has suffered so much it is virtually dead. Children today have nowhere to play, except video games inside their rooms.”
The 15 parks of Old Dhaka are: Narinda Shishu Park, Malitola Park, Bangshal Triangular Park, Bahadur Shah Park, Nawab Sirajuddoula Park, Nazirabazar Park, Bakshibazar Park, Bashiruddin Park, Jagannath Saha Park, Nawabganj Shishu Park, Hazaribagh Shishu Park, Hazaribagh Kashaituli Park, Nimtoli Sarakdeep Park, Baldha Garden and Bangladesh Field.
No parks here
Many of the parks in Old Dhaka have turned into parking lots for cars and rickshaws. After occupying the land using hired muscle to scare off concerned residents, a number of these public spaces have become a source of private income.
Some of the more rundown parks see sex workers and drug dealers operate freely. Corners of the parks have been turned into slums by squatters who have nowhere else to go. All in all, some parks are truly lost.
The parks which have fared a little better and are a little cleaner are regular venues for political programmes. These parks remain booked most of the time, and when they are not, they are littered with the remnants of past events.
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Broken drain pipes, stagnant water and rubbish occupy an section of Bangladesh Matth in Old Dhaka Rajib Dhar/Dhaka Tribune
Dhupkhola field is one of the largest in the area with nearly seven acres of land, but it simply cannot cope with the numbers that turn up.
This is because the field is partially occupied by Eastern Club, Jagannath University (JnU), and three other stakeholders, leaving little room for a meager playground.
JnU Vice-Chancellor Mijanur Rahman said: “We use our section of the field for university tournaments. We have ensured the locals get about two acres of land to themselves.”
Bangladesh Maath, widely known as Pakistani Maath, is a popular destination for aspiring young cricketers. Even though the field is bereft of any greenery whatsoever, children still come out to play and leave with bruises from scraping the bare dirt.
The children of Dholaipar in Jatrabari have no nearby playgrounds or fields to escape to. They are forced to either go all the way to Keraniganj, or play in dangerous places like roads or construction sites.
Bangladesh Poribesh Andolon (BAPA) General Secretary Dr MA Matin stressed the need to have open spaces in Dhaka.
He said: “There are regulations for open spaces in respect to the population size in urban areas. It is tragic that Dhaka has not been able to fully implement them.”
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Lalbagh playground is bereft of any greenery whatsoever, children still come out to play and leave with bruises from scraping the bare dirt Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune
What is the DSCC doing about this?
Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC) has decided to make all parks and playgrounds under its jurisdiction off-limits for any sorts of public gathering - including political rallies and religious or social programmes - once the ongoing development projects are finished.
An initiative by DSCC Mayor Sayeed Khokon aims to give a facelift to 19 parks and 12 playgrounds under the corporation’s jurisdiction.
DSCC CEO Khan Mohammad Belal assured the Dhaka Tribune that no public gathering or rallies would be approved at these parks and playgrounds after the project is completed.
The parks under the project are Gulistan Park, Motijheel Park, JatrabariChowrasta Park, Sirajuddoula Park, Sikkatuli Park, Malitola Park, Bangshal Triangular Park, and Mayor Mohammad SayeedKhokon Park, also known as Sharafatganj Park.
The playgrounds set for facelifts are Kalabagan playground, Basabo playground, Sadeque Hossain Khoka playground, Delowar Hossain playground, Amligola playground, Shahid Nagar Mini Stadium, Balurghat playground, Shahid Abdul Alim playground, Samsabad playground and Bangladesh Maath.