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August 19, 2019

Love Your Parks Mumbai Is Creatively Putting Mumbai’s Open Spaces To Good Use

Text by Sadaf Shaikh

The brainchild of two mothers who grew increasingly frustrated with the restrictive rules and poorly maintained infrastructure of the parks they took their children to, Anca Florescu Abraham and Tina Nandi Stephens founded Love Your Parks Mumbai in an attempt to activate stagnating spaces through regular and dynamic programming

Love Your Parks Mumbai (LYPMumbai), was born out of two mothers’ collective frustration with local public parks where they took their children to play. Restrictive rules, unreasonably long closing hours, lack of safe access for pedestrians and poorly maintained infrastructure were all solid reasons for them to want to initiate change but they wanted to do more than just grumble in private about these civic predicaments.

That’s when Anca Florescu Abraham and Tina Nandi Stephens first set up a community choir in November 2018. At the end of six weeks, LYPMumbai Chorus presented two free public concerts called #SingForYourParks at Patwardhan and Joggers’ Parks in Bandra. The aim of the choir was to create a public and joyful noise, cultivating a community that could join the founders of LYPMumbai in advocating for change and have fun while doing it. Not surprisingly, Anca and Tina’s unique initiative garnered unanimous support from the public since its very inception. “Tristan Knelange, a professional choir conductor jumped on board to start our fledgeling choir,” the founders happily recall when I get in touch with them to dig deeper into their work philosophy. “HaikuJam, an art studio in Bandra West, allowed us to use their space for rehearsals, free of cost and our choir members religiously put in four hours of practice a week. Our first two public concerts attracted a total of about 250 people and we’ve had a steady stream of attendees at all our events since.”

Anca and Tina believe that public spaces work best when there is community collaboration and spaces are kept active through regular programming. In order to encourage regular participation, the duo is constantly working to establish a robust feedback loop between the community and decision-makers about what does and doesn’t work, in a particular space. However, it’s natural to expect some resistance from authoritative figures when attempting to do something out of the ordinary and they have definitely had incidents where they were faced with obstacles. “At our second public concert at Joggers’ Park, the guard initially refused to allow our choir conductor to bring his guitar into the park. We were finally able to explain the premise to him and by the end of the evening, our audience was singing and dancing along. It was a great event, but it did make for a stressful start.” Perhaps it was this very instance of shared happiness that prompted the BMC to extend their unwavering support to LYPMumbai’s initiatives. In fact, Anca and Tina hope to work closely with the BMC to streamline the process of acquiring permissions and to increase transparency in terms of the exact regulations and requirements for holding an event in a public space.

LYPMumbai has collaborated with local entrepreneurs on more than a dozen events since December 2018 and continue to receive requests for events from all across the city. When I ask them what motivates them to invest so much of their time into a public welfare venture, they reply, “Firstly, we want to remind people how fun it is to be outdoors and do things together with new people. Secondly, we want people to feel a sense of responsibility and attachment for their public spaces. We believe that when people feel this, they are more likely to contribute and participate in a constructive way. And lastly, we want people to understand that public spaces are arguably the very fabric of a healthy democracy. It is in these spaces that we learn civic sense and engage with other people, thereby increasing our tolerance and understanding of each other.”

Inspired by Anca and Tina’s noble efforts, Verve asked them to list a few public spaces in Mumbai where its conscientious employers can participate and contribute in a meaningful way to the city while enjoying the rejuvenation that open spaces offer :

Take out the trash with #MahimBeachCleanUp

Many of us may not even know of the existence of this little beach. Unfortunately, if you Google it, you will find photos of a beach which is more plastic than sand. But you will also find the inspiring story of Indranil and Rabia who decided to clean up this precious public space in 2017 and have been conducting a beach clean up every weekend since. You can join them at the next cleanup on Saturday morning from 8 – 10 A.M by logging on to their Instagram page @MahimBeachCleanUp.

Sign up for an event at Sanjay Gandhi National Park

Noted as one of the major national parks existing within a metropolis limit, this haven is a welcome respite from the hustle and bustle of the city. What may be less known is that the park has incredible and regular programming throughout the year. Guided monsoon trails, nature workshops to overnight camps… there’s plenty to do at SGNP for all age-groups. Keep up with their events is through their website and their Facebook page.

Take a shore walk with Marine Life of Mumbai

It may be surprising to know that despite its polluted waters, the shores of Mumbai are full of life. A non-profit, volunteer-driven and citizen-dependent initiative called Marine Life of Mumbai scientifically documents this life and is known to conduct shore walks for anyone interested in joining them. Be warned though: the walks may be very early in the morning but it will all be worth it once you lay your eyes on a bright blue Porpita Porpita or experience the spectacular fountain show of aquatic molluscs.

Visit the Juhu Organic Farmers Market at Pushpa Narsee Park

Pushpa Narsee Park ticks most of the boxes for what a great public park should look like. It is one of the few parks where cycling is encouraged with cycles available for rent at the entrance. It also has adult exercise equipment, a sizeable play area for kids and a large open area in the middle for multi-use activities. The park comes to life on Sundays when the Juhu Organic Farmers’ Market sets up shop in the covered section of the park. Do your weekly grocery shopping knowing that the produce is fresh and fairly benefits the farmers. You can also try your hand, or should we say feet, at slacklining with the active slacklining community that can be found there most Sundays.

Volunteer at DreamGrove at D’Monte Road Garden

A sign at the garden entrance says ‘This park puts leaves back in the ground where they belong’. If gardening, composting and community floats your boat, head to this garden on Sunday evening from 5 to 6 P.M. and let the sweet smell of fresh soil fill your soul with hope. Another great example of a citizen-led initiative, the project was founded with the purpose of finding a solution to Mumbai’s perennial leaf-burning problem. Every day, hundreds of dry leaves are swept off our streets and burnt or sent to a landfill, when they should be used to enrich the soil. A group of volunteers with the know-how and the passion got together and have turned this once-neglected garden into a food forest.

Pledge yourself to the conservation of Aarey Forest

Aarey forest is home to not just a huge diversity of rare insects, reptiles and mammals (including wild leopards), but also 7000+ indigenous tribal people who have been living there for centuries. Aarey has been in the news a fair amount in recent times due to controversy regarding the construction of a Metro Car Shed in the forest which would require the cutting down of 2703 trees and displacing animal and human life. In response, activists, organisations and the inhabitants of the forest have been raising awareness about this gem of a space and have organised many activities do take place in the area. Keep an eye out for an opportunity to take a guided walk or cycling trip through the forest or enjoy a tribal meal in the company of the forest’s original and rightful inhabitants.

Bring back Equal Streets

There’s no question that we could do with some more public open space in Mumbai. A citizen-led initiative called Equal Streets has come up with a unique solution to the problem by creating temporary usable public open space. How? Close a road off to traffic for a couple of hours and just like that you have access to instant safe space for kids and adults to cycle, skateboard, play games, dance, sing or just walk. Although, after a great run from January to March 2019 on Linking Road, Bandra, the program has been on a break and we don’t know when they will be back.

Discovering underused parks around Bandra

Both Khar and Bandra are treasure troves of underused parks that could be used for anything as simple as sitting in silence and watching the clouds go by or assembling a picnic basket for an impromptu snack amidst nature. Since Malla Park ( in St. Anne’s lane, next to St. Anne’s Church) and St. Paul Garden (on St. John Road/D’Monte Park Road Extension) are relatively lesser-known, you can rest assured that you will get a moment’s silence which you so badly crave as a city-dweller. Those with a penchant for discovering new places can also go scouting for a tiny no-name garden next to Silver Clophil Building on Saint Paul Road where you can strum your guitar or read a book with the steady chirping of birds for company.

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