Mumbai’s miniature parks are becoming popular now, with vehicles flying over them

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IIt’s around 6 p.m. and this Mumbai neighborhood park is buzzing with life. People walk around, lie down and stretch; the elders revel in stories and laugh seated on a bench; women are crammed into lively discussion and teenagers play guitars and sing. Someone even manages to read a book quietly.

A lot can happen in a park.

Except these are miniature parks in India’s maximum city – a unique experience of building bustling parks under flyovers. The park between King’s Circle junction and Ruia junction is only 660 meters long and 12 meters wide. In a city infamous for its lack of open space, city planners call it “tactical urbanism” and the BMC has been developing vertical gardens, green bus stops and numerous bonsai flyover parks since 2016.

“Wherever you go in Mumbai, there is traffic and pollution,” says Sunil Kadam, who is in his 40s and lives in the neighborhood. At least it’s safe because we don’t have to walk on trails or roads where vehicles come and go all the time.

Nanalal D Mehta Aerial Garden is between BMC Garden, BN Maheshwari Udyan and Five Gardens on the other side.

It was the first aerial garden built by the BMC in 2016 with the help of locals, according to city officials.

“It’s part of tactical urban planning,” says Kiran Dighavkar, a former BMC planning commissioner who led the tactical urban planning project until recently. “The basic theme of tactical urbanism is that big infrastructure projects happen but also leave a lot of open space unused. Turning them into community spaces by taking people in is tactical urbanism.

There was a problem with encroachment and cars parked under these flyovers, recalls Jitendra Pardeshi, superintendent of the garden department at BMC. We therefore undertook this beautification project because there was also the need to improve the greenery in the city.

“It served several purposes. Greenery in the city would increase, people would have more recreational spaces, and even parking encroachments could be avoided. It was important from a security point of view,” says Pardeshi.

BMC officials say public response to these gardens has been good as they are easily accessible to people staying nearby. Especially for seniors who don’t need to go far.

According to an April 2020 report by the Observer Research Foundation think tank, Mumbai has an abysmal 1.24 square meters of accessible open space per person compared to London’s 31.68 square meters, New York’s 26.4 square meters and 3.96 square meters of Tokyo.

According to the Mumbai 2034 development plan, the BMC plans to increase this ratio to 3.37 square meters per capita.

And tactical urbanism is part of this exercise.


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Nanalal Mehta Aerial Garden

As soon as you enter this park, the blue mosaic walkway that looks like the floor of a swimming pool will catch your eye. The park is Narmada-themed with information plaques dotting the park that describe the river and its ghats. The blue walkway gives the impression of a river with rocks and greenery on its side. The steps resemble a river ghat.

Kalyani Venkatesh and Najma Sheikh, who live in the nearby town of Matunga, used to visit Five Gardens for their night walks. But now Flyover Garden is their choice.

“It’s quite safe and clean here. There is a police chowki at the other end,” says Venkatesh. “The road is not uneven. For old people like us, our legs and knees don’t hurt because the road is maintained here unlike Five Gardens,” says Sheikh.

Kalyani Venkatesh and Najma Sheikh, who live near Matunga, at Nanalal D Mehta Garden | Purva Chitnis | The footprint

Sunil Kadam, who has been coming to this park for six months, says it is a good place to exercise even during the monsoon, as the overflight provides some cover. Kadam isn’t really bothered by traffic around the park. “Wherever you go in Mumbai, there is traffic and pollution. At least it’s safe because we don’t have to walk on trails or roads where vehicles come and go all the time.

The aerial park is covered with steel fencing and there is ample ground lighting. It is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. However, during the rains, the water infiltrates through the cracks between the two overflight pavements.

“It’s only during the monsoon that it gets dirty and muddy, which makes it difficult to walk,” says Venkatesh.

As the sun went down the place started to fill with walkers and evening strollers. People enter and leave the doors of the terminal.

Pervez Sheikh, a 19-year-old majoring mass media student at Khalsa College in the city, sits with her friend, Divya, chatting. Their college is located 500 meters from the park.

“It’s quite safe and well lit at night. We often come here to study,” says Sheikh. “Reading in the lap of nature is a different experience. It’s a good space.

“Many colleges don’t have good grounds or libraries with enough space. So it’s better to have such gardens nearby,” says Divya.

Pervez and Divya aren’t the only ones. Many students frequent this park. In a city that lacks quality public spaces, such initiatives are needed, they say.


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Space under hover

Mumbai is one of the densest cities. The elites already have their gated communities that provide open spaces, but the rest, especially those from the lower strata, don’t have that luxury, Dighavkar says.

“This is related to happiness and the quality of life index. More open spaces mean a city is more livable. So to increase that happiness quotient, more open spaces are needed,” says Dighavkar .

It was the success of the Nanalal D Mehta Flyover Park that inspired BMC to replicate the model in other parts of the city.

About 20 of those flyovers were beautified by the BMC’s garden department, Pardeshi says. But not all have been turned into parks.

In all, there are about 12 developed gardens. The rest embellished with the help of artwork, painting.

The Dadar TT flyover and the Elphinston flyover, between the Flower Market and Kamala Mills, are all landscaped. While the Goregaon flyover in the suburbs is a vertical garden, graffiti depicting a library is painted on structures supporting the Chembur flyover – as if books are sitting on a shelf.

A minimum of 300 meters of space is required to develop such parks under the flyovers.

“We first look at people’s needs and also at the available space. We consult with the Routes and Overflights Department before moving forward,” says Pardeshi.

“We will also look to develop spaces under the metro lines as the projects are completed. MSRDC, BMC, MMRDA, all these agencies need to work together to develop them,” says Pardeshi.

On average, the BMC spends between Rs 1.5 and 2 crores to develop such spaces.

Being in the heart of traffic, these sparks have their own share of drawbacks: noise and air pollution. But many Mumbaikars brave the noise to find some greenery, using headphones, cutting them off from the hustle and bustle.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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