The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) plans to build three underground parking lots at Flora Fountain (with capacity of 176 cars), Worli (640 cars) and under a section of Raosaheb Patwardhan Park (228 cars), Bandra (West). Overall, the underground parking lots, meant to accommodate 1044 cars, will be built at the cost of about Rs 300 crores.
However, citizens have opposed this move vehemently leading to withdrawal of another proposal of underground parking beneath Juhu’s Pushpa Narsee park (PNP).
Citizens mobilised to protest after a BMC press note on February 2, 2023 announced plans for underground parking underneath Patwardhan Park in Bandra and PN Park in Juhu. It stated that the proposals were recommended by the local area legislators and tenders would be floated soon for carrying out the said works.
Some residents associations have supported the proposal, but activists and a large number of citizens are against it.
Following the protests, Juhu legislator Amit Satam withdrew his plea and instead recommended the parking lot be shifted. Citizens view this reversal of stance in less than a month of raising their voices as a major victory for the larger movement.
Local citizens protest against the underground parking plan
Over 4000 citizens signed a petition by local Juhu resident and architect Samarth Das to save the parks on change.org demanding that this proposal be withdrawn. A group of concerned citizens wrote to the municipal administrator I.S. Chahal, seeking scrapping of this proposal. They termed it harmful, both for the ecology and for the environment. Citizens met on Sunday mornings at the Juhu park to protest with placards and discuss ways to fight against it. A WhatsApp group with over 300 members was formed to discuss and take the fight forward to save the park from concretisation.
A green survey was also commissioned by another local resident and architect Nitin Killawala to assess the green cover that was at stake in the PN park. The residents also came up with five alternate spaces within the vicinity where the BMC could instead develop the parking lot to save the trees and the green space.
Why was Pushpa Park so important for the local residents?
Citizens feared the imminent loss of 40-year-old trees in the park, whose canopy provided shade and space for many community activities like yoga classes, capoeira (Brazilian martial arts-infused dance) as well as art and music festivals.
One of the concerns is potential loss of tree cover as concrete slabs or artificial green turf would not sustain the 50 large and small trees including Rain trees, Mango trees, Peltophorum (copper pod tree), Peepal and Cassia Fistula (Indian laburnum). Residents also mentioned that it would aggravate the flooding in the area close to the Juhu coastline.
“The entire Juhu Vile Parle Development (JVPD) Scheme area is a flood prone zone, and by construction of a parking lot at this location we will be letting go of a large catchment sponge that will further add to flooding woes of the neighbourhood,” read the letter written by local residents to Iqbal Singh Chahal. The letter also had a flood map of the area attached to it.
“Pushpa park is the only green breathing green space to cycle and play for the children of Nehru Nagar slums nearby. For the approximately one lakh residents staying in the area, this is the only accessible space within walking distance and it should not be denied to them under any circumstances,” says Muthukumar Subramaniam, a local social worker from Nehru Nagar.
“While it is a fact that there is no space for parking in our locality, this is no excuse for creating a parking lot below the park,” says Muthukumar, who believes that the concerns of the marginalised communities must be incorporated in city planning.
Read more: Mumbai: City planning leaves few open spaces for citizens to breathe free
Is it possible to have underground parking lots below public open spaces?
“Parks are the few remaining open spaces in Mumbai which has one of the poorest per capita ratios for open spaces in the world. These parks serve a multitude of functions – they act as large sponges for rainwater amidst increasing impervious and concrete developments thereby mitigating further flooding risks. They help reduce the CO2 in the air amidst the rapidly declining air quality and they help mitigate the compounding urban heat island effects thereby forming an oasis for people in dense neighbourhoods. Creating an impervious concrete slab for an underground parking lot would require the rain trees to be cut and compromises the park’s ability to perform any of the above functions – thereby rendering it useless,” architect Samarth Das explained in his petition on change.org
“Developing an underground parking below a park is more harmful because it directly affects the trees and its green cover. Tree roots generally run as deep as its length above ground. So, a tree with a 12-feet-tall canopy is estimated to be equally deep. This means that such trees cannot survive if a steel or concrete structure like a parking lot comes up beneath the ground. While trees with shallow roots could survive, the old heritage trees fail to survive, in these circumstances. Hence, steel or concrete slabs below trees are non-negotiable,” says Nitin Killawala.
The Mumbai Architects Collective, a forum of architects and urban planners, has written to the municipal commissioner on February 16, 2023, suggesting that underground parking be considered only below existing infrastructure such as buildings or roads to reduce its impact on natural ecosystems and create sustainable green spaces. “Such a policy will help reduce health island effect, lower pollution levels and improve overall quality of life in Mumbai,” it stated. It also urged the BMC to consider factors like groundwater recharge, flood basins, catchment areas, natural ecosystems, bio-diversity and health of tree roots while considering parking lots underneath parks.
Read more: Why Mumbai needs parks more than parking lots for its 32 lakh cars
History of underground parking lots below parks or public open spaces (POS) in the city
Incidentally, this is not the first time that the BMC has tried to introduce parking lots beneath POS. A similar proposal to create a parking lot below the iconic Oval maidan in the mid-90’s had similarly invoked strong public uproar forcing the authorities to cancel the proposal, recalls Nayana Kathpalia, trustee of NGO NAGAR and the Oval Cooperage Residents Association.
Thereafter similar proposals were floated for developing parking lots below the Cross Maidan and even Azad Maidan and Jhulla Maidan at Byculla, all of which were given up following stiff opposition from citizens. Thankfully, the Development Control and Promotion Regulations (DCPR) – 2034 has granted exemptions to all these places from being developed for underground parking.
Underground parking vs multi-level parking: what’s feasible?
Underground parking below public parks is increasingly being pushed forward by policy makers as a solution for the rising need for parking spaces in the city. Member of legislative assembly (Bhiwandi) Rais Sheikh, who used to be corporator from Mumbai’s Nagpada, is convinced that “underground parking lot is a great initiative and must be taken up in the city as it helps ensure multiple uses of land.”
Sheikh feels that “All parking solutions – be it underground or multi-storied – must be designed and tailored to meet the needs of the local residents.” Sheikh says parking is a big issue especially in the city because old buildings lack parking facilities. It leads to vehicles spilling onto the roads, blocking free movement of vehicles and even endangering lives. “Parked two-wheelers and cars block flow of traffic even affecting movement of ambulances at times,” he says.
Provisions that permit underground parking beneath parks?
Section 53 of the Development Control and Promotion Regulations -2034, permits underground public utilities / conveniences /amenity provisions. It states that underground parking and shopping shall be allowed below existing DP roads and lands reserved for playground, gardens, parks, and public open spaces. It is to be used one or two levels below the ground. The improvements committee of the BMC had allowed development of underground parking in August, 2019 to resolve the issue of shortage of parking spaces in the city.
Thankfully, iconic grounds like the Oval Maidan, Cross Maidan, Azad Maidan, Shivaji Park, all parade grounds, Nare Park, Jambhori Maidan, Five Gardens and the public open spaces reflected in list of heritage sites along with recreational grounds opposite Scottish School, Dadar, Cadell Road (Veer Sawarkar Marg) situated to the north of Hinduja Hospital, are exempted from this provision.
Risks of underground parking
“If such projects are allowed, then it could pave the way for every park in the city to become a potential parking lot. This could impact our fragile tree cover that is already under threat from various developmental projects,” says activist Zoru Bhathena. He fears that BMC’s obsession with seeking big-ticket cement solutions for every problem could eventually lead to parking lots being misused for commercial purposes rather than for actual parking or decongesting of streets.
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