Poor maintenance turns Adambakkam Park into a safety hazard
Chennai’s neighborhood parks and the playgrounds within them see a lot of activity in the summer. Schools are on hiatus and residents seek shelter from the heat in a green blanket. With frequent closures in recent years, visiting the local park and playgrounds had become a rarity. But with the first signs of normality, the number of residents looking to spend time at leisure parks is on the rise again.
However, not all parks and playgrounds receive the necessary maintenance. Many smaller parks have suffered a great deal of neglect, so residents cannot use the facilities.
On a routine walk in my area, I pass a park at Officer Colony, 1st street, Adambakkam. The park is quite large, spanning 1414 square meters, and has 2 slides, a small tennis court, trails and public restrooms.
Observing a little closer, I noticed that the park’s playground was quite poorly maintained in terms of the quality of the equipment offered. The most striking example was a fairly large, jagged hole in one of the slides. This hole was big enough for an adult’s foot to get stuck in, so one can imagine the danger it posed to small children, who I saw playing around the slide. Another slide didn’t even have proper side handles for climbing, making it a hazard for young children.
On top of that, other neglected areas started to become visible. For one, the trail had missing or misplaced tiles. Side handles to help disabled people walk were broken and littered on the floor. The small tennis court seemed unevenly leveled and worn. A park staff member even mentioned that he hadn’t received his salary for a month.
Slow response to complaints
Parks and playgrounds are ultimately key sites for public recreation and community gathering. It is a place designed for people, especially children, to relax, play and feel safe in the otherwise busy urban space. This is why it is important that the civil authorities constantly strive to maintain this sense of security. This neglect of parks as an important civic amenity has even been reflected in the way city governing bodies have responded to complaints I have raised about them.
Soon after noticing the problem in April, I took pictures of the various infrastructural shortcomings and posted them on the Greater Chennai Corporation’s Namma Chennai app complaint portal. After the initial complaint was closed without addressing the issue, I made a second attempt. I filed each issue in a separate complaint. The first complaint was about trail wear. The second and third were for the two slides. After that I also filed a complaint about the tennis court in the park.
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There has been no direct response to most of these complaints. In response to the trail complaint, a few patches in the area have been fixed. However, there were still some loose rocks and tiles. There was hardly any proper action regarding the slides and the tennis court. I noticed that a supervisor often visited the park. Informing him of the problem and the complaint raised, the supervisor put up a sign telling visitors not to use the slide and sealed the hole with packing material. It’s been a month and no effort has been made to get the slide back into service.
Over the past month I have contacted the Area Office as well as the Area Engineer (AE) to ensure that complaints will be dealt with satisfactorily. Upon contacting the area office, they mentioned that they had never seen such a complaint in the first place. After that, I contacted Adambakkam AE. Addressing the EA, he assured that the issues would be resolved. How they will be treated has not yet been mentioned. Considering how lukewarm previous attempts to address the issue have been, it will be a waiting game to see what the outcome of this conversation will be.
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Maintenance of Chennai parks by private contractors
During my engagement with the issue, I was unable to contact the private contractors who are actually in charge of maintaining the park. The park has been under maintenance by Alva Builders since March 25, 2022. This is actually part of a larger GCC push to partially privatize park maintenancewhich started before the pandemic.
While the push has been hailed as a way to ensure smooth and efficient maintenance of parks and public spaces, many residents have complained that their local parks continue to be poorly maintained despite such promises. Many parks have been privatized, some even charging an entrance fee. Caretakers and cleaning staff are often not present and many caretakers have even complained that they do not receive their salaries after the change of contractor.
According to tenders issued by the Company inviting bidders for parks over the years, new contractors must maintain the Company’s property and fixtures. While the park has only recently come under the responsibility of the new contractor, the lack of initiatives to address these issues is concerning, as we are dealing with a matter of hazard rather than simple maintenance.
It’s been a week since I spoke to AE, so these issues might be resolved soon. But the broader context of this issue is the need for civic bodies to actively identify and nurture public spaces in Chennai’s parks. The lack of such supervision, as can be seen in the case of this park, can lead to these spaces becoming quite dangerous for anyone who comes to relax and play.