Evangelical Social Action Forum (ESAF) through its Livable City Project with HealthBridge Foundation, explored for spaces that can be made available for children and public. Public space audit captured the potential of Children’s Cultural Village which will cater to the needs of almost 2000 families in and around the area. Community engagement, involvement of media and were the key strategies.
Thrissur has been the cultural capital of Kerala for years but the paradox is that the city lacks enough public spaces. The community used”Aanakulam” (Elephant’s Pond) for giving bath to elephants and agricultural needs. Redesigning Aanakulam as children’s cultural village was the dream project of the writer, child rights activist and then councilor, Mr C R Das.
Evangelical Social Action Forum (ESAF) through its Livable City Project funded and guided by HealthBridge Foundation, explored for spaces that can be made available for children and public. Kerala has highest prevalence of Non Communicable Diseases (NCD) and also took the title of being the Diabetes capital of India. This led to the exercise of mapping possible public spaces. This mapping captured the potential of Children’s Cultural Village. If made functional, it will cater to the needs of almost 2000 families in and around the area.
Community engagement, involvement of media and public administrators were the key strategies used.
Discussion with stakeholders revealed that lack of political will. The community though positive lacked knowledge about reclaiming. ESAF provided the right amount of guidance and leadership to make this space functional. Media extended support to bring it to the attention of the community and political leaders. Meetings with city administrators help renew interest in renovating the space.
Discussions and meetings with community, officials from concerned departments and city administration made slow progress; while the community mobilization was easiest. Representatives from community and ESAF decided to clean up the area. Advocacy efforts paid off when the Mayor of the city agreed to approve the functioning of the Action Council. The entire neighborhood embraced the opportunity to renovate and reclaim its own park. Once cleaned up community members started using the park for walking, children started using the very limited play spaces. Currently park is opened to public and almost 100 people use the park for their morning and evening walks and exercises. The community members took active role and shared the responsibility running the vacation camp for children.
Future plans include community run weekly programs and capacity building programs, renovation and upgrade of play spaces, walking trails around the 3.5 acre pond and local government funding/ corporate sponsorship for public space substance.
This initiative from Kerala, India is an excellent example of how advocacy with different stakeholders can lead to reclaiming of public spaces.