Our planners have not paid much attention to this essential component of towns and cities
COVER STORY: Bhutanese town planning gives little priority to a most essential component of an urban centre – parks, where children can play and adults can hang around on weekends with their family.
Many of the new planned towns in the country have turned to impersonal concrete jungles that provide little opportunity for the development of healthy social and communal values.
Changjiji housing complex in Thimphu is an example of a plan that could have succeeded, had planners given space for a good-enough, big-enough recreational facility for the community.
Years later, a small park was created for the community, when children began taking to undesirable habits, like theft, drugs and alcohol, due to the lack of a healthy alternative.
Thimphu, as the capital and biggest city in the country, has a few parks for children. But most of them lack good care. In some parks, swings have come loose and slides are broken.
In 2012, an iron gate that came off its hinges killed a toddler at the Centenary Children’s Park. Today the park is probably the only well-maintained park in the capital.
The only park at Thongdu in Paro has just two slides. One does not even have stairs leading to the top. There was a time when the park used to be popular with more outdoor play equipment.
Phurba, a mother of two, says she doesn’t take her children to the park anymore.
“It’s unsafe and risky,” said Phurba. “It’s been quite some time now. It should have been repaired so that children have a safe space to spend their free time.”
Trashigang town doesn’t have a play space for children. Parents take their children all the way to Rongthong, 15km away from the town, where there is a small playground constructed by Read Bhutan last year. The playground can accommodate not more than 20 children at a time. It is located right above the highway and is maintained by Read Bhutan.
The park was constructed at Rongthong because there was no space for the construction of a library in Trashigang town.
Sonam Dargay, a parent from Kanglung, takes his four-year-old daughter to the playground twice a month.
“The park is far away from where we live. Many parents don’t bring their children to the park because of distance,” said Sonam Dargay.
The playground near Bajo hospital in Wangdue has no functioning play equipment anymore. The little park used to be the children’s favourite hangout after school.
Dorji, a parent, said that children need enough play when they are growing up, and a safe and secure space where they can spend some good hours with their friends.
“Children resort to detrimental habits and engagements otherwise,” said Dorji. An official said that there is a plan to redevelop the park soon.
Phuentsholing’s park, opposite Bhutan Telecom’s office, is being maintained well, except for a broken swing. Tenzin Jamtsho Norbu, 14, a Class VIII student of Phuentsholing Lower Secondary School goes to the park almost every day with his friends to play basketball. Children also play futsal in the park. The park is also popular with Indians from across the border.
Thirtha Man Subba, 19, goes to the park regularly to hang out with his friends after school. School can be very tiring sometime, said Thirtha Man Subba. “I come here to refresh and to discuss the day’s lessons with my friends.”
Adults go to the park for walk and some yoga. The park has five canopies, where elderly men and women can be seen saying rosary, or just talking away their time. T he park also has a mani dungkar.
“This will be a really nice park if maintained well. It needs a bit of life and colour. And, of course, if there is a cleaner, this park will be a great hangout,” said Thirtha.
Norbu Gyeltshen, a private employee, said, there was a need to make the park an attractive and safe place for children.
“If we have more recreational facilities, our children will not indulge themselves in drugs, alcohol and other harmful habit,” said Norbu Gyeltshen.“That way, parks are more than a necessity, especially in towns.
Phuentsholing thromde has a plan to build a new park in Kabreytar.
Sonam Wangchuk, a teacher in Thimphu, said that parks are necessary in any community. “But that’s not enough. I need good parks with good and working equipment for the children to play.”
By Jigme Wangchuk