Public Space and Walls of a Social Contract: A study of Parks in Juhu
Shravan Iengar | 26th March 2022
(This is a post that forms a part of a series of writings by students made during the course of an elective “Writing About Infrastructure” conducted by Hussain Indorewala in February 2022
The region of the Juhu-Vile Parle Development Scheme (JVPD), has three major parks, Pushpa Narsee Park, Juhu Joggers Park, and the complex of Kaifi Azmi Park. The paper intends to take a deeper look at these parks, within the context of access to them, and more importantly, who are the people excluded from said access, based on formal barriers like entry passes and compound walls, as well as the larger intangible barriers of restrictions on activity, operating hours, security presences, and most importantly, the people who the park inherently caters to, and their attitude toward those they consider ‘others’.
The parks of JVPD also fall victim to these divisions and, on the surface level, some may seem unaffected by them, but looking further into the interpersonal dynamics, one notices the same signs of exclusion of the ‘others.
Looking at the map in Figure 1, one can see the parks, and their positions at opposite ends of the JVPD- the parks to the south, Pushpa Narsee Park and Juhu Joggers Park, and the ones to the north, Kaifi Azmi Park and Kishore Kumar Park. These are, separated by the Vijay Tendulkar amphitheatre, which doesn’t physically separate the two parks and one can take a kilometre-long lap across all of them without barriers. The three are primarily separated only by name, being seen by users as one single park, and studied as such.
The parks to the south both require payment to enter. Joggers Park has a largely more exclusionary tone, with a higher entry price of twelve rupees, and the parkgoers prefer the exclusion. Parents in the playground mentioned how the park had a better play area than Pushpa Narsee Park, and how ‘the crowd’ was much nicer, while one mentioned that while Pushpa Narsee Park had a track for cycling, she brought her son to this park and left the toddler’s bike at the entrance, letting him ride it on the pavement as they go to and from where the car is parked. An elderly visitor casually said that not everyone can afford the 12 rupee entrance, so only ‘proper people’ enter the park.
Pushpa Narsee Park does also charge an entry fee, although it starts at 2 rupees for senior citizens, even adults enter at only 5 rupees. Not many people visit this park as compared to the others, but it gets a lot of visitors wishing to use the cycle track, especially as one can also rent a bicycle for 25 rupees. The people who visit the park do not see the entry fee as a problem, they consider it good for the security and maintenance of the park. It isn’t expensive enough for them to think too much before spending, but it doesn’t appear as paltry as 12 rupees does to those at Joggers Park.
The entry permit doesn’t buy one access to the park, but rather, it is a fee to keep others out. The entry barrier is more of a social contract drafted by those who primarily use the park, unspoken rules imposed on socially weaker groups. The message is clear – they are not welcome, regardless of whether they can pay the price, and it is propagated not by just the park, but society at large. Seeing the rules regarding the “Right To Admission” held by the discretion of the management in both parks on the board in Figure 3, it is easy to assume this can be imposed if one does disrupt the sanctity of the space through mere presence.
Kaifi Azmi Park, and Kishore Kumar Park, on the other side of the JVPD scheme, have no fee for entering, and at first glance, one can see the positive effects of this. In the middle of both parks, there is an amphitheatre (as seen in Figure 4), whose stage is used by people for skateboarding and hip-hop dance practises, many of whom would garner stares of judgement for their attire and mannerisms in Jogger’s park, or even Pushpa Narsee Park. Some pavilions are used by teenagers to record skits and dance videos for social media, and one group of teenage boys even gathered to attend online lectures, as some of them had trouble with internet access, or had no proper space at home to attend class.
However, the skeleton of the parks follows the same exclusionary systems. The amphitheatre is separated from the seating areas by lawns and other patches of greenery and trees, and are a good distance away from each other. The parks still adhere to unspoken rules, and while Kaifi Azmi doesn’t have any written rules displayed, one is still reprimanded for walking in the wrong direction, there being a certain order that pervades every park. The layout of the Kaifi Azmi Park (Figure 5) shows a strong similarity to the Joggers Park, having a strong sense of linearity, and it is meant for people to walk around, jog, or sit with a few friends. The atmosphere is similar in the Kishore Kumar Park’s side as well, and these two spaces share characteristics with the other parks mentioned previously. Elderly visitors, parents of toddlers, and even teenagers from middle-class families grumble about ‘the hooligans in that part of the park’ and how the amphitheatre doesn’t get used for its intended activities.
The Park doesn’t exclude people through its gateway, but the division of space; the middle class does reluctantly section off a space with people of different social backgrounds, having enough separation to begrudgingly accept this dynamic.
The skateboarders have had scuffles with the other users of the park. They’ve had the security called on them, but they learned to deal with them after being evicted a few times. For them, mere access to the park is just the start of things. They skate in the park as it’s one of the few spaces they can, but they do prefer Bandra’s skate parks, although travelling there daily is an issue, bringing them here. They’re glad to be allowed access, as the streets damage their gear and are too uneven for skateboarding. In the conversation, they brought up a group of people who play cricket outside a nearby school, and how they cannot use the streets like that. (Incidentally, looking at Figure 6, one can see that game be played right across a private ground of said school, next to none other than Juhu Jogger’s Park, which has teenagers running football drills in jerseys of their favourite teams, another clear example of accessibility to open spaces in the same area.)
The skateboarders see some changes happening, however. Their rapport with some of the teenagers is growing, and the dancers also are beginning to find legitimacy through more privileged visitors of the park using the space for different dance activities as well, while skateboarders are trying to take lessons, however, people don’t offer good money, so classes aren’t easy to hold. They see the children of rich people, being influenced by them, gravitating to the sport, and hope that it creates some change in people’s attitudes. They may not be welcome on several informal levels, but the formal level of access they have has begun an upward climb of changing social norms that would normally keep them out, defying them, if need be, as there exists a bourgeois component of the users who would gladly bar them if given the chance.
Figure 1: (2022) Satellite Image of JVPD Scheme taken from Google Maps; modified by author.
Figure 5: (Year Unknown) Drawing taken from the website of P.K. Das & Associates.
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- Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Harvard: Routledge and Kagan Paul Ltd.
Figure 1: Satellite Map of the JVPD scheme highlighting the park locations
Figure 2: Views inside Pushpa Narsee, Juhu Joggers Park and Kaifi Azmi Park (clockwise, starting from the top left)
Figure 3: Rules of Pushpa Narsee Park (left) and Juhu Joggers Park (right)
Figure 4: View of the Vijay Tendulkar Amphitheatre
Figure 5: Plan Layout of Kaifi Azmi Park, by P.K. Das & Associates
Figure 6: Football drills on the grounds of Jamnabai Narsee School (left) and a street cricket game outside the school (right)