Reviving the pocket parks of Nepal

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Kathmandu from Swoyambhu temple, compared with the same view on a photo from 1967. Photo: PC Nepal Photo Project/Nepal Picture

“We are accelerators and we are here to do things quickly!” This was the mantra UNDP’s Accelerator Lab team chanted as we embarked on this amazing journey. As the Solutions Mapper, I kept an eye out for possible local solutions that could address the challenges of youth unemployment and unplanned urbanization.

In Nepal, unplanned urbanization is a root cause of complex issues such as solid waste mismanagement, the rise in air pollution and lack of open public spaces. We took stock of what is already in place to tackle these issues. The findings were interesting!

For residents of Kathmandu Valley parks are a luxury. Kathmandu city is densely populated, and at every turn you will find either a marketplace, buildings, temples or neglected open spaces used for dumping waste.

For our first intervention we chose tactical urbanization with the mission to convert barren ground into pocket parks in Lalitpur. The idea behind the initiative is to create breathing spaces, a refuge for the community when natural disaster strikes, and increase the green cover while making these parks environmentally sustainable.

Working together

There is a clear budget allocation from the government and a clear requirement for the people, so then why is there a disconnect between the two? Unanswered questions like this convinced us to take up this issue and think through possible answers. Here are three things that we uncovered:

During one of these visits we came across a group of volunteers named ‘Vriksha’ (Vriksha means tree in Nepali) who in just eight months have led various initiatives to make this city more habitable and greener by cleaning up open spaces.

Grassroots solutions cannot grow if the government imposes regulatory restrictions and government interventions cannot flourish if people don’t accept them. Thus, they must meet half-way! That’s where the Accelerator Lab comes in. During our first exercise, community members, government officials, the private sector and architects came together to discuss how these parks function in terms of usage, maintenance and accessibility.

Local government and the community must work together to make pocket parks a reality.

“The collective intelligence exercise has helped shed light into the individual grievances that people face, I am motivated by their level of dedication and enthusiasm to support the government in making the vision of pocket parks a reality,” said Prabin Shrestha from Lalitpur Metropolitan City office.

Recycled materials

The lab also aims to incorporate local innovations while designing these parks such as walkways made from recycled plastics and outdoor furniture made from discarded tyres. We are also tapping into the existing expertise of UNDP’s environment team to monitor CO2 emission and carbon sequestration through planting. Innovations which we hope will meet the needs of those who live near them.

“This is the first time I am speaking with a government official and I feel empowered to be able to voice the concerns of my fellow community members on an issue that is dear to our hearts,” said Laxmi Pandey.

The city has more than 30 abandoned spaces, so it’s not an easy task but if the activities of past two months are any indication, we are optimistic that we can repeat this programme in other provinces.

When I was a child my dad used to take me to a play area a few minutes from my home. It was a small open space with a big tree, a common hang-out of children and adults, today it’s a dumping site for construction materials. Only 15 years ago, this city was different, the sense of community was stronger and it was a lot cleaner, greener and more beautiful. But the city has lost its charm, we often contemplate as to why things have changed so drastically, but the reality is we cannot stop change and a big part of change in context of economic development is bigger buildings, narrower roads and heavier traffic.

The Accelerator Lab is exploring local ideas to solve problems that define our generation. We will continue working closely with communities who are focused on inclusive development. We are working with Vriksha, the Lalitpur Metropolitan City and the local community to turn one previously neglected open space into a pocket park. Starting January 2020, we are eyeing seven more for improvement, which is exactly what this city needs.

Aliska Bajracharya is Head of Solutions Mapping, Accelerator Lab, UNDP Nepal

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