Gulshan, Banani, Baridhara, and their adjacent Niketon, Mohakhali areas are remarkable for their high-income groups and diplomatic zones. It is natural to assume that parks and open spaces would be more prevalent in areas where residents could financially afford and socially exert pressure for a healthier lifestyle. But prevailing conditions speak otherwise.
Around 253,000 people live in the Gulshan police station area, according to the Population & Housing Census 2011 by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics (BBS). Of them, 36,413 are children between the ages of 0-9, another 48,033 children are between 10-19 years old, and 68,046 between 20-29 years.
Parents feel uneasy sending their children to the local playgrounds because of the lack of security, sanitation facilities, and waiting rooms.
Consider the case of Fahmida, a mother of two living in Baridhara DOHS. She prefers taking her children to restaurants with indoor playing facilities.
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She says: “When I was a teenager, my parents took me only to Wonderland. I did not understand why my parents would not let me play outside. But as a parent, I can now relate to the fears.”
What fears and concerns are at work here?
Monica, another concerned parent, explains: “There are street urchins playing in the playgrounds. I do not want my kids getting mixed up with them. They could learn profanities or get marked by opportunistic criminals. It may sound callous, but I have a reputation to maintain. My children getting mixed up with kids from the streets will not reflect well on me.”
She also noted that although Gulshan Youth Club has all the proper facilities, it is firmly under the control of the club and not accessible to everyone.
Dr Shafiqul Islam, a Banani resident, was very protective of his growing son decades ago.
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For many children of Gulshan, the only playgrounds they know are in the backyard of their schools or inside a restaurant. As parks maintain their exclusivity and fail to meet the most common needs, a large group is diverted to frequenting restaurants instead of open spaces Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka tribune
He would never permit his son to go play in any of the open public parks in the area. He was concerned about the security issues, especially with so many people from different backgrounds congregating.
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His son Ashabus Safa, now 28 years old, supports him, saying: “I do understand his concerns now. Back then, if I really wanted to go play with my friends, only the parks inside Mohakhali DOHS or any colony, even in Azimpur, were where I was allowed to go.”
Today, both father and son go running around the Gulshan Ladies Park every morning. The park is one of the more popular parks in the city, with a regular attendance of health-conscious residents. Its excellent condition could be attributed to the diplomatic zone it is located in.
Not everyone has access to the best parks. Where do most people go for recreation then - restaurants.
Shihan, a Gulshan 1 resident, said when he has to go out with his friends, they visit restaurants.
He appeared content with the idea, as he went on to say: “There are so many great restaurants in Gulshan, Banani, and all over the city! After work, my friends and I get together and dine out. It is a city of restaurants in a city without recreation. We go out to eat, not play.”
The young man will find countless people agreeing with his sentiments. If there is no suitable mode of recreation, people will turn to whatever is most prevalent and use them as a replacement.
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For many children of Gulshan, the only playgrounds they know are in the backyard of their schools or inside a restaurant. As parks maintain their exclusivity and fail to meet the most common needs, a large group is diverted to frequenting restaurants instead of open spaces Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune
Sabina from Niketon loves shopping malls, regardless of whether she is making any purchases. It is just another popular recourse available to the citizens of Dhaka, given how widely dispersed shopping malls are.
But what about the children? Children cannot afford to go dining out with their friends or shopping as means of recreation. Where have we diverted our children?
A digital childhood engraved on a screen
Today, children are more reliable on electronic devices and the internet than ever. As mobile phones and tabs become more accessible and act as a platform offering attractive entertainment options, children do not have any options but to go for it. It is the only thing they are going to grow up knowing.
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The comfort of watching videos on YouTube or Facebook, or playing video games on a PlayStation or Xbox is already winning over the idea of going out and playing in open spaces, scraping knees and elbows, hitting the dirt
But many parents agree, if parks and playgrounds had better facilities, increased security, and adequate space, they would much rather prefer their children going out to play than stay in.