Shahid Abdul Alim playground, popularly known as the Lalbagh Eidgah Ground, was in the past surrounded by a garbage dump, illegal parking space and shanties, which has now turned into a grassy, pleasant-looking ground.
After the ground was opened to the public in November 2019, it attracted locals' attention as they had until then seen a barren, sandy field and never imagined it could be covered with grass.
The design of a park or playfield determines its user. Now, the locals of Lalbagh have found a space for walking and social interaction, while the younger residents got a grassy playground where they can play and meet their friends.
The playground was designed and built under the "Jol-Sobuje Dhaka" project, undertaken to modernise 31 parks and playgrounds by the Dhaka South City Corporation (DSCC).
In July 2016, the project started, aiming to offer healthy civic amenities to the residents, particularly children and youths.
Architect Rafiq Azam designed the Shahid Abdul Alim field, who also leads the Jol-Sobuje Dhaka project.
The field is home to a broad walkway, seating arrangements, space for cricket and football practice, gym, library, coffee shop, toilets, children playscape, rain water collector, water filtration plant, etc.
But what was the concept behind this? Why was it important?
Open green areas such as parks, playgrounds and gardens comprise the breathing space of any urban settlement. Dhaka lacks a sufficient amount of greenery for healthy living.
Besides, most parks are in such a state that people barely describe them as parks. Rather than being a green space that provides relief and a room for physical exercise, many parks and playgrounds have become a safe haven for drug dealers and addicts, while being casually used as garbage dumping stations and illegal parking spaces for rickshaws and trucks.
DSCC intended to resolve these issues and tackle the situation with a fresh approach. Thus the project Jol-Sobuje Dhaka took birth.
The Business Standard reached out to Ishtiaque Zahir Titas, one of the architects of the Jol-Sobuje Dhaka project.
Speaking about the project, he said, "The core idea was to rescue the community playgrounds from local encroachments and restore them so that children could have a playground and the people of the community could have a breathing space with pure drinking water and toilet facilities and greeneries to soothe them."
Earlier, the site used to get flooded whenever it rained heavily. Keeping this and the waterlogging problem of Old Dhaka in mind, the architect designed a rainwater reservoir under the park's walkway with a capacity of 500 cubic meters. A water purifier was also installed to turn reserved rainwater into drinking water.
Rafiq Azam, the chief architect of the project, said, "The walking space surrounding the Alim Uddin playground is a water reservoir which can store five lakh tonnes of water that can be used in the toilets and mosques after filtration."
Civic amenities such as libraries and gymnasiums have also been constructed in the park. The 250 metre broad walkway is being used in multiple ways where elderly people are seen walking and children riding their bikes.
The marble seating arrangement under flowering plants remains occupied by people of various age groups.
As a lot of people are coming to the parks, the architects ensured that every playground will have some properties of a park whereas every park will have a playground built within it. This is a recurring theme of the Jol-Sobuje Dhaka project.
The idea behind the landscape
Architect Rafiq Azam has been working towards green living for many years and he incorporates greenery and water in his projects to create a link between people and nature.
The Shahid Abdul Alim Park is home to various flower and fruit plants which attract butterflies. These plants not only enhance the beauty of the premises but also provide shade against the scorching sun for anyone who comes here to relax, rest and socialize.
The open terrace of the cafeteria is also adorned with beautiful Clitoria vines.
The boundary walls were removed for enhancing visibility and securing an easily approachable look. Inside, the entire ground is surrounded by a see-through net boundary for parting the playground area from the walking trail and seating area.
Avishek, a fourth year student from North South University and a long-term resident of Lalbagh used to play in the Shahid Abdul Alim playground as a child and he still goes there whenever he can.
"Previously, this field was not in a condition to play cricket but we had nowhere else to go. So, we had to come here. After the field was renovated, playing sports and meeting friends here has become easier," Avishek voiced.
The field is open to the public from 3 pm to 6 pm, three days a week. If someone intends to use the park during hours other than the schedule, they have to take permission from the commissioner's office and book a slot for those hours.
"We had to fight over a slot with other groups in the past. Now anyone can book a slot and use the playground," Avishek said.
Keeping the park closed most of the time and visitors having to require permission to use the field is helping the authorities better maintain the park. Nevertheless, how logical is it to keep a public field open for only nine hours a week?
In a recently taken photo it was seen that two out of three water taps have vanished and the remaining one does not work. The children's playscape area is broken in some places. Hence, proper management is essential to sustain this park.
Striking a delicate balance between keeping a public space open during all hours and maintaining it is difficult in this city. Despite the circumstances, keeping the newly-renovated park and playground closed is not an effective solution in an area as crowded as Lalbagh, where children hardly have access to playgrounds and open fields.