Robot to Saheed Nagar Parks: A journey with creative landscaping and active play area for kids

Bhubaneswar: Initially when the park was conceptualised in the early nineties, the park was known as Robot Park due to presence of robot-like iron structure slide inside. Some locals even called it as Ravana Park, referring to the demonic look of the robot. Now, with the robot gone over the years, the new transformation as the park is rechristened as Saheed Nagar Parks, but the vestiges of the robot could also be found on the open air art gallery as a graffiti wall themed `Robot in the wild.’

Yes, welcome to Saheed Nagar Parks, part of the Smart Parks inaugurated by the honourable Chief Minister yesterday. It is in fact, a continuous stretch of four parks measuring just under 6,000 square meters with an equal width of 20 meters and varied lengths spanning from 50 meters to 111 meters, which has taken the new shape and ornamentation.

As part of the vision to develop Bhubaneswar as a child-friendly city, Bhubaneswar Development Authority (BDA) through its Bhubaneswar Urban Knowledge Centre (BUKC), identified six open spaces or mostly defunct parks to demonstrate re-development into smart parks and recreational places for children. The city has collaborated with Netherland-based Bernard van Leer Foundation and National Institute of Urban Affairs for developing the Temple City as a child-friendly urban centre.

A detailed site inspection and survey on the existing conditions of these parks was followed by several rounds of stakeholder meetings with children from different parts of the city as well as the local resident groups in order to understand on the existing issues and possible solutions as per them.

According to long-time residents of Saheed Nagar, in the early days the neighbourhood had only two or three places or open spaces used by the kids while most of them used to play on the open streets in the by-lanes as vehicular traffic was very less at that time. Besides Robot Park, there were BDA-OMC Park and IMFA Park, which came into existence at a later stage.

Based on the suggestions from stakeholders including children groups and data obtained through field survey, BUKC team, aided by international urban designers and landscape experts from IBI Group, designed the Smart Parks incorporating as much facilities to turn these as active places for children, universally inclusive for all and promoted as learning and recreational centers, with features like children’s play area, smart toilets, splash parks, open gyms, watch towers and outdoor sports facilities etc.

The four adjacent rectangular open spaces separated by by-lanes were designed into a single connected recreational space developed on four themes ‘Get Creative’, ‘Get Rest’, ‘Get Wet’ and ‘Get Smart’. Cutting off the separating by-lanes in the design not only addressed the primary issue of speeding vehicles endangering safety of movement of children but also made the entire stretch into a single unhindered pedestrian and bicycle transit zone. Along with the continuous walking and jogging track connecting all the four themed zones and facilities such as water taps, toilets and Wi-Fi spots, this smart park has been designed with low boundary walls and ramps enhancing security and accessibility features.

Once you enter the just inaugurated Saheed Nagar Park, the first things to catch attention are the colourful artworks and murals of the open air art gallery and equally colourful two stories watch tower. Of the four theme zones based on which the redeveloped park has been designed, ‘Get Creative’ zone is aimed at creating an inviting atmosphere for all through socially vibrant placemaking with more accessible and interactive spaces including watch towers, graffiti walls, open art gallery, mounds, open air art gallery, half basketball court and children’s play area etc.

During the development process children along with city based artists and volunteers created murals on the 12 walls of the open air art gallery in a day-long hands-on art fest held at the Saheed Nagar Park. ‘Get Rest’ zone brings a passive park set up for relaxations with rest stations and social places for individual and group mediation, Pilates, yoga etc. along with Graffiti walls, sitting area for parents, mounds, children play area etc. ‘Get Wet’, as the name suggests has been developed as water based play area with splash pool cum water fountain. ‘Get Smart’ zone has been designed as an energy based park space showcasing renewable energy, open classroom facility, planters, flower beds, open air theatre, Wi-Fi access points, etc.

It may be noted that, originally planned as an upscale residential area in the city, Saheed Nagar, gradually evolved into a combination of residential neighbourhood and high street commercial area, with a population of around 1.85 lakhs as per 2011 census. This neighbourhood witnessed a quantum leap in the resident population from less than 10,000 in 1960s.