The decision of keeping Manik Mia Avenue off-limit to vehicles for three hours on Fridays was first of its kind. Its novelty was only more so because the wide avenue in front of the Jatiya Sangsad was turned into a playground for children and their accompanying parents during those three hours. In a city starving for open spaces where children can have their free time together, run, take part in physical exercises or sports and games, even the three hours' freedom to some kind of physical activities came as a golden opportunity.
Now the mayor of Dhaka North City Corporation has replicated the initiative on a segment of Sonargaon Janapath Road in Uttara. Multinational Company Unilever's Surf Excel, Bangladesh has partnered this initiative apparently as part of corporate social responsibility. Response to this programme has reportedly been massive. Social thinkers, psychologists have long been hammering on the failure of society to create a child-friendly environment in the country, more particularly in cities and towns where children are confined within the four walls of their homes most of the time. For the time they come out of homes, they are either in school or rushing from one coaching centre to another.
The mindless system of education has piled up a heavy psychological pressure on the young generation. As a result, many of the young ones in their frantic effort to escape the repressive system have either gone off-track or become addicted to smart phones. A growing number of young people have chosen the latter escape route. Surf Excel has taken up the issue in order to create awareness of the danger of allowing children to spend long 'screen time', as it is called, among the population.
As a campaign, its merit is undeniable. Unilever certainly has joined hands with the city corporations not only as a Good Samaritan but also as a promoter of product. Anyone can see, reservation of a road segment for only three hours -and that too in the first half of the day -is hardly a solution to the psychological crisis the young generation is discovering itself in. An hour's outdoor physical activities everyday, the campaign emphasises, can keep children free from smartphone, tab or computer addiction. How can children regularly take to outdoor games and sports without permanent open space or playground nearby?
A road or street, moreover, is no ideal place for any games and sports. A fall, which is part of outdoor games, can cause serious injuries. Children must have playgrounds full of grass -and that too well maintained. They must come in contact with soil.
It is quite challenging to create such open spaces or playgrounds in every locality of a city or town. In small towns, though, the job can be accomplished if the authorities take the issue seriously. But in the capital, the task will prove to be the toughest. But then if there is the will, there is a way. The city corporations, different ministries and government entities like the Bangladesh Biman, the Bangladesh Railway have their unused land property scattered. Such property has even been grabbed by land-grabbers. Those lands can be recovered and placed at the disposal the relevant authorities for turning them into playgrounds.
The problem here is the lack of required will. Or, else the scarce playgrounds that still exist would not have been rented for commercial purposes. Some of those are used as open afternoon shopping malls where vendors exhibit their assorted wares. Children's parks or playgrounds have in certain cases been renovated or reshaped in a way that children discover themselves outsiders there. Shyamoli playground may be one such example. Unless playgrounds or open spaces can be reserved specially for children, this kind of three-hour initiative a week will evaporate as a gimmick ultimately.