In the heart of Kathmandu lies Tundikhel, an open area with a rich cultural heritage – one that has witnessed many political changes and served as a refuge during natural calamities. From constituting 52 percent of public open area in 1967, 33 percent in 1990, and 25 percent in 2000, it had dwindled to a mere 14 percent by 2017. Transforming over the years, Tundikhel has experienced fragmentation and contraction, and conflict has risen because of the reduction of its public space.
The Occupy Tundikhel Campaign advocates for the complete independence of Tundikhel. The campaign, which informally started in 2075 BS and officially in 2076 BS, is now actively voicing the preservation and protection of Tundikhel. Once a sprawling grassy field, the Khula Manch now faces the threat of further construction. Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) previously proposed an underground parking facility which was halted due to public opinion, and now has come up with new plans for two football grounds in its place.
Sanjay Adhikari, Spokesperson of The Occupy Tundikhel Campaign, emphasizes the distinction between public land and government land, stating, “KMC does not own the land; it’s public land.”
According to Adhikari, “section 11 (2) (a) (g) of the Local Government Operation Act 2074 further reinforces legislative intentions to safeguard public spaces and clarifies the government’s role as a trustee for public land.” A press release from the campaign states, “The Occupy Tundikhel Campaign urges the local government to consider alternatives for constructing a football field. Instead of dedicating the open platform solely to football, the campaign proposes utilizing existing structures, such as the stadium in Tundikhel, for sports activities and prioritizing management over additional construction, preserving the integral role of Tundikhel in the community. We request to ensure the harmonious coexistence of various activities in this vital space.”
Beyond cultural and historical considerations, the practicality of Tundikhel during earthquakes is paramount. The congestion of an unplanned city like Kathmandu can prove disastrous during crises if open spaces for people and resources are lacking – and in such spaces, every meter matters. The development of open spaces has emerged as a solution to not only maintain but enhance the overall quality of life in an era of rapid urbanization. The Occupy Tundikhel Campaign has been advocating for Tundikhel’s role as a central recreational hub, serving as a catalyst for community engagement and offering a much-needed respite from the congestion of urban life.
The preservation of open spaces within urban landscapes has been viewed as a crucial aspect of city planning and development for years now. The concept of an “open space strategy” has gained prominence in many cities worldwide. Examining the global landscape of open spaces reveals examples like Donghu Greenway in Wuhan, Centennial Park in Bangkok, and Bungkul Park in Surabaya. These spaces play a crucial role in enhancing overall community well-being. They are successful integrations of nature within an urban setting, meeting the need for accessible green areas in densely populated environments.
Older cities like Kathmandu tend to face challenges when incorporating open green spaces. This is exactly why there needs to be enough discourse before deciding upon the fate of such spaces. The public opinion matters, especially since the space is limited and precious – in both its history and potential utility for all age groups. It is essential to recognize the broader significance of open spaces beyond just sports facilities, and the danger of Khula Manch becoming another Lainchaur “green” park is pertinent.