Thinking Allowed

By Mariam Mokhtar

You are the parents of small children and, like other people, you believe in fresh air and exercise. You often take your children to the local park, so they can run around and play on the swings. You perform simple exercises and hope that some friends may join you.

One day, as you are walking the few hundred yards to the park from your house, you can sense that something is amiss. The park appears deserted. All is quiet apart for the yelping of some stray dogs. You hang onto your children, to protect them. You fear the dogs, but as you approach the playground, you realise that the dogs are not the problem.

There is a hole in the ground. It is an accident waiting to happen. A child could easily trap a leg in the hole and break an ankle. It is also a hazard for adults especially grandparents who often accompany their grandchildren to play.

You decide to sit under the trees, and bathe your mind with memories of your childhood. It was under this canopy, that you, your siblings and your parents sheltered, to avoid the harsh glare of the sun.

Today, you see disposable plastic bottles, empty cans, bottles of beer and cheap alcohol, a pile of burnt rubbish, what looks like the contents of someone’s ashtray, used prophylactics, shards of broken glass and discarded syringes.

In the flowerbeds lie styrofoam containers and the remains of a take-away. You realise why the dogs were yelping, earlier. They were fighting over the food. You wonder about the rats and as you accidentally kick over a soft drink can, you worry about mosquitoes and the spread of disease.

As you tread your way carefully over the litter and dodge the plastic bags being blown about by the wind, you are shocked by what you see at the playground. The swings are broken, and the furniture is vandalised. The surfaces are covered in spray paint and graffiti, some of which is coarse and vulgar. Broken glass litters the ground and could cut any child who falls. The benches are wrecked and surrounded by discarded syringes. Your mind tells you to be alert and look out for needles.

The playground has turned into a battlefield fought over by dogs, rats and mosquitoes, and mined with the dangerous detritus of drug addicts, drunks and people who use the park for sex. The playground is unsafe and dirty. You grab your children and decide to leave, but have to walk past the basketball court.

This place, which was once the main attraction for teenagers, is neglected. The nets are broken, the ground uneven and covered in litter. If properly maintained, the court would have provided hours of fun for teenagers. They would be kept off the streets and prevented from falling into bad company. An unused court, means the community cannot harness the good from the social interaction, the exercise the game provides, the health benefits and the team effort as two opposing groups of children, compete in a friendly game.

As you walk home, you reflect on many things:

You wonder if the park is routinely patrolled by council staff; but the extent of the damage and amount of litter suggests otherwise.

You wonder if there was a signboard which gives a number for people to register their complaints or queries; but if there was one, it would probably be covered in graffiti.

You lament the lack of a maintenance culture in Malaysian society. The authorities spend much time and money building the facilities, only to allow them to become neglected and eventually replaced by another expensive project.

You realise that parks and recreational areas are rarely incorporated into new housing estates, and you are disappointed that yours may soon be abandoned, as people find the park dangerous and unattractive. You then wonder if a developer will take advantage of this neglect and convince the council that an under-utilised site, might as well be sold to them, and converted into houses. You see the park as a necessity for the community, a green lung which could improve lives. Developers see them as potential money-making schemes.

More questions keep running through your mind. What happened to the civic-minded Malaysians? Do people have no pride in their community? Where are our work-ethics?

So, whose responsibility is it, to keep the park and playground clean and safe for everyone? Is it the council, the police, the contractors or the people who use the park? Or is it all of them, including YOU!

(NB: Recently, the mainstream papers published many reports of Ipohites complaining about the state of their parks, housing areas and playgrounds. The above could easily reflect what happens in your locality.  In the papers, the various parties shifted the blame for the state of neglect. People blamed the council, the council blamed the contractor, and vice versa. Isn’t the care of the park, a collective effort involving all parties?)

Don’t be shy to send your views and suggestions, for solving Ipoh’s recurring “rubbish problems”, to the Ipoh Echo.