New Delhi: A new 90-acre city park, billed as Delhi’s own version of Manhattan’s central park, will open its doors to visitors on Thursday. Located adjacent to Humayun’s Tomb in Nizamuddin, in the grounds which previously housed a government nursery, the new park will be roughly the same size as the sprawling Lodhi Gardens.

The park, which is interspersed with several newly renovated world heritage monuments, houses Delhi’s first arboretum (a garden of trees) which displays species native to the geography of the national capital, a bonsai house, and is home to 80 species of birds, and 36 butterfly species.

In 2007, the Aga Khan Trust for Culture had signed a MoU with the Central Public Works Department, Archaeological Survey of India and the South Delhi Municipal Corporation for a project to restore the site to its former glory. Back in the 16th century, a Mughal-style garden existed in the same location, which explains the historical buildings that dot the landscape. The Grand Trunk Road which connected the imperial capital to the rest of the realm ran right through the park.

“We are calling it the ‘central park’ because that’s the thing to measure up to. We wanted to show that this is possible in Delhi," said Ratish Nanda, chief executive of Aga Khan Trust. He said the eventual plan is to link the Sunder Nursery site of the new park with the adjacent zoo and Purana Qila to create a 900-acre expanse that will act as a green lung in the heart of the city.

“We have created a model here which the government must replicate elsewhere," Nanda said.

While Delhi does reasonably well on overall green cover, much of it is concentrated in Lutyen’s Delhi and along a vertical spine in south Delhi. Most other Indian cities do even worse, especially when compared against global norms which mandate at least 20 square metres of open or green spaces per urban resident to ensure good quality of life. Bengaluru has only 2 sq. m of open spaces per city resident, while Chennai has only 0.81 sq. m per capita, according to the urban development ministry’s urban greening report. In comparison, Delhi has 22 sq.m per capita of open spaces, while European cities have between 80 and 280 sq.m of green and open spaces per capita.

“The extent of open spaces in Delhi is definitely inadequate in many areas," said Prabhakar Singh, a special director general with the Central Public Works Department, who was also involved in Aga Khan Trust’s park restoration project. “The 900-acre plan we are currently working on to create a green expanse in the Nizamuddin area by connecting several existing sites will begin to address this problem. But this has been a neglected area which requires more concerted efforts," he said.

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