It’s been a while since I donned my urban planner’s hat and that has been deliberate. I took that hat off because it isn’t fashionable: I realized it wasn’t helping me in any way or doing much for me. It is actually painful to talk about urban planning in the sprawling city of Accra. I sometimes call Accra a big village and I’ve never been challenged…yet. It’s an interesting place- the city of Accra. Wide beaches, traffic jams, the occasional street carnival, markets, universities, etc. But what really makes it interesting is that there are no public parks. You know, like Central Park in New York City? (Haven’t we all seen that place in movies?) A place where you can just stroll in, walk, jog, sit and observe? That kind of place?
Yes, by now some of you who live in Accra might be saying “No, no, no, Grace. There are parks in Accra”. Are there now? Don’t you have to first approach an intimidating barrier, part with a few cedis before enjoying the relative luxury of the greenery and whatever else the place has to offer? Just that one act destroys what makes leisure spaces what they are: a place that is not for commercial gain but where your tax cedis are hard at work, creating comfortable serene spaces for you to decompress and distress from the madness of city life. Efua Sutherland Children’s park is open only on special occasions, Legon Botanical Gardens, is also private property plus a host of other tiny private parks and gardens where people are doing what they can where the government has failed.
I used to have a big problem with a small question: “Where should we meet?” That simple question has scattered plans, blown away dreams and resulted in many awkward situations. Every independent adult needs what I call neutral space, that space where you keep potential stalkers away from your home and the potential boyfriend away from prying noses. That space where you can observe and appraise a potential client or partner without the hassle of trying too hard, and a space that doesn’t take you across town through heartbreaking traffic before you get to it.
Well, I didn’t get my park but I got a mall-to be precise, a retail centre because it’s not as huge as a mall. Since the Achimota Retail Centre opened on my axis, I’ve had more rendezvous there than I’ve shopped within its glass doors. I try to avoid it on weekends when parents bring their happy kids to run around wild and free. But on weekdays, it’s a place that works for me. I can sit, sip, write and watch. So when next you are in town or make it to this side of Accra and you want to hang out, don’t be surprised if I say, “Let’s meet at the mall.”