Kathmandu is bursting at the seams, there is almost no room left to move. A lesson from the 2015 earthquake was that survivors need open spaces for shelter and safety: Tundikhel housed tens of thousands and other green areas served as open-air shelters for months.

But in the four years since, the Valley’s open spaces have shrunk further. The Nepal Army has fenced off Tundikhel, and construction material is dumped on what is left. On Thursday, hundreds of activists staged a protest to ‘Re-open the Open Air Theatre’ because the Municpality had allowed it to be turned into a parking lot.

Kathmandu’s air pollution is made worse by the loss of its green lungs. The earthquake was a wake-up call, but it did not rouse anyone at the Municipality. The demand for real estate, soaring property prices, and collusion between the land mafia and local officials means the last open spaces owned by government schools, community parks and guthi are being sold off. When the Prime Minister’s residence at Baluwatar needed expansion, it found an adjacent government plot was already sold to individuals, including NCP General Secretary Bishnu Paudel.

Disaster management agencies have identified 83 open areas as refuges during future earthquakes, but they are also needed to make the city greener and to foster community interaction.

The national government has bungled, and elected municipalities have failed to improve the quality of urban life. It is now up to local communities and neighbourhoods to rally and protect their own open spaces. Narayanchaur in Naxal was upgraded by residents, proving that  urban renewal by restoring parks is possible.

Activism to stop open spaces from being built up is gaining strength; public pressure can force the Muncipality to act to save what is left.

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