Green Public Space in Chennai

When we lived in Chennai in 2008-09, my partner-in-crime and I bemoaned the lack of public space in the city to just hang out. It seemed that there were the beaches and a few small parks scattered throughout the city, but no public space with grass, lots of trees, and shade.

Enter the Semmozhi Poonga, opened to the public in late November, 2010. I visited on December 29 for a cost of Rs. 5, and was pleasantly surprised to find a park with well-maintained and sittable grass, lots of trees and shade, playground equipment for kids, and benches occupied by young lovers.







Of course, the land on which the park sits is steeped in Tamil Nadu politics. Here’s the long story, courtesy of The Hindu.

The short story is that the Tamil Nadu state government leased the land to the Madras Agri-Horticultural Society, which in turn sublet part of the land to the Hotel Woodlands Drive-in Restaurant in 1962, reportedly the first of its kind in India.

In the late 80s, M. Karunanidhi’s DMK party took back power Tamil Nadu state assembly from its rival AIADMK after ten years. The new government eyed the Society’s land, because the society was now under the leadership of an ally of the AIADMK.

After 20 years in the courts, the DMK finally successfully got back control of the land in 2008. The first casualty was the popular Woodlands Drive-in, which closed its doors shortly after. The land was then closed off for more than a year, and the park was finally opened in late 2010.

What happens to the park in the next year is a mystery; Tamil Nadu is due for assembly elections this year, and given the anti-incumbency trend in the last three elections, it isn’t known whether an AIADMK government will look kindly on a park in the middle of town bearing a message of gratitude to Karunanidhi above its exit:


I hope it sticks around. It is a nice, big, green space.

16 thoughts on “Green Public Space in Chennai

  1. oh man i want the woodlands back if amma wins and the park to stay!!&ofcourse kalaignar can make out w/his manaiviyar & thunaiviyar all he wants

  2. this is heartening. re: “lovers,” this isn’t a major issue then? i recall a few years back right-wing activists were targeting lovers in north india during valentines’ day. my cousin had to go to chennai years ago, and she recounted how bold and independent the women there seemed to her.

  3. Razib, I haven’t been to this particular park in Madras, but one would need to be quite circumspect in general in India in terms of PDA–it’s not generally going to lead to violence, but more of unwelcome attention. Major oases are South Bombay (but, watch out for LeT terrorists!) and any 5-star hotel grounds. Also, I’m told, various rural village settings, which can be quite randy, but I don’t know!!

  4. Chennai is a nice city, and Tamil Nadu is an advanced Indian state. It is culturally very strong, and the human capital of its talented people has been efficiently harnessed the last decade or two. Regarding the architecture: I was pleasantly surprised at the very beautiful buildings there whose architecture was NOT Victorian. If I had to describe the architecture, I’d say that it was definitely not Mughalic/Saracenic, but “Tamil”, and the buildings were all built with locally sourced materials and designed by local architectures.

    I’ve seen garish designs as well, mostly to liturgical structures, like Masjids, churches, and Hindu temples. I wish that Indian architects and city planners boldly make designs and quit trying to “Mughalize” everything with those tired fountains and arches. Why not revolutionize a new architect/art style called “Nehru”, named after the current dynasty, and why not “Nehruify” everything?

  5. Sorry, I forgot to mention that the entire place was, from what I could tell, wheelchair accessible.

  6. i recently visited the park and was pleasantly surprised by the plantings and lushness and moreover the amount of people who were there, simply enjoying being outside and walking around. there was a little too much grass that people weren’t allowed to sit on, and not too diverse of a plant selection, but i was impressed with the vertical garden and there are lots of seedlings that i hope will be cared for. the trees on site are quite amazing.

    though that drive-in woodlands was quite an establishment, i have to say that the world would likely be a better place if more buildings were taken down and planted with gardens, instead of the all too common high rise.

    • …i have to say that the world would likely be a better place if more buildings were taken down and planted with gardens, instead of the all too common high rise.