Passing by the attractions of Adhari Park on my way from Zinj to Isa Town, I often wonder (as I am sure many people do) why the attractive park with its rides and green spaces, is so sparsely used. Of course, the blazing summer heat plays a role but evenings are good for taking in a family break and these leisure areas are made-to-order for a fun time.
But you need more than just bright lights and rides waiting expectantly for passengers – people want the reassurance of a buzz that will tell them they are part of an ‘in’ crowd, that their choice reflects popular opinion. And there, I believe, our park areas drop the ball.
The beautiful Adhari Park is quite forlorn on weekdays and can barely muster the spirit of the weekend on Friday and Saturday. Little surprise then, that efforts to attract developers for Ain Adhari, the original spring of ancient origin and Ain Umm Al Shaoum in Mahooz is faltering. A recent report said that, put together, the visitor capacity for both springs is about 300 – 200 for Adhari and about 100 for Umm Al Shaoum. How can investors look to recoup expenses based on these slender visitor figures?
This blind urge to monetise every leisure activity with a cookie-cutter template of rides, popcorn and burger stalls is self-defeating. Firstly, its an expensive model that depends on volume visitor turnout to generate revenue and keep the safety and maintenance ticking.
Such expensive investments soon run aground and we end up with spaces littered with trash because the operators cannot even afford a proper cleaning crew, let alone well-maintained rides, walkways – and, did I mention the original water bodies?
It would be better to go back to the drawing board and look at how we can make the water body itself a centrepiece. It requires a shift in the way we see these historic water bodies.
To treat them as merely potential revenue streams is to do a disservice to the natural history of Bahrain. This is an approach that cannot be outsourced to private investors – instead, government must seek private and public corporate support to showcase these natural geographic features of the kingdom.
Look at how organically the iconic 75-year-old Water Garden in Salmaniya has been renovated.
The two large lakes have been cleaned up to receive water birds once again, there are clean spaces and botanical features around and just enough child-friendly playground features to not divert attention from the ‘outdoors’ feel of the place.
Surely, this should be the imaginative way forward to make the springs a part of our living landscape instead of just putting up carousels and burger stalls? How about building walkways around Ain Adhari and Umm Al Shaoum for families to come and simply be one with nature?
In places like Japan and South Korea quiet zones are at such a premium that people actually pay extra for no-mobile, no-talk spaces!
Or make these two water bodies a part of the much talked-about micro-forestry movement in Bahrain which seeks to afforest the arid zone that the kingdom sits in. Such moves will also bring in migratory birds and boost our national biodiversity index.
People have plenty of other places to go for entertainment and leisure. Adhari Park beckons round the corner of the spring and there are large, beautifully kept public gardens like Andalus Garden just five minutes drive from Mahooz.
To put up one – or two, in this case – more amusement park(s) is to belabour our leisure!