Diliman delights
CITY SENSE - CITY SENSE By Paulo Alcazaren () - May 10, 2003 - 12:00am
Life in today’s terror-filled world is oftentimes frightening. Wars come and go but now, we face unseen threats of disease from globe-trotting viruses. But this situation is not entirely new. We all faced similar problems a hundred years ago as war with a new colonizing power was raging, albeit without the benefit of television and CNN reporting or smart bombs.

Back then, we suffered heavy collateral damage from the war and the cholera epidemic, waves of malaria and smallpox, diseases that had mortality rates that make today’s SARS look like a minor flu outbreak. The etiology of these original tropical diseases was traced to insalubrious conditions – partly brought about by the war itself and partly from worsening health conditions in the cities and towns of the Philippines.

The Americans sought to put a lid on this problem by imposing a regime of sanitation and by controlling the development of rural and urban centers. This meant a program of cleaning, greening and rational physical planning. Sewers and improved water systems were put in and standards for building and city development (zoning) were developed. One of the most important components of this strategy of containment was the creation of parks and open spaces. It was believed that fresh air, lush greenery and healthy doses of sun were good for everyone’s health and helped mitigate the spread of disease.

Four great parks, of roughly a hundred hectares each, and numerous smaller ones were planned for Manila. None of the large parks survived and many of the smaller ones are gone, too. The capital’s move to Quezon City after the war sought to make up for this by the creation of a large park in the Diliman Triangle, the area defined by East, West, North and South Avenues – and cut into four quadrants by EDSA and Quezon Avenue. We know today that these open spaces have all but disappeared.
Diliman Oasis
Pardon this slightly lengthy introduction, but all these thoughts cropped up again as I rediscovered some of the last bits of open and green spaces in the metropolis (that the public has access to). Last week, we looked at the Balara Filters Park. This week, we visit the University of the Philippines Campus, also in Diliman, and discover another possible zone of refuge from the rest of the city that’s bio-hazardous.

I had heard that the UP had closed the university loop road to traffic on Sundays and decided to check it out. Parking was not a problem as there were numerous side streets and parking lots to choose from. I suggest the ones around the Administration Building (where the Oblation is) as it is close to one of the favorite destinations in the campus – the lagoon.

The lagoon was an original component of the campus master plan by William E. Parsons. Parsons was responsible for the original campus in Manila in the 1910s and was prevailed upon by President Manuel Quezon to design the new campus 30 years later. Parson’s baroque geometry organized pavilion complexes for the different colleges around a loop road with a central quad and green space. This green space had for its focal point a large lagoon, where rowboats and tropical foliage would complete the idyllic scene.

The loop road was built in 1940 but the buildings took over 20 years to build. The large lagoon never got filled but the natural depression in the area provided a smaller body of water that now serves the campus. For years, it was just a nondescript pond but in the 1980s, former dean of architecture Honrado Fernandez re-did the landscape design around the lagoon to include pathways, picnic areas, lovers’ nooks, bridges, a stage and several sculptures (by National Artist Napoleon Abueva). It was and still is a big hit with students and weekenders alike.

Billy Abueva has had, in fact, even a longer involvement in the campus’ clean and green movement. He designed and built several playgrounds with sculptural play equipment in the 1960s. They are still around, in need of some paint but as robust as ever. The playgrounds are located in the residential areas of the campus. Driving around the university’s housing districts before and after my visit seemed like stepping back in time. Few new facilities for faculty and students seemed to be evident (in a previous article written in 1999, I had quoted a study that showed that less than seven per cent of the student population has access to on-campus housing) and the existing building stock and surrounding streetscapes seemed in various stages of deterioration. Still, even these parts of the campus are wonderfully green and serene.
Lush Loopy Leisure
Back to the loop: The main attraction of the campus on Sundays is the lovely tree-shaded loop road. Hundreds of joggers and promenaders, from the vast sea of suburbia around UP, are discovering this gem of pollution-free (at least on weekends) open space. A turn around the loop will get you a good two-kilometer workout, which is roughly the distance of a jog around the elliptical circle but without the toxic fumes of an adjoining six-lane road.

There are lots of benches around and a few snack kiosks. Buko, turon, fish balls and ice cream vendors are always nearby – just like old Luneta (although there are no balloon vendors or photographers for hire)! The road is wide enough for several joggers abreast so slower folk and kids are fairly safe. The day we were there, there were a good number of bikers, too. Bike lanes need to be established though, so as to guarantee safety for all.

The old tennis courts beside the Palma Hall are still going strong and summer tennis camps, open to the public, are a regular offering. Informal badminton is also played in spots around the loop while soccer is accommodated in the sunken gardens behind the library. This is also a great place for kite-flying. In other corners as I walked around, I caught a group doing tai-chi and another bunch of teens on an orienteering jaunt. The place is spacious enough for all of these activities without people bumping into each other – a wonderful change from wall-to-wall people in malls.
Defending Diliman
The UP campus occupies over 400 hectares. Much of this is open space. In the six decades of its existence, the university’s development has moved away from the original rationality of the Parsons master plan. It seems to be sprawling uncontrollably outward with various colleges building separate stand-alone "complexes." These have their own driveways, parking lots and, more often than not, are not linked to each other by weather-protected pedestrian ways or by the ikot/toki jeepneys (that increasingly contribute to noise and air pollution on the campus). Few of the newer buildings relate aesthetically to the older Arellano, Concio and Nakpil-designed structures. These problems and the pressure of outside road infrastructure threaten to reduce the campus’ environmental and visual quality and eat into precious remaining acreage.

New paradigms of campus architectural design and site planning need to be looked into so as to reduce this pressure on remaining open space, increase circulation and functional efficiencies and integrate buildings aesthetically. More compact and integrated expansion of facilities can make the current campus (or any campus or institutional complex for that matter) more pedestrian and environment-friendly, safer, easier and less expensive to maintain.

UP’s green heritage needs a proper conservation plan, one that looks at flora and fauna as well as assures future generations of students and the surrounding communities continued access to and enjoyment of all its green delights. It would help if national government reinstate and increase its funding support for the UP. Education and health are as important as economics in guaranteeing national development.

The health of the country’s premier educational institution needs to be boosted even as we boost our defense against viral threats by visits to its green spaces. Diliman is still blessed with an abundance of such amenities. Aside from the UP, these include the Balara Filters Park, the Quezon Memorial Park, the Ninoy Aquino Parks and Wildlife Center and the campuses of Maryknoll and Ateneo. I hope we do not lose these delights due to pressure from road-widening schemes, increasing pollution or irrational development.
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Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at citysensephilstar @hotmail.com.

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