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Modern Living

10 oases in Metro Manila (we need to save)

CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren - The Philippine Star

In the last three weeks, I’ve written lists of 10 reasons for a number of problems that bewail us living in Metro Manila. I got tons of feedback from these. Many, though, found the lists too depressing. This week I’ll try to brighten things up by listing 10 oases in Metro Manila that have trees, water or space for people.

Studies have shown that parks, watersides and green open spaces provide relief from the stresses of urban living. The lists of the most livable cities in the world are those that provide easily accessible, well designed, maintained, secure and well-lighted parks, plazas, esplanades and promenades

Here are 10 oases in the Metro Manila we still have but are threatened in one way or the other.

1. Nayong Pilipino: This 40-year-old, 40-hectare park from the martial law era is now closed. Imelda Marcos built it in the ‘70s as a showcase of Philippine architecture, landscape architecture and culture. It contained miniatures of destinations from the 7,100 islands of the Philippines. There were vignettes of Ilocos, the Mountain Provinces, Mayon Volcano, the Chocolate Hills and key spots from Mindanao. National Artists for architecture and landscape architecture Leandro Locsin and IP Santos were involved in the design along with a number of iconic designers of the era.

The complex was so successful in its first decade that Indonesia copied it (Taman Mini in Jakarta). After the People Power revolution it was operated with a smaller budget, which became smaller and smaller. A decade ago PAGCOR offered to transfer it to the reclamation area. Little happened and eventually the Nayong Pilipino lost this opportunity and had to give up the property back to government. It still operates the Orchidarium at the Rizal Park and a small facility in Clark.

The Nayong Pilipino is a fully matured park with thick strands of trees and a lagoon. The rest of the facilities have deteriorated but this did not stop the surrounding communities from benefiting from its open space. It would be a great shame and sorry loss if this green space were privatized and sold for private development. Redevelopment, or the replacement of the landscape with dense building plots and parking, may also compromise the whole MIAA Complex as the park serves to absorb storm water and mitigate flooding in the area.

2. Camps Bonifacio, Aguinaldo and Nichols: These three huge camps contain golf courses and a land bank of hundreds of hectares of green open space. Privatization in some has led to the erosion of these spaces and the danger is that redevelopment will see all these green open spaces replaced by buildings and concrete. Our armed forces need money to modernize, but the metropolis also badly needs open green space to escape the terror of urbanization. The parks, golf courses and open spaces in the camps could be turned into will be our best defence against the clear and present danger of sprawl.

3. Veterans and V Luna Memorial Hospitals: These two hospitals are bright green spots visible from the air. I’ve taken a lot of helicopter rides in the last few years and these facilities always catch my attention as missed opportunities for public amenity. The golf course at the Veterans Memorial Jospital benefits only a few hundred golfers. The 65 hectares of the Veterans hospital and the 15 or so hectares of the V Luna hospital are rich in landscape value with mature trees and open green spaces. It would be great if we could keep these green oases as part of a network of healthy spaces in the metropolis.

4. UP Diliman/Balara: I’ve written a lot about the 493 hectares of the University of the Philippines and the approximately 60 hectares of the Balara complex. Together their green area is one and a half times bigger than Central Park in New York. Without these two spaces, the whole metropolis would just choke. Again, as with all the spaces in this feature, the two are not consciously used or maintained as parks and public spaces. Balara used to be a recreational facility till the 1960s but fell to disrepair. Both should be conserved and given budgets to do so.

5. North and South Cemeteries: Manila’s cemeteries contain some of the metropolis’ best strands of trees and relatively open space (the graves are low structures). The two main cemeteries of Manila could be depopulated of the dead or the remains compacted into columbaria. This would free hectares of land for redevelopment as parks. Even without this intervention, the two spaces, ironically, benefit the living with its vegetation, more than the dearly departed. Decanting these spaces of the dead and moving them outside the metropolis would also address the perennial traffic problems on Nov. 1.

6. NAPWC/Quezon Memorial Circle: The Quezon Memorial Circle was to be the site of the Legislature of the new republic. The Ninoy Parks and Wildlife Center is what remains of what was supposed to be 400 hectares of public park for the new capital of Quezon City. These plans were made in 1940 but little of it was fulfilled. Today, the 25 hectares of the Quezon Memorial and the 64 hectares of the NAPWC are run by two different entities with not enough budgets to maintain either well. The “improvements” initiated in both are layers of ill-advised structures and spaces lacking in proper public-park design.

The two would be best linked (they are not now), and run as an integrated park for Quezon City and the larger metropolis. The two face the dangers of informal settlers, pollution, blight, creeping urbanization and the possible intrusion of the LRT-7. The 89 hectares of the two parks would make a unified amenity bigger than Rizal Park in central Manila.

7. Manila Zoo/Rizal Memorial Complex: The Rizal Memorial Sports Complex was built in 1934 to host the Far East Olumpic Games (the precursor of today’s Asian Games). It was carved out of a 50-hectare site originally meant to be one of four large parks for Manila, as outlined by Daniel Burnham in his master plan of 1905. Aside from the sports complex, the park was only partly developed in the pre-war years. In 1959 Mayor Arsenio Lacson built the five-hectare Manila Zoological and Botanical Garden. A few years later Mayor Villegas built the adjoining two-hectare Paraisong Pambata with its signature free-form sculptural playground.

Today there are plans to sell the sports complex. The zoo is home to Mali and other suffering animals. The playground is still there but surrounded by blight. The rest of the former park land was cut up and sold to commercial centers, hotels and the Central Bank. The three remaining public elements total close to 18 hectares of public amenity that are filled with either sports fields, open or green spaces and a botanic garden filled with 60-year-old mature trees.

The sports complex buildings contain heritage architecture by Juan Arellano. Its playing fields were the site of numerous Filipino victories back when we were champions in almost all sports. It would be a shame if we lost these to redevelopment. The zoo would be better redeveloped solely as a botanic garden (the poor animals can be sent to better facilities elsewhere). The playground should be integrated with the botanic gardens and the sports complex. The three could also be linked to Roxas Boulevard via an un-used alley between the Central Bank and the Ospital ng Maynila (itself filled with mature shade trees).

8. Rizal Park: I’ve also written extensively about Rizal Park — the good news is that the National Parks Development Committee is in the midst of a six-year renovation that will see the nation’s premier park brought back to its former glory. This initiative will benefit, of course, from an extension into the golf course of the Intramuros, which should be converted into a public park, as they have done in many cities in the US, with the realization that courses benefit only a few against the millions that could enjoy an open park.

9. Roxas Boulevard and the CCP: Roxas Boulevard was meant to be a 20-kilometer parkway linking Manila with Cavite in the 1905 Burnham plan. The boulevard was also to be an esplanade so people would enjoy the famous Manila Bay and its stunning sunset. The CCP was also meant to be a true cultural center surrounded by green open space.

The good news is that Roxas Boulevard is to be revitalized and improved with better lighting, landscape and amenities for joggers, bikers and tourists. The bad news is that more reclamation is being planned, especially in the original two-kilometer stretch. The rest of the reclaimed areas were to have a continuous 50-meter easement of green and an esplanade with public amenities. The 50-meter easement dimension is half what it replaces on Roxas Boulevard and little of this linear parkway is in evidence. The CCP has plans for a green network of parks and spaces inside its 60-hectare complex but it has no budget to implement any of its plans.

10. The National Center for Mental Health in Mandaluyong: Everyone knows this as Mandaluyong loob, meaning inside, as people with metal disabilities are kept inside. The roughly 50-hectare facility is, like the oases above, an island of green surrounded by an ocean of blight. Over a hundred thousand informal settlers surround and encroach into its grounds. Rumors have it that many private developers have made offers to buy and redevelop the large tract. The site is centrally located so that it serves as the green lung of three cities. I dread to think what would happen if this was lost.

The impending loss of many of these oases will drive us all mental from urban stress. The healthiest cities are those with large public parks and access by the public to those parks. These parks also serve to mitigate the effects of climate change as absorbers of air pollution and as impounding areas for floods.

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All is not lost in Metro Manila and there are additional pockets of public green here and there but all are threatened by the possibility of unfettered real estate development. I did not even mention the Pasig River, whose 40 kilometers of banks could and should be linear parks.

If we kept all these oases green and developed, as well as maintained them all, as a network of parks and open spaces, then Metro Manila will have something brighter to look forward to. It will not solve all of its ills, but it would be a good start.

* * *

Feedback is welcome. E-mail the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.

 

GREEN HECTARES MANILA METRO MANILA OPEN PARK PARKS SPACES
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