The plaza in the city of gentle people

CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren (The Philippine Star) - January 29, 2016 - 9:00am

This week’s feature on plazas, the second in a series that started last week, is on Quezon Park, in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental. Please note, “park” and “plaza” are interchangeable terms in the Philippine setting, although a park should be mostly green in area, and a plaza is generally more paved than green. This series focuses on open spaces located at the center of towns or cities to highlight the importance of conserving them for their heritage as well as functional values.

The City of Dumaguete is known as the “City of Gentle People.” I’d also call Dumaguete genteel, because of the nature of the people and the fact that this is one place where the chances of being able to engage in interesting intellectual conversation at cafés are great because it is a university town.

The city boasts a population of about 120,000 people, of which over a fourth are students, teachers or professors. Dumaguete is an educational center of the Visayas with four universities, bannered by Silliman University. This was the first American university in Asia and its sprawling campus anchors one side of the city, about one kilometer from the old center.

Connecting the iconic campus and the city center is Rizal Boulevard and its picturesque esplanade. This linear park is a favorite of residents and visitors. The city center is just a few minutes’ walk from the other end of the boulevard and is organized around the central space of the city plaza, designated as Quezon Park on maps, but referred to more commonly as Rizal Park by locals.

This is a classic plaza, a heritage of the city’s Spanish-era roots as a port town. The approximately 1.7-hectare space is defined by the city’s main church on one side, and by the city hall complex on the other. The church faces the plaza but the City Hall does not.

I found little historical material on the origins of the space. The area fronting the church past the plaza may have been reclaimed since the bell tower, built in the 1700s, doubled as a watchtower at the water’s edge to look out for pirates. St. Catherine Cathedral, the oldest church in Negros built in the mid 1700s, anchors the plaza. The stone façade was completed in 1855 and renovated in 1936.

Surrounding the area are numerous restaurants and fast food places. Dumaguete is also a BPO center because of the number of campuses here. Call center employees have fueled the need for food and convenience shops. This and a steady increase in tourists visiting have made the city center a vibrant district of the city.

The center of the park is a distinctive monument to Dr. Jose Rizal. He stands on one side of a tall plinth, with Maria Clara on the other side. The good doctor Rizal dropped by Dumaguete on his way to his exile in Dapitan. He reportedly liked the town and its European feel, especially after hearing classical piano music wafting through the plaza as he had breakfast one morning during his short stay.

Nearby is a fountain, adorned by a central basin that is supported by three bare-chested caryatids. The sculpture appears to have been by the Italian Francesco Monti, who produced a lot of civic art in the islands in the 1930s.





The park is framed by large acacias along its perimeter, which has had to deal with an increasing need for parking. The plaza/park, like many in the country, has undergone layers of addition including buildings for civic functions and the local tourism office.

A relief map of Negros Oriental has been built in one section of the park. This must have been added in the 1970s and modeled after the large Philippine relief map at Rizal Park in Manila. The rest of the park includes a soccer field, a welcome open space that also hosts public events.

The park is well used by residents. Because of this, the facilities are a bit worn at the edges. The designs of the structures and park furniture do not follow a singular theme and functionally could be better integrated with the other elements and the context of the park.

The park suffers from a deficiency in landscape and urban design. Good paving, sustainable greens, disabled access, bicycle racks, and directional signs are limited. But this is a condition that many of our plazas nationwide share. Local governments and civic groups who fund renovations have little access to, or are appreciative of, the need for professional urban designers and landscape architects.

Despite these shortcomings, the park is loved and has more than enough accommodations for the needs of residents. The local government unit has thankfully also not succumbed to the usual temptation to build large covered basketball courts or mini-convention centers or other follies.

I would rate this park at seven out of 10. The ultimate advantage of this park is that its context, the city of Dumaguete, is a nicely scaled city with few of the problems of larger urban centers in the Philippines. I strongly recommend a visit to the City of Gentle People.

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Feedback is welcome. Please email the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.

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