Rehabilitating Burnham Park

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Finally, they’re now in earnest about rehabilitating Burnham Park, long the object of cross-headed policies that have only resulted in its deterioration. In fact, for years now, much of the public criticism has concentrated on things to be done by way of putting up a multi-storey building that has been myopically seen as the ultimate solution to the congestion bursting at the seams all over the park’s proximate areas, the central business district. Tons of words have been ejected into the air, indicating how much of an issue the planned parking edifice has agitated the populace who still remember how the park has been very much a part of their growing up years. Tons of reasons have also been advanced to justify the hare-brained scheme, to the chagrin of those whose passion for the park has never waned through the years.

The good news is that upon the prodding of the man who’s simply Benjie to everyone, the Tourism Infrastructure Enterprise Zone Authority, formerly the Philippine Tourism Authority, is putting in good money to fund up rehabilitation projects aimed at bringing back the environmentally rejuvenating allure that Burnham Park has become since being built up in the early 20th century. The good news is Mayor Benjie has thumbed down any further use of the Park for baratilyo trade fairs the likes of which have degraded much of what trade fairs are. The good news is he wants specifically identified projects that can justifiably be worth the national funding support earmarked for its rehabilitation.

The General’s predisposition towards Burnham Park stands on firmer ground. He knows how far too long has the public anguish been smoldering over policies that seem badly conceived, over regulations that seem to be short-sighted. In fact, every now and then, we’d add and holler our voice to possibly put a bit more sense into what seems to be travesty upon travesty being done from time to time on our most cherished park of bygone memories. Remember when? When Burnham Park was the best place to go for timely rest? For nonchalant recreation? For timely replenishment of deadened energies? For needed refurbishing of dimming recollections? And for everything else that can lead to rejuvenation?

Lest we forget, let’s be reminded, again and again, that we just don’t deserve the kind of frustration and disappointment that we feel over Burnham Park’s apparent neglect all through the years when we keep on entrusting its management policies to elected and electable officials who don’t seem to appreciate what not to do and what ought to be done about our cherished park. Let’s be reminded that beyond what we are so used in voicing out our sentiment, whenever something awry just sprouts in that venerated place, we can give such flip-flopping policies the mystifying eyebrow why such have even been thought of in the first place.

From trade fairs to carnivals to peryahans masquerading as amusement, name it, everything unseemly, to say the least, had been inflicted on Burnham Park. Baguio folks long dismayed over such travesties should never be inured to accepting plain nonsense explanations why obviously commercialized activities are thrust into our throats. Long regarded fondly as Baguio’s chief environmental resource, Burnham Park shouldn’t again be entrusted to wishy-washy policy implementors without even a bit of remorse to depredations done, the likes of which have gone unabated, the likes of which couldn’t have possibly taken place in the very first place. Beyond the commerce of man? We should have told that to the Man in the Moon.

Lest we forget, Burnham Park has been our pride of place for inexpensive summer thrills ostensibly for our kids to enjoy, alongside the boatrides at the lake, the bike rides along designated lanes, and other activities where they can run along and play to their heart’s content at peasant’s prices. Just for kids. For many of us who grew up in these parts, going to and spending time at Burnham has always been a source of childish joys, of teenage crushes, of adult frivolities. Every memorable moment frozen in time was a moment at Burnham. For all the quiet introspection and communion with Mother Nature inexpensively spent, all that at Burnham.

Make no mistake about it, Burnham Park itself is something of a pride of place for us residents, who simply desire nothing less than moments of interaction with a natural environment unlike any other anywhere else. It is a public park, yours and mine to keep and cherish, that should be kept as such, not to be part of child’s play mysteries that seem to mysterious minds every now and then. As such, it has to have open space, greenery, trees, flowers, grass as it was originally designed and put in place.

And while we’re at it, we cannot, for the love of Daniel Burnham, understand why talks persist that continue to push for a multi-level parking infrastructure at Burnham Park. As we said before, admittedly, there is need for parking spaces that have become too scarce for our urban needs. Far too long has Baguio grappled with the traffic monstrosity that have been the new normal in motorized mobility. By the way, Mayor Benjie is seriously addressing this malady through the road-clearing operations done since Day One. The major roads have been observed to have been unclogged on most times during the day. Consistency by our traffic enforcers should sustain the effort while awaiting, on bated breath, the use of scientific solutions.

Since way, way back, we’ve been so used to getting from one point to another, on a minimum of an hour; on special days (weekenders and other run-of-the-mill tourism events, traffic just grinds to a standstill. Concededly, city planners have long identified the severe lack of ample parking spaces as the main cause of the vehicular standoff and clogged-up roads. There’s just not enough parking slots for the horrendous number of vehicles that traverse the main and subsidiary thoroughfares.

Those of us who live through the city’s burdensome traffic clearly understand that one effective way of dealing with the daily traffic jam is to allocate parking slots in areas that are proximate to the city main roads. Yes, make Session Road, Harrison Road, General Luna Road, Magsaysay Avenue, Bonifacio Street free-flowing roadways. Yes, put up parking lots outside of these busy thoroughfares. But why Burnham Park and not elsewhere?

Come to think of it, aren’t buildings supposed to have essential basement parking grounds, purposely for the motorized contraptions to use? Last heard, they have been converted into, guess what, commercial spaces? Just get into the basement of buildings put up along major thoroughfares and see gnash out what happened.

We heard how voices rose in mighty decibels when Burnham Park was proposed to be the very place where the parking solution would be. Why there, why not any other available lot that the government may acquire? Surely, there are such sites that can readily be used, land spaces that have no historical, cultural and environmental linkages to our life. It’s no wonder that protests have long been besieging the social networks, the residents aghast that Burnham Park, Baguio’s premier promenade nature park, would become another environmental travesty. Even old-timers have expressed outrage that such a plan was even considered.

Clearly, the tug-of-war over the Park’s utilitarian functions merely reflects yet another episode between competing interests, that of the economic versus the environmental, the same global issue that prompted the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord by no less than the world’s number one polluter. Burnham Park merely represents yet another man’s or gang’s folly to set aside serious environmental concerns in favor of what can be economically gained today, even if it turns the Park into an environmental wasteland that wreaks havoc on Baguio’s chief allure. Far too long has our environment, fragile as it is now, been abused and degraded. Far too long have residents been clamoring the need, the urgency to protect, preserve, nurture, and regenerate this very environment that is the city’s lifeline, not just from its past, but into the very future that we are readying for generations next.

Clearly, we need to raise our voices in far stronger decibels. We must work in concert to make our leaders act in concert with what is right and sensible. Making Burnham Park a sanctuary of trade fair, carnival, and other vociferous spectacles and soon of motor vehicles that will surely pollute the natural, fresh air within the Park, will serve as a mockery to the very environmental worth of being a nature and promenade area envisioned by its planner. Economically, it may be right for just a few; environmentally, it just isn’t right by any standard. Do what is right now to restore Burnham Park as truly the people’s park. That simple. Forgetting that will make us live through another episode of urban life dismay.

Mayor Benjie, we’re all in for rehabilitation. Just keep on cracking the whip for some sanity and sense.

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