Time’s up for Hard Choices

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What can we do to protect, preserve, nurture and regenerate dear ol’ Burnham Park?

Amid the heat, hustle and bustle afflicting us these days, no doubt generated not just by summertime’s usual stratospheric climes but by the sweltering temperature spawned by the coming May 13 local elections, Baguio’s natural environment cannot escape being up there in our priority concerns. That’s a no-brainer actually, since these recent years, Baguio’s environmental situation has even caught national attention, given the unchecked over-development that has degraded much of our natural resources.

Water, a most vital need, has in fact been a lingering concern for the utter lack of the precious liquid coming off many a household faucet. Since way back when, water lack has been a foremost issue, as local water authorities grappled for years in battling the growing deficit. The city’s aquifers have languished far too long to generate more of it, no doubt resulting from less and less trees nestling our forest cover. Watersheds well-placed in many sites continue to be besieged by unwanted, but uncontrolled intrusions by the homeless in us just wanting to have a piece of Baguio property to their name, even if based on mere factual circumstance.

Of late, Baguio’s fresh air has come down to perilous levels, given the daily bombardment of toxic fumes from dirty energy-fueled motorized conveyances. Respiratory ailments have since afflicted the vulnerable among us, mostly the elderlies and the very young, exposed as they had been to the poisonous air. Strolling right in the heart of the city’s downtown area has in fact become a punishment, not because of the up-and-down trod, but mostly due to the bad air besieging the walkways, ejected uncontrollably by diesel-run vehicles on non-stop waiting gears.

Our downtown park, or what passes for our proud contribution to the nation’s nature promenade facility, has even become a noisy hub of activities nowhere else allowed or tolerated elsewhere in the country. Quiet relaxation, at peace with the world, inner reflection? That’s right, that’s what an open park should be, enough to recharge deadening energy, enough to make time for direly needed moments of time in space. And, that’s right, it’s not what it has sadly become through the years, despite all the written restrictions put in place in sacred documents called ordinances, resolutions, administrative issuances.

Every now and then, our cherished pride of place gets embroiled in controversies spawned by hare-brained proposals, from never-ending baratilyo stalls masquerading as trade fairs to carnival delights offering dubiously safe amusement rides to vending activities happening in every corner, enough to make everyone think the public market nearby has had an extension just as noisy, disorderly and undesired.

Speaking of which, just to serve as worthy reminders, let’s list out the Don’ts that have been enshrined in several policy directions that City Hall has issued over the years, guidelines that have unfortunately been breached every now and then for purely pragmatic considerations. They need to be reiterated if only to remind ourselves that the Park must be respected for what it ought to be since time immemorial, that it is first and foremost a public open space where everyone, residents and visitors alike, can go to for invaluable moments of interaction, of reflection, of replenishment, of restoration.

In ringing definiteness, we must holler a deafening No to trade fairs and other cheap and vulgar marketplace activities that have historically been responsible for the seasonal defacement of the Park. Time and again, Burnham Park seems to be the only venue that can serve the undisguised money-making avarice which Baguio-style trade fairs have degenerated into all through the years. Time and again, city folks have objected to these activities at the Park, citing the irreparable damage to the all-around greenery meticulously cared for all year round.

In equally loud decibels, we must yell out a resolute No to carnival-oriented amusement activities that have recently been unfortunately allowed at the Park just a year ago, and are now being resurrected for the remainder of the summer season. Good thing MGD has given that operator of a carnival a firm, resolute, and clarion-clear rejection for all the sound reasons of public welfare and safety.

Till now, we’re still in befuddlement what choices to make for our dear ol’ park, despite recalling that at about this time last year, we did suggest several critical needs that ought to be done, if only to make manifest that some of us do care, that some of us just have to care, when nothing of real worth is happening. Again, let’s run through what can be done without having to go through the proverbial gauntlet of any public controversy. How about setting up urban garden places in viable sites within the park, viable in the sense of defusing the concrete ambience discernible from physical structures that have sprouted? The old Auditorium section, which has for years now served as an outdoor parking area, can definitely be upgraded to look a bit greener than what it is now, a hodge-podge of toxic-emitting vehicles, from which parking revenues are drawn for added maintenance money.

It is worth noting that in progressive and developing cities elsewhere in the world, we have often been regaled by the lush ambience of floral resources nurtured from the ground up. Surely, policy makers must have noticed these visual attractions and quietly wished for their reincarnation hereabouts. Surely, these lush gardens would not command the stiff price of P800 million to put up in 6 months to a year, perhaps just a single percent of that for us to have an added allure to the Park.

And since the Park is a paramount promenade place, where families go to in memorable bonding times, it is just well worth it if we can add more picnic tables and benches in more sections where picnickers can gravitate and gestate. Family days must be fostered at the Park and allocating more on-the-ground spaces would help nurture closer family affections. The Park is for people and staying anywhere within it must be geared towards encouraging people to walk around, feel the pristine air, experience nature as best they can, as against vehicular mobility.

These are just a few things that come off-the-cuff. To be sure, there are other “small” things that anyone can wish for if we are to preserve and protect Burnham Park, and safeguard its use for anti-people purposes. There must be welcomed encouragement for others to think more how we can nurture, and even regenerate Baguio’s long cherished promenade park, given its historical, cultural and environmental importance to a city that prides itself as every Filipino family’s dream summer place.

It is time for us city folks to decline being taken for a ride down the road of perdition, as exemplified by the mystifying decisions whenever Burnham Park’s future is staked out on the line. It is time that we are reconnected to our past and bridge it across the many more lifeyears ahead, untorn by what we allow to be done by our grim indifference or petty inaction. That future will remain unsettling for generations next if their linkage to history, culture, and environment is glossed over and eventually set aside.

It is time for everyone to now affirm “time’s up!” and really make the right choices for what belongs to ordinary park relishers like you and me and the rest of us who are used to thinking of summertime thrills at the park, especially for the young ones and the once young.

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