Rehabilitating Burnham Park

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VERY MUCH in the limelight these days is dear ol’ Burnham Park, our city’s well-loved nature and promenade park that has been Baguio’s chief magnetizing allure any good time of the year. When the Tourism Infrastructure Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA), formerly the Philippine Tourism Authority, blithely announced that about P20 million of funding support is ready for use in upgrading the Park, we’ve hollered joyfully, sharing ecstatic jubilation that finally something is getting up here by way of national attention.

To be sure, it couldn’t have come at a more opportune time, considering that every now and then, from time to time, any talk of facility upgrade in our small community would have to begin at nowhere else than the Park. Baguio’s natural environment just cannot escape being up there in our priority concerns. That’s a no-brainer actually, since these recent years, our degrading environmental situation has acquired much national attention, with no less than the nation’s top officials about to give Baguio the Boracay and Manila Bay facelift.

The only difficulty is how far enough would any rehab work go, how dire an economic and social impact would a shutdown — if at all being considered — spark off, how much of development would be allowed that does not adversely affect much of economic windfall that the city has reaped since recovering in the 90’s, meaning the post-earthquake and super typhoon years. But even before that issue gets to be settled, even before hard choices are made, to precisely delineate the parameters of a city-wide rehab, it becomes equally urgent what needs to be done at Burnham Park. The money is there, it’s just a matter of deciding upon where to allocate it for wiser public use.

Time calls upon us to get together in this respect. Time and again, we ought to be reminded that Baguio isn’t Baguio without Burnham Park, the downtown park, or what passes up as our proud contribution to the nation’s natural promenade facilities. 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 stamp out 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. It’s a huge wonder that 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 and spent 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 may surely be resurrected for the summer season. That operator of a carnival deserves nothing short than a firm, resolute, and clarion-clear rejection for all the sound reasons of public welfare and safety, without even having to cite the noise pollution that comes from vociferous ear-splitting happenstances.

Till now, we’re still in befuddlement what choices to make for our dear ol’ park, despite recalling that at about this time year after year, we have been suggesting, nay cajoling, 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 mysteriously sprouted from the blueprint designs whenever infrastructure upgrades are aimed at? 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, which is sadly a mere hodge-podge of toxic-emitting vehicles, from which parking revenues are drawn for added maintenance money. If this space is made to linger on, for goodness’ sake, why not improve the grounds the way it must appear, a well-landscaped allotments of grass, flattened rocks, and just a bit of concrete?

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 and visited by the hundreds of thousands of tourists for the picturesque beauty of it all. 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 refreshing allure to the Park.

And since the Park is a paramount promenade place, where families go to for 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, to feel the pristine air, to experience nature as best they can, as against vehicular mobility and toxicity.

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 meant to be anti-people. 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. The P20 million funding can have better results when used wisely and well. Let’s not bicker over this and just hit the ground running.

About time, isn’t it?

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