Nov 5, 2008

Flattening the pyramids

In the beginning, there was space, and the space was beautiful. And Burnham said, let there be parks. And a hundred years ago, he reserved the choicest part of that space as that - a park, an open space where everything else in the future city spring from. Around it are the bare necessities – a town hall on one end, a government center on the other, parallel to it was the central business district, and emanating from that space, like a spider web, are the roads that led to residential areas enough for what he thought was this beautiful space's carrying capacity – 25,000 residents.

Surrounding this charming open space were scenic mountain sides, and so he said that no structure should be built that would ruin the picturesque skyline of the future city of Baguio. That open space eventually bore his name.

While other cities with a much bigger land area would have a park or two at most, for some none at all, Baguio's design included several open spaces. Daniel H. Burnham, renowned city planner during his time with several prominent beautiful city plans to his name, wanted to make the most of and protect what Baguio had - its cool climate, its unique landscape and wonderful scenery.

Fast forward a hundred years hence, and that cool climate is being threatened with pollution, that landscape unique only in how so many structures can be crammed into such limited space, and that picturesque backdrop gone, buried behind and under towering hotels and commercial buildings. How could they have missed the point?

Why did the people in charge of the city's public transportation think it was right to clog Baguio's narrow roads with thousands of extra taxicabs and jeepneys when even on the busiest days, a lot of these polluters are without passengers? While our city officials stand on the steps of city hall proclaiming to whoever cares to listen to them that Baguio is a character city, right behind them just a stone's throw away are sleazy establishments that proclaim to everyone passing that Baguio has become a city of characters.  

How could they think that Baguio is much better off with several imposing shopping malls? How could they think that Baguio needs three golf courses? How could they think that Baguio can carry garbage from more than 250,000 residents instead of from 25,000? How could they think that Baguio is a prettier site with towering commercial billboards?

How could they think that developing Baguio means getting rid of what it is all about: its natural beauty.

You don't carve the rice terraces to make way for condominium buildings, or flatten the pyramids to make way for a mall, or put tarpaulins on the Eiffel tower to sell cellular phones, or hold a tiangge at Stonehenge.  

Nothing says it better than Joni Mitchell: "They paved paradise to put up a parking lot."

And Baguio's parks, or at least whatever remains of them? When they're not being used for trade fairs and motorcycle races, they're a reminder to all of us: we don't know what we've got 'til it's gone. 

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