Ragene Palma is an urbanist. She studied MA International Planning and Sustainable Development at the University of Westminster. Don Manlangit is an urban designer and landscape architect. He studied Master of Urban Planning (Professional) and Urban Design at the University of Auckland and is the Founder and CEO of Ecohaven Design Studio.
Beautiful green spaces are sprouting in Philippine cities.
In San Pablo, Laguna, the Doña Leonila Park used to be just another open space because it was unkempt.
“It was hardly appreciated because there was no clear significant use for the place, there was no striking aesthetic value,” shares Senior Tourism Officer Luzviminda Migriño. “It was poorly lighted, and there have been compromising [incidents] there. It was bare ground with patches of shrubs, wild plants and overgrown trees, with a broken fountain, broken concrete benches, and a deteriorated bandstand.”
Such is the picture of many idle public spaces in Philippine cities. But today, the park is a vital place for the community. After redevelopment, it became a go-to for local communities — an amphitheatre, porous pavers, a restored fountain, underwater lighting, and new walkways gave the park a new feel.
While recent lockdown guidelines restrict gatherings, the park allowed the city to hold socially-distanced events last year. Sanggunian sessions, and events such as the Simbang Gabi sa Parke, and the 26th Coco Festival observed proper distancing and conscious efforts to stem COVID-19.
“It gave our people a wholesome place to walk around and while away the time,” Tourism Officer Maria Donnalyn Briñas says of the new space.
Doña Leonila is one of 145 city projects redesigned under the Green Green Green Program. In 2018, the Department of Budget and Management funded 2.58 billion worth of greening projects to make Philippine cities more livable. The program looked at the transformation of plazas, waterfronts, and the redesign of streets and institutional spaces, and encouraged active mobility, flexible uses, and maintaining critical ecosystem functions.
From silt dump to waterfront
Cities on the eastern seaboard are vulnerable to typhoons, and Legazpi City is no stranger to finding ways to improve urban resilience. This is why they transformed Sawangan Park, which used to be a dumping site for river silt, into a waterfront and a buffer facing the Albay Gulf.
“(It used to be a) naturally flattened, non-formal place for various activities, (and it was also used for the) Ibalong Festival invitational beach volleyball,” City Architect Rey Acosta shares. “We’ve designed it to have a sand court, for this purpose.”
The area also used to be a space for food carts, dog shows, mini bigfoot car racing, and kite flying. Since its completion in October of 2019, when the waterfront promenade, beach volleyball courts, children’s play area, and fitness paces were introduced, Sawangan has already brought changes to both the physical landscape of the city and the community’s habits for recreation and leisure.
“Many people are now visiting the park for relaxation, meeting up friends, [engaging in] physical fitness, and simply [spending] their pastime. [There are] natural picturesque views all around it. The Albay Gulf and Kapuntukan Hill are truly Instagramable… [this is an added benefit] aside from the fresh air [these places] offer,” Acosta says.
Identity in urban greening
Urban greening has long been a struggle in the country, and it holds true even for Puerto Princesa, which is our last ecological frontier.
“Developments in the infrastructure sector rendered green spaces close to obsolete in some areas in the city center, and the expansion of residential and business settlements has posed a threat to what little urban greenery remains,” explains City Planning and Development Coordinator, Jovenee Sagun.
In developing the Balayong People’s Park, the city hopes to directly address this concern. The park mixes a variety of green spaces — it has a forest park, mini-parks, and a recreational park, all of which aim to provide a “safe space, (and) that can nurture positivity.”
The park is also symbolic of Puerto Princesa, and contributes to the identity of the city because of its name. Balayong is the endemic Palawan Cherry (Cassia x Palawan cherry). To honor this, Balayong will feature a Cherry Blossom grove with an elevated viewing deck. To engage users, it will also have a five-storey watchtower, learning pods for educational activities, an amphitheatre, and a man-made lagoon that acts as a natural stormwater catchment.
The local community has helped shape the Park through the theme song and logo design competitions and the Pagsibol Landscape Exhibition competition. So far, social media posts have already gathered positive feedback from excited residents.
“We think that these kinds of projects are of growing importance to the community as they help soften the effects of quarantine on the mental, social well-being, and individual behavior of the people,” Sagun adds.
The urban greening projects of the Green Green Green Program began in 2018, but are providing the much-needed spaces while the country copes with the pandemic. Now more than ever, these new green spaces across the country become a start to how we work on urban transformation.
There lies an opportunity to learn across new designs, and more importantly, the changes in city spaces, wellbeing, and livability. These three new parks begin to inspire, but there are so many more to learn from, as cities continue to grow.