DURING my 30-day sojourn Down Under, I once commented to a Filipino friend living there that Australia is a place where you can “get tired” of all the open space with trees and vegetation in its cities and suburbs. There are just too many public parks even with facilities for recreations and sports that we, Filipinos, are not used to.
Easily, my estimate is that there is at least 50 percent of open space in the suburbs that are owned and maintained by their respective councils (Local Government Units or LGUs in the Philippines). In the cities, there are also pleasant parks like in Sydney and Melbourne that are an oasis to the structures of concrete, steel and glass.
In Sydney, they have the Royal Botanical Garden just beside the iconic Sydney Opera House. It is connected to another vast greenery of park with beautiful gum trees called the “Domain” where the Art Gallery of the New South Wales (NSW) is located. The Domain is also just beside the famous Hyde Park with the awesome St. Mary’s Cathedral and the Museum on Natural History just across the street.
There is even the 583-hectare Western Sydney Regional Park (WSRP) that my family and I went to for a picnic (they call “barbecue” ) and leisurely walk. It is complete with amenities such as for grilling and of course, public toilets. The WSRP was developed for the western suburbs of Sydney and the first of its category of land in NSW. It is part of the huge 5,280-hectare Western Sydney Parklands, the largest urban park in Australia.
As I have written in my two articles on Australia, it is so easy to see the network open spaces and wooded areas in Sydney and Melbourne from the plane as it descends for its landing. You can appreciate the urban planning that was done in the cities Down Under even with the networks of motorways (expressways) and other major thoroughfares. This is even much more pronounced in the beautiful master-planned capital of Canberra.
My wife and I were at the Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in Taguig last Wednesday to do some errands. Having just arrived the day before from Australia, what we observed at the supposedly world-class BGC was in stark contrast to all the open space and greenery that can be seen in the major cities of Sydney, Melbourne and the capital of Canberra
I have actually noticed the aberration earlier in the past three years (2012- 2015). The apparent high-density mixed-use development is still being exacerbated with all the additional buildings under construction. Then the crowded Bonifacio Global City has relatively narrow main roads. Ayala Avenue in Makati built in the 1950s during the time of Joseph R. McMicking is even wider than the three major parallel roads inside the BGC.
Other than the issue of congestion, there is obvious lack of open space for parks with trees in the Bonifacio Global City, the newest Central Business District (CBD). It is interesting that the Fort Bonifacio Land Corporation (BLDC) failed to designate parks in the 240-hetare property. Ayala Corporation, with Mr. McMicking then at the helm, did far better in Makati with its parks at Legaspi and Salcedo villages and the Ayala Triangle.
(There was also the Greenbelt Park before that once had an aviary which was sadly removed with its redevelopment under Ayala’s new management. The Greenbelt Park has now been marginalized with the remaining open space and trees just enough to support the commercial establishments, such as the restaurants, stores, movie theatres and others.)
The planning of the BGC began in 1995 through the BLDC after the Metro Pacific Corporation won the bid a year earlier. The BLDC is a joint venture of Metro Pacific holding majority share with the government’s Bases Conversion & Development Authority (BCDA). However, in 2003 Ayala Land Inc. (ALI) and the Evergreen Holdings of the Campos family acquired the controlling interest of Metro Pacific in the BLDC.
Sad to say, there are hardly any public parks inside the Bonifacio Global City today. The parking areas planted with narra trees at Market!Market! owned by ALI does not count as a park. The same can be said with the other parking lots operated by ALI and some of which are now being developed as condominium buildings by Ayala Premiere and Alveo, subsidiaries of ALI. There are only two small parks at the BGC.
The lesson to be learned here as done in the great nation of Australia is that government should look after the public welfare because business cannot be expected to do it. In the case of BGC, the BCDA should have stipulated in the Development Guidelines that around 20 percent of the total 240 hectares or 48 to 50 hectares should be designated as parks and open spaces (exclusive of the roads!).
The other option is from the outset to exclude the areas for parks and open spaces from the total area to be bid out. In the case of the 244 hectares in Fort Bonifacio, the BCDA could have bid out only 200 hectares and set aside the 40 hectares for the open spaces for parks to be planted with trees, vegetation and other facilities and amenities.
The high density congestion at Fort Bonifacio is even worse with the development projects of the, to some, notorious MegaWorld with a total combined area of 100 hectares. The four-lane main road in its 50-hectare McKinley Hills is even narrower than the main roads at BGC. Even the parking slots for vehicles is inadequate at its Tuscany project that there is hardly space for pedestrians to walk and the rear portion of cars protruding to the road.
The same lack of parks and open spaces happened in Muntinlupa when the national government bid out in 1995 the 244-hectare Alabang Stock Farm of the Department of Agriculture that is now known as FILINVEST CITY. The only open space there is the landscaped center-island of Filinvest Avenue and the recent development at the rear of Festival Mall. Again, just like with Ayala in BGC, the open spaces at the parking areas of the mall do not count.
The national government could have done the same thing in Alabang with FILINVEST CITY as what should have done in Fort Bonifacio in Taguig. Either impose the 20 percent condition or restriction for parks and open spaces or set aside the 44 hectares for such purpose separate from the total area to be bid out.
However, the national government never seems to learn from its mistakes . Again, there was no condition for the same open space requirement when 74 hectares of the Food Terminal Inc. (FTI) was bidded out in late 2012. Ayala Land, Inc. (ALI) won the bid and has renamed it as ARCA South in 2013. Based on its development plans, there will be more of the same as what ALI and other developers did at BGC in the past years.
The designation and development of public parks in the Philippines for the enjoyment of our people for sports, recreation and leisure is one lesson we can all learn from Australia Down Under.