ELSEWHERE in the world, parks and open spaces are considered as the ‘lungs of the city.” These draw people closer to nature, provide a healthy playground for children, a place to recharge for those who are stressed from work, a venue to get fit through biking and jogging and an opportunity for social interaction.
According to Chris Crawford, “a city with great parks, trails, and recreational amenities attracts talented and educated people because it is viewed as a good place to live.”
Such places are lacking in the Philippines especially in Metro Manila. It is more often allocated for “profitable” developments in the belief that parks and open spaces would just generate additional costs, a cost penalty.
However, I believe that parks and open spaces increase the amenity value of their immediate surroundings. A study by John Compton, author of The Proximity Principle, confirms that proximity to parks and open spaces increases property values. The Central Park in New York has 341 hectares of open space, surrounded by prime real estate.
Palafox Associates carried out the master plan and architecture of the first five residential towers: Rizal, Luna, Hidalgo, Amorsolo East, and Amorsolo West of Rockwell Center. The 49 percent of the land area is allocated for open space.
Its land value post development significantly increased more than 25 times. Rockwell residents and visitors appreciate the park-like setting of Rockwell west block.
Open spaces are also important for emergency preparedness. The open space at the ground level must be able to accommodate the number of residents in the building, plus the fire trucks, ambulances, and other emergency vehicles. There should be at least one square meter allotted per person for evacuation. I have observed that some developments with tall buildings in Metro Manila do not have enough open spaces for such emergencies. Many tall buildings want to reach the sky but do not know how to meet the ground. Moreover, our building codes allow high-rises to only have two meters of space between tall buildings. Without enough distance, these buildings will hit each other during big earthquakes, which will cause greater damage to life and property.
Revisiting the City Beautiful Movement
Rapid urbanization caused cities of North America to look ugly, congested, polluted, and unsafe. Moreover, public spaces in cities had started to disappear to make way for the influx of immigrants. With this, The City Beautiful Movement was launched in 1893. It was introduced in the Philippines by Daniel Burnham, who planned Manila in 1905 and Baguio in 1909.
Its design provided “breathing spaces’ for healthy activities to citizens who could not afford to travel and to those heavily reliant on the city to provide recreational and cultural enrichment.
For Burnham, the value of wholesome “resorts” in the center of a densely populated city cannot be overestimated. “Experience has shown that they almost entirely eliminate certain classes of crimes and that their general effect is a marked improvement in the moral tone of the neighborhood.” Moreover, parks with water features or built near it help ease the discomfort of Manila’s tropical climate during the summer months.
Burnham’s ideas of “grand scale, wide radial boulevards, landscaped parks, and pleasant vistas” were not just meant to bring order, holistic, and aesthetic qualities to Manila, but it can be used to strengthen a city’s resilience too. Many of Burnham’s unrealized grand plans can still be applied today.
Consider this: Burnham proposed to create a boulevard along Dewey Boulevard that is 250 feet (76 meters) wide. Burnham considered clustering different institutions together on higher ground. For example, schools will be placed on Santa Mesa Heights, having the advantage of proper detachment from the city, safe from floods. The higher grounds north and east of Manila is well-adapted for parks and hospitals, asylums, and other semi-public institutions demanding a quiet location but still conveniently accessible from the city.
Burnham wanted to ensure that Metro Manila’s canals or esteros be turned into an element of beauty and economical vehicle for the transaction of public business. This would have allowed the proper widening, dredging, and maintenance of the waterways that would save lives during typhoon season. In the report, Burnham indicated that “amplification of the estero system connected with the Pasig River near Santa Ana and opening into the bay through the San Antonio estero might serve by its independent channels materially to diminish the danger of overflow of the Pasig.”
These observations and recommendations are more than a hundred years old, but are still relevant to strike a chord with politicians, developers, contractors, planners, engineers and architects in the Philippines. Though Burnham’s plan remains a “what could have been” for Manila, there is also an opportunity for us to revisit and update his plan. It is hoped that with visionary leadership, strong political will, good planning, good design, good governance and the collaboration among those involved in the built environment, Burnham’s vision for Manila will materialize. This will not just result in beautification by masterfully integrating parks and open spaces, but also change the way we think about our cities.