A lot of people like me are hoping that the Roxas Boulevard Redevelopment Project, spearheaded by the Department of Tourism and the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH), would not only push through but would be successfully implemented, unlike most government projects that only look good on paper or during the planning stages.
The project aims to transform Roxas Boulevard into a commercial and tourist attraction. Of course, we’ve heard and seen this before.
During the time of Lito Atienza as Manila mayor, he maximized the tourism value of the two-kilometer baywalk along Roxas Boulevard. Restaurants cafes and shops were put up along the strip and the seawall parallel to it and the baywalk was decorated with colorful cement bricks, streetlamps, verdant ornamentals, benches and sculptures of famous people, including that of former Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson and Ninoy Aquino.
Sure, a lot of people found the streetlamps tacky, some even called them ugly and overpriced but the point is the city government at the time was able to capitalize on Manila Bay and the baywalk as a top tourist drawer, stimulating the economy and the local cultural scene.
The baywalk, which stretches from the US Embassy all the way to the Cultural Center of the Philippines, has long been one of Manila’s most famous and most valuable tourist attractions. It is a mecca for both Filipinos and foreigners, offering sea-breeze strolls along Manila Bay, photo opportunities with its world-famous golden sunset and low-cost recreation for the masses of walkers, joggers and bikers who use the strip as their common exercise track.
Sadly, the baywalk we see today is a far cry from that during its heyday when it was considered the most popular night spot for promenaders and people-watchers, ably complemented by the Old Manila attractions in nearby Malate.
Now, Metro Manila people would more likely go to Greenbelt Park or Bonifacio Global City or even SM Mall of Asia’s own baywalk. Why? Because, for one, the air and the surroundings there are cleaner.
Manila Bay still has piles of garbage littering its shoreline despite a Supreme Court ruling mandating the clean-up of the bay by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources and other government agencies.
The Manila baywalk is also dirty, littered by human and dog feces and other garbage. There are hordes of homeless people camping there, especially after sundown. It is certainly a lot darker than before.
Crossing “PED XING” or the pedestrian crossing from the iconic Malate Church and Rajah Sulayman Park to the baywalk is like daring oneself to be roadkill because motorists don’t respect the stoplights there.
Even the Lacson and Ninoy statues there have been left disfigured.
I agree that it came to a point when there were just too many establishments crowding the baywalk and the area became too noisy and rowdy.
Sure, there is nothing wrong with cracking down on unrestricted commercial development. Too much of a good thing is always bad. There should be a more careful, balanced approach to any kind of development.
It is also right that those establishments that did not duly pay their taxes were expelled from the baywalk.
But relegating the baywalk into a dirty, dark and lifeless area (with not even one single coffee shop or establishment there but hordes of squatters instead) is tantamount to missing out on all the economic activity and aesthetic benefits that bring tremendous financial gain and other intangibles like community pride to the city.
There can be a healthy marriage between a baywalk that allows moments of peace, relaxation and leisure and one that allows for businesses to cater to people’s needs for the same.
The Villaba and Inopacan municipalities in Leyte put up their own baywalk developments.
So did Dapitan and Dipolog in Zamboanga Del Norte and other cities like Davao which has Quimpo Boulevard, Dumaguete which has Rizal Boulevard and Puerto Princesa, which has its own developed seafront strip where people can view the sunset and enjoy other leisures.
If they want to replace the “ugly” Roxas Boulevard street lamps, fine. Just make sure that the place is well-lighted, spruced up and cleaned.
Anyway, according to Tourism Secretary Ramon Jimenez Jr., the Roxas Boulevard Redevelopment Project is “not just a beautification project” and it covers not just the Manila Baywalk but the entire 7.6-kilometer thoroughfare along Manila Bay including its service roads, which would be turned into commercial or shopping roads.
He said it is also a “business plan aimed at restoring and enhancing Manila as a viable capital for tourism and business.”
We truly hope the national and city governments can muster the political and financial resources needed for such a renaissance in Roxas Boulevard.