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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Wanted: Green public spaces

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ONE of the best things about traveling is to see how expansive the open public spaces in many countries are.

They have well-managed parks with lush greenery, cool dancing fountains, sculptures, and benches on which people can just sit and ponder their lives, read, or just take in the fresh air. Parks allow us to just watch other people walk, talk among our friends while seated under the trees, or laugh at the kids and their families playing or running in the grass.

Aside from Central Park in New York, which has to be the most popular green space in the world, one park I especially adored was Jardin de Sabatini in Madrid—lovely gardens which were part of the Royal Palace. Located across the hotel I was staying in, I would often visit it before setting out to the nearby commercial areas.

Jardin de Sabatini had well-trimmed hedges in rows amid flourishing trees. I would sit and imagine the burst of colors that would dot the entire garden whenever spring came around. It was January when I visited, and while snow rarely blankets Madrid during winter, it was still freezing for a tropical native like myself that I couldn’t stay in the gardens too long.

Kensington Gardens in London is also another favorite open space. It forms part of the so-called green lung of the city, and includes Hyde Park and Saint James Park. Aside from the massive open greenery, there are fountains and sculptures, the most famous of which is the Peter Pan statue. So at dusk, just when the fog rolled in, I kept a watchful eye for the fairies and other magical creatures that live in the area, according to the children’s book Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.

The Square Charles de Gaulle in Toulouse may be a small park compared
to most cities in France, but many
residents find time to sit on its benches
to watch the dancing fountains.

Closer to the Kensington Palace, the official residence of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, is the Sunken Garden, where flower beds planted in the memory of Princess Diana are located. (At the time of my visit, the statue of the late princess with her two boys had yet to be installed.) To reach the Sunken Garden, visitors pass through an arch growth of twigs and vines. Despite the many visitors to this part of the palace grounds, there is an almost reverential air in the area. Perhaps people imagine the late princess walking among the flowers and remain quiet so as not to disturb her reverie.

I recall these and other gardens in my significant travels as I read that Metro Manila apparently has only 200 hectares of parks, along with public and other civic spaces. With our dense population, that translates to about 1 square meter of public park and open spaces (PPOS) per person. Compare that to Singapore, which has 320 parks totaling 2,500 hectares, giving its residents about “60 sqm of PPOS per person,” said The International Committee for the Conservation of the Industrial Heritage (TICCIH) Philippines, a group of heritage conservationists and advocates, urging the creation of a public space in the Psalm-owned properties at Isla de Provisor in Manila. (See “Heritage advocates push for open space at state-owned Paco property,” BusinessMirror, August 24, 2021.)

In 2010, the World Health Organization determined urban cities have to provide a minimum of 9 sqm PPOS for each person, I suppose, for optimal mental health. These open spaces also have to be accessible, safe and functional. “Just to reach the minimum, we need 1,800 hectares for more parks and open spaces in Metro Manila,” said TICCIH.

In Metro Manila, the Rizal Park (Luneta) is the only park of note. Maybe the City of Manila can consider developing a Central Park as expensive as the one in New York.

UN Habitat, which envisions a better quality of life for urban areas, agreed: “The network of open public space not only improves quality of life but also mobility and the functioning of the city. Well-designed and well-maintained streets and open public spaces can help lower rates of crime and violence, make space for formal and informal economic activities, and [extend] services and opportunities to a diversity of users, particularly for the most marginalized…[a] public space is ‘the poor man’s living room’ and important for recreation, social, cultural and economic development.”

Unfortunately, most local government leaders have been shortsighted and would rather allow unload their properties to mall developers, instead of yielding them to green open spaces and public parks. In Metro Manila, the only park of note is Luneta in Manila.

Back in the 1970s, the Luneta was a place my parents would bring us to run and play, or relax amid the water fountains. It was such a beautiful spot of greenery that we would even bring visiting relatives from abroad there. It was also a regular lunch venue for those of us in the elementary grades on school field trips. But even back then, Luneta was nowhere near the lushness and expanse of Central Park or other public spaces I mentioned above.

Sure, pocket gardens in mall developments in the metropolis are a welcome addition, but how many people can they really accommodate? Lunchtime will find visitors from nearby offices packing them in, mostly to smoke. Now that we are all locked in the Metro as this pandemic continues to sow sickness and depression among us, the need for foliage-filled open spaces has become even more urgent. Perhaps it is time for voters to put back the environment and mental health on the political agenda and demand our candidates running for public office to meet the challenge.

Image courtesy of Stela Arnaldo

Read full article on BusinessMirror

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