Monday, June 24, 2013

Free Burnham

The Americans at the turn of the century decided that indeed, Kafagway was the perfect site of for a hill station. After making progress in the construction of the Benguet Road (now known as Kennon Road), they turned their attention to city planning. The search for Baguio’s city planner was on…

Their first choice was Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr., a landscape architect known for his wildlife preservation efforts. But Olsmted begged off, and two other options surfaced: Charles McKim and Daniel Burnham, both advocates of the City Beautiful Movement.

The City Beautiful Movement was an urban planning and architecture philosophy that flourished in the late 1800’s. The advocates of this philosophy championed beauty not only for beauty’s sake but, “but also to create moral and civic virtue among urban populations.” (Wikipedia, City Beautiful Movement)

That was the primary principle that guided Daniel Burnham, the architect eventually chosen by the American colonial government in the Philippines and was given a formal offer to create “The Plan of Baguio” on May 27, 1904, when he proceeded to draft his vision for the then future city that we now call the City of Pines – Baguio City.

In December of that year, the nearly 60 year-old Burnham arrived in Kafagway and spent nine days on horseback and on foot surveying the site of the future city. In October of the following year, he submitted the blueprint for the future city to then Secretary of War, William H. Taft. The plan took into consideration the future city’s various functions: the official Summer Capital of the Philippines (included in the plan along with various government buildings for the municipal government were structures for the national government when they made the city the official seat of the colonial government during the summer months), a major health resort (the original sanitarium built on Luneta Hill was moved to the present-day site of the Baguio General Hospital to accommodate a much bigger structure), a regional market center and a recreational hub (hence, the numerous sites for parks in various areas of Baguio).

Minac was the biggest piece of level land in the site but instead of ruining that prized piece of real estate with structures, he reserved it for a huge public park and placed the central business district next to it and the buildings for the municipal and national governments on opposite poles. That park is what we now know and have come to love as Burnham Park. That piece of level land, Minac, is what we now know as the Melvin Jones Football Grounds.

Putting gates around it would run contrary to its very essence as a park. Concreting portions of it would be contrary to Burnham’s vision for it as a haven for nature. Privatizing portions of it would be contrary to the basic principle that govern properties of the public domain - they must be beyond the commerce of man.

On June 30, 2013 at 8:00am, we invite you to join us at the Melvin Jones Football Grounds – bring your picnic baskets and mats, old photos of yourself as a child in Burnham Park, your bikes and Frisbees and soccer balls and kites, for a get together that we hope can show our leaders what Burnham Park means to us today, to our heritage, and to our future. Let’s free Burnham from concretization, commercialization and a misdirected sense of development.

Sign the petition here:

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Keep it green, closed to business and open to people

The Hon. Mauricio G. Domogan, re-elected Mayor of Baguio City, has these proposals: put up gates around Burnham Park, cement portions of the Melvin Jones Football Grounds to make it the permanent site of the night market and the ongoing efforts to privatize the Baguio Athletic Bowl.

His second term in his second three-term regime has not even officially begun yet. It’s business as usual in City Hall.

Daniel must be turning in his grave. The renowned city planner after whom the park was named, did warn us more than a century ago when he drafted the Plan of Baguio - “Unless early protective measures are taken, the misdirected initiative of energetic lumbermen will soon cause the destruction of this beautiful scenery.”

Bagiw is still fortunate not to have today’s administrators of this beautiful city back then. Burnham Park, known to the natives during pre-colonial times as Minac, was the largest piece of level land in what we now know as Baguio. Daniel Burnham reserved this for a public park for the benefit of the masses. If today’s leaders of Baguio were the ones tasked to do the Plan of Baguio, given what they have been giving us the past two decades, this would have been the first to be earmarked for a huge commercial center with provisions for the addition of a five-storey parking building and a four storeys of more commercial spaces.

Putting up gates at Burnham Park runs counter to the very essence of public parks – they must be easily and freely accessible. Majority of our residents cannot afford to spend a day at the mall, or a weekend at a country club where dad plays golf and mom gets a spa treatment while the kids are swimming in a heated pool. For most of us, it is the best option to escape the rat race for a day or a couple of hours, communing with nature while lying on the grass or against a tree trunk or under its shade. Gates do not send the message that you are welcome. It tells you to stay out. Even when they’re open, it tells you that they will be closed at some point, and you must leave for you’re not welcome anymore.

Cementing portions of the Melvin Jones Football Grounds reminds me of the time they allowed portions of the Baguio Athletic Bowl for a night market. The vendors didn’t think twice having their delivery vehicles on the track raising clouds of dust in their wake forcing athletes, joggers and playing children out of the area designed specifically for them, and not for commerce. And now they will lessen the earth space at the historic grounds by cementing portions of it, much like what was done at the nearby Rose Garden where there’s now much less garden space for roses because of the concreting done. For what? Not for any of what a park or a sporting facility should be for – but for a night market.

The proposal, if it’s allowed to push through, will also lessen the water absorption capability of the area which in recent years has already been experiencing flooding. The roughly 22,000 square-meter grounds helps much in absorbing huge amounts of the excessive rainfall that Baguio is known for. For every square meter of land that’s cemented means water that will now stay above ground or that will flow to lower lying areas.

On top of these, they want to privatize the Baguio Athletic Bowl, the reason most commonly forwarded is that the city lacks funds to develop and maintain the facility on its own. But didn’t we have money for virtually inutile ERS machines? Didn’t we have money for the senseless construction of a concrete building at the Botanical Garden? Millions for the concreting of and the construction of a fountain at the Rose Garden? Millions for the construction for the gates they want to put up and the concreting of portions of the Melvin Jones Football Grounds?

As Engr. Nelson Alabanza commented online, “Ang park ay pasyalan ... ang kalsada ay daan ng sasakyan... ang palengke ay tindahan, pamilihan ... MAHIRAP BA MAINTINDIHAN YUN?” Apparently and unfortunately, for our leaders, it does look like it

Keep Burnham Park green, closed for business and open to people. Sign the online petition here: