HOW DO WE preserve Burnham Park?
Brace up folks, we aren’t doing enough to do just that. Long regarded fondly as Baguio’s chief environmental resource, Burnham Park is even now the object of yet another tug-of-war between environmentalists and the city’s policy makers. Their current object of interest: a government proposal to build two parking buildings on Burnham Park.
Admittedly, there is need for parking spaces that have become too scarce for our urban needs. Far too long has Baguio grappled with the traffic monstrosity that afflicts our day-to-day life. From one point to another, it now takes a minimum of an hour; on special days (weekenders and other run-of-the-mill tourism events, traffic just grinds to a standstill. Concededly, city planners have long identified the severe lack of ample parking spaces as the main cause of the vehicular standoff and clogged-up roads. There’s just not enough parking slots for the horrendous number of vehicles that traverse the main and subsidiary thoroughfares.
Those of us who live through the city’s burdensome traffic clearly understand that one effective way of dealing with the daily traffic jam is to allocate parking slots in areas that are proximate to the city main roads. Yes, make Session Road, Harrison Road, General Luna Road, Magsaysay Avenue, Bonifacio Street free-flowing roadways. Yes, put up parking lots outside of these busy thoroughfares. But where?
Voices rose in mighty decibels when Burnham Park was proposed to be the very place where the parking solution would be. Why there, why not any other available lot that the government may acquire? Surely, there are such sites that can readily be used, land spaces that have no historical, cultural and environmental linkages to our life. It’s no wonder that protests have been besieging the social networks, the residents aghast that Burnham Park, Baguio’s premier promenade nature park, would become another environmental travesty. Even old-timers have expressed outrage that such a plan was even considered.
“Residents and friends of Baguio are up in arms again,” wrote Ma. Isabel Ongpin in her regular Manila Times column, articulating what have been burning up agitated voices over the parking establishments proposed at the Park. “This is not news anymore as in the past decade they have become more and more militant from the outrages to the environment that the local government is either actively inflicting or passively tolerating on the environment of the City of Pines,” she added.
Summing up the residents’ outbursts, Ongpin argued that the proposed parking projects “will attract into the park premises cars, vehicles, trucks and whatever else needs parking space in the city center with the attendant pollution which is already a factor in Baguio’s air with its unrestricted public utility vehicles using diesel that has long been toxifying the atmosphere. Would it not be rational to look for another site that does not compromise the Park’s natural climes?”
Clearly, the tug-of-war over the Park’s utilitarian functions merely reflects yet another episode between competing interests, that of the economic versus the environmental, the same global issue that prompted the withdrawal from the Paris climate accord by no less than the world’s number one polluter.
Burnham Park merely represents yet another man’s folly to set aside serious environmental concerns in favor of what can be economically gained today, even if it turns the Park into an environmental wasteland that wreaks havoc on Baguio’s chief allure. Far too long has our environment, fragile as it is now, been abused and degraded. Far too long have residents been clamoring the need, the urgency to protect, preserve, nurture, and regenerate this very environment that is the city’s lifeline, not just from its past, but into the very future that we are readying for generations next.
Clearly, we need to raise our voices in far stronger decibels. On this Day of Protest, let us work in concert to make our leaders act in concert with what is right and sensible. Making Burnham Park a sanctuary of motor vehicles will serve as a mockery to the very environmental worth of being a nature and promenade area envisioned by its planner. Economically, it may be right for just a few; environmentally, it just isn’t right by any standard.
After all, doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.