As our green spaces get demolished to give way to new land uses and expansion, parks—especially the few that are integrated into towns and cities—offer glimpses of hope that we will have nearby nature to experience. They also serve as a refuge from the everyday effects of a changing climate.
In Sariaya, Quezon, where I live, there are only two (2) official public parks that serve its 162,000+ population: Sariaya Park near the highway and Mamala Park.
Going back to 1920s, Sariaya Park used to be a sunken garden with well-manicured lawns, hedges, and trees. It was where people gathered, especially when there were town festivities. In the 1990s, it became more of a playground and sports center. Today, while some trees remain, the gardens and the playground are almost nonexistent and have been replaced by structures like offices and kiosks. Some of the open spaces have also become parking areas making the park lose its open and welcoming vibe.
Sariaya Sunken Garden (1920s), from a post by Mr. Erick J. Dedace (link)
The Mamala Park had bigger open paces in the 1990s. Now, although it has its share of buildings like a Barangay Hall, clinic, and daycare center, the park has remained, at its core, a community park that residents and nearby communities can enjoy and visit.
Searching for other parks in Sariaya will yield a disappointing result: sprawling memorial parks which boast a picturesque view of Mt. Banahaw. Seeing these memorial parks sometimes makes me feel like we can only enjoy parks when we are gone from this world. Nobody would really spend time in the graveyards for picnics on a regular day except the families of the departed.
Such is the plight of many of our urban public parks in the whole country: they are either non-existent or have been built on. They are not enough to serve most of the population. There are no nationwide studies on how community and urban parks are diminishing in the area; however, in Metro Manila, the ratio of open space to 1,000 population has fallen by 75% or 0.2 since 1969 when it was 0.9.
Public Parks in the Philippines
“Public parks, green and open spaces have not been given the attention it deserves in the Philippines” – Public Parks, Open and Green Spaces, A Planning and Development Guide (download here)
Landscape Architect Paulo Alcazaren said that in the last 50 or 60 years, there have been very few large public parks that have been built in the Philippines. Moreover, since the 1950s, spaces reserved for parks and open spaces have gone down both in the area and in number as these spaces were partitioned, sold off partially, or built over.
He added that “in the Philippines, there is no conscious effort to allocate parks and open spaces when building townships.” There are also no laws or any legislation requiring larger towns or cities to provide parks.
But parks are important features in the community.
According to Argean Guiaya, an environmental planner and ecosystem specialist, “people use green space and parks for recreation, tourism, physical activities (fitness), to relax, and to connect with nature”. These urban green spaces also provide a wide array of social, health, economic and environmental benefits to individuals as well as to the community.
Why parks are more than just beautiful spaces
When we think of climate change, we often see it in broad, dramatic sweeps: a global challenge that is affecting the world, melting ice caps, and sea level rise. While all these are true, we often forget that the problem is already affecting us in our everyday lives. In the Philippines, we have been experiencing stronger and stronger storms and hotter temperatures no matter where we are in the country.
We are also experiencing rapid urbanization giving birth to concrete jungles that traps heat or urban heat islands.
Beyond aesthetics, parks can be our first line of defense in our community. It can increase our resilience when faced with a changing climate.
Apart from being a place where the community can gather, urban parks or community parks also have the ability to regulate the immediate temperature, sequester carbon, and even help absorb rainwater runoff, provided that there are enough greenery and porous surfaces.
“Vegetation is essentially a carbon sink. They absorb carbon dioxide and other gases that might not be too good in excess.”
-Dr. Jed Gomez of the, UP School of Urban and Regional Planning
Our parks are not just something beautiful to look at and to be in; parks are essential for climate change resiliency at a very hyper-local level. In an era where many of us are worried and anxious about the state of the world, parks also offer hope. They offer local solutions to a big global problem.
Where do we start?
There is a need for more public parks to be available to more people with the rising temperatures we are experiencing because of climate change and the anxiety that this global problem brings us.
“For the World Health Organization metric for open space, the target is 9sqm. per person, and all of our towns and cities [in the Philippines] do not come close to this.”
-Paulo G. Alcazaren, Landscape Architect
Many cities in Asia have been harnessing the power of parks: Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia has big city parks that can take more than a day to explore; Mr. Alcazaren described Singapore as a “Metropolis in a garden” because of the integration of parks and green spaces in the city.
How can the Philippines follow?
Here are some ideas from the perspective of a top landscape architect, urban planners, and ecosystems specialist:
- Include parks in the urban masterplans
Each Local Government Unit (LGU) is required to establish a Comprehensive Land use Plan (CLUP) and renew it every nine (9) years. It is important to include parks and open spaces in this plan to balance the built-up areas. Also needed is the “appreciation that a proportion of these spaces must be identified as parks and open space or civic space” according to Mr. Alcazaren.
- Audit all properties that can be turned into a park
There is a need to identify possible locations for the parks – these could be properties owned by the LGU or owned by institutions who can be a partner in establishing the park, for example, schools that have large open grounds that could be opened to the public on specific days.
- Establish capacity within the workforce
It is important that towns and cities have skilled professionals within the workforce who has the knowledge and experience to design, implement, and maintain parks and open spaces.
- Have parks that are designed by professionals
Many park remodeling or new park developments in the Philippines are designed by people who are not trained to design public parks according to Mr. Alcazaren. The hiring of consultants or professional landscape architects is a way to have better-designed parks, as well as finding the right contractor that understands green spaces.
- Consider interconnected pocket parks
In urbanized areas in the Philippines where there are not enough spaces, pocket parks or parks that are less than a hectare can offer solutions, according to Dr. Gomez. As a strategy, these pocket parks should be interconnected via paths or bikeways for better accessibility to visitors.
Characteristics of a Good Park
Open and Green
A good park maintains its open spaces like lawns and vegetation (trees, shrubs, hedges) instead of having large expanses of concrete or being populated by too many buildings, kiosks/”tiangges” or monuments, according to Mr. Alcazaren.
As many towns and cities reduce the green spaces in parks for more buildings and hard surfaces they are also reducing the ability of their areas to adapt to climate change.
More built-up areas also mean a higher carbon footprint and cities that are less sustainable.
Dr. Gomez added that indigenous vegetations that are proven to be more suitable to the Philippine climate are also an important component of parks today.
Design of parks should promote biodiversity on-site through design, choice of species, and management practices, according to Ms. Guiaya. In the long run, these spaces can be habitats for native flora and fauna.
A place to breathe
Good parks are breathing places. It is a space for people to relax, unwind, and feel good. This could only be achieved when there are more natural areas instead of built-up ones.
Cleanliness of the park must also be retained according to Dr. Gomez. People are needed to maintain parks and this needs to be included in the park’s budget. Dr. Gomez also highlighted that volunteers can be mobilized to help.
Accommodating of human activity
According to Dr. Gomez parks must also welcome human activity. The presence of paths, benches, and sitting areas interspersed with vegetation, and lights, and ensuring security and safety contributes to this.
As we battle climate change in the global and national level, I hope our existing parks be preserved and new ones be added finally. Community parks might be smaller than forests, pocket parks cannot sequester carbon as much as oceans can but their benefits are not negligible. At the end, efforts against a changing climate – it all adds up. We have solutions. We have hope.