[OPINION] We need parks, and ones we can actually use

Have you ever asked a friend to meet up or hang out in a park? Chances are very low, I would think.

Park development in the Philippines is in its infancy stage, and one wonders if it would ever mature due to the current state and standards of city officials. Have you heard our leaders promoting or paying attention to parks? Or do they just let companies convert parks into malls for profit? How sad this country has become – a playground for the oligarchs to make a buck and control government officials like trained puppets.

I, as a father, would choose to not bring my little boy to a park due to reasons such as inaccessibility, pollution, and poor aesthetics. Having no-good parks in Metro Manila is one of the reasons why my wife and I have started planning on leaving the capital in a few years and setting up a home base in one of the marvelous provinces in the Philippines. We want our child to experience bonding with nature. Isn't it more humane to meet comrades in a park, communicate, play sports, and laugh together, all while breathing fresh air?

SAD STATE. A children's park in a village is now just used as a parking spot. Photo from the author

SAD STATE. A children's park in a village is now just used as a parking spot.

Photo from the author

A park could be the setting of a first date or first kiss; it could be the ideal place for a morning ritual like jogging or biking; it could be a spot for families to simply stroll around in. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen much in Metro Manila. We love our malls so much and we do everything in them. If only the late urban activist Jane Jacobs was born in this country to make our leaders realize the importance of parks.

I want to tell the advocates of parks in the Philippines: Please speak up. Let us all demand usable, safe, and aesthetically pleasing parks in our barangays – the smallest political and administrative units in the country. If we don't push for this, the future of this country won't have the best outlook in terms of having greenery in the midst of the urban jungle. If it can be done in Hong Kong, with more than 7,500 buildings standing in its urban space, I don’t see why it can't happen here. It's all about political will.

I set out to observe parks in Marikina City, and in the process got curious about the municipality’s vision statement. It says: "To be like the country of Singapore, moving towards a bright and better future, wherein its people are proud of who they are and where they are while being able to take care of themselves and others and being responsible of (sic) their actions."

Just like Singapore, Marikina envisions itself to have the following noteworthy attributes a first world country holds: discipline, self-sufficiency, effective governance, work ethics, environmental soundness, economic dynamism, and a corruption-free government. Such a grand vision for the city, but is it actualizing?

Let’s look at the 3 elements that make Singapore a remarkable place: It's a walkable city, it has efficient public transportation, and it has usable parks. Currently, I don't see plans leading towards that direction. 

Government officials, please try to delegate urban planning decisions to actual urban planners. Stick to your core strengths, for the sake of this country. Best leaders accept the fact that they can't do it all, therefore the art of delegation is necessary in order to produce the highest and best use of a desired project. – Rappler.com

Kurt Austine G. Gabriel is an urban space critic by nature. He aspires for the Philippines to elevate its ways of working in terms of urban planning, education, social norms, and policy.