How Baguio is being saved from being the next Boracay

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PNA-Baguio File Photo

Baguio City residents and authorities are moving to stop the country’s Summer Capital from suffering the fate of being closed for rehabilitation like the famed Boracay Island.

Baguio City, the first and only Philippine city to be declared a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Creative City, was included in 2017 under the Crafts and Folk Arts category for being a city that has identified creativity as a strategic factor for sustainable urban development and uses the framework of the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Also known as the City of Pines, Baguio was cited this year by Numbeo as one of the top 10 safest cities in Southeast Asia.

Both Baguio and Boracay were cited as “leading tourist destinations that are considered national assets” in a government memorandum that directed the Department of Tourism to take special measures to preserve and develop the two tourist spots.

However, both the popular mountain city resort destination and the world-acclaimed island beach spot were also identified in the circular for “rapid growth, commercialization, and the lack of a comprehensive development and zoning plan have caused the degradation and deterioration of the two localities.”

Building the Baguio We Need

University of the Philippines Baguio Architect Aries Go said in PIA report that “aside from indigenous dances, practices and clothing, indigenous architecture and urban form in the Cordillera deserves more attention especially in solving the current issues on urban planning.”

“We need to go back even further; the Burnham Park plan is not for Baguio,” emphasized the UP Baguio architect.

Go explained that “the imperialistic nature of urban planning has moved us away from the indigenous urban form fitted for the Cordilleras. These indigenous architectures which include small ‘dap-ayan’ or gathering places encourage social interaction and relaxation among people in the communities.

However, with the fast-paced urbanization of the city, public spaces are being replaced with towering buildings and hotels and people lost track of human interaction.”

Go encouraged everyone to promote the importance of social interaction and a close-knit community, a characteristic which makes Baguio unique from other cities.

Starting with redesigning barangay halls to stimulate more interaction in the community, Go urged that we must plan “not the Baguio we want, but the Baguio we need.”

Smarter Roads

The increasing residential population combined with the influx of tourists and businesses accompanied by increasing vehicle numbers have caused congestion on the city road network.

A recent proposal for a parking building project at the Burnham Park moved residents to circulate an online petition to stop the construction via Change.org.

The Department of Tourism and UP Baguio also joined the call to oppose the parking buildings.

Burnham Park has been declared as significant historical site by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines, and the petitioners claim that building a car park within its parameters negates the park reservation status.

Business Process Analyst Joseph Claridades says that addressing the issue of congestion in the city “needs an effective traffic scheme to smoothly move people around the area instead of building a parking podium that does not conform to regulatory guidelines and mandates of the local government unit.”

Claridades explained that sustainable mobility, a concept which prioritizes people in coming up with road network plans, can be achieved in Baguio City through three stages.

The first stage aims to develop smarter roads through streamlining road networks thus, reducing delays for passengers.

Second is to move people smarter through delivering efficient jeepney and taxi processes to enable people to plan their day better.

Last is to provide standard bus line that provides alternative mode of transportation in the CBD.

The three stages to sustainable mobility in the city do not only address congestion in the CBD area but also benefit the environment through reducing vehicle use and fuel consumption.

Green Governance

The online petition also cites how the supposed city plan to decongest roads with the construction of parking buildings pose “a continuing threat to the shrinking green spaces in Baguio City and will cause adverse consequences to the heritage, culture, health and well-being of the people.”

A recent PNA report relates how the city government vowed to preserve its lush environment with programs focused on clean air, clean water, regreening program, and proper waste management.

“We have to sustain the aggressive implementation of our green governance initiatives, which are already in place to strike a balance between the city development and sustaining the good condition of the environment,” City Information Officer Dexter See quoted Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan as saying.

“Green governance is a major flagship program of the Baguio’s city administration to preserve the environment in partnership with the stakeholders, See adds.

See said “green governance” includes the city’s multisectoral “Salaknib ti Waig” (save the river) project, which has been strengthened by active private sector participation and aims to clear the city’s major river system and tributaries of pollution caused by human activities in surrounding communities.

As for clean air, Baguio is one of three cities in the Philippines and five in Southeast Asia to pilot test the Clean Cities Asia Certification Program of global non-government group Clean Air Asia. The other two Philippine cities are Sta. Rosa in Laguna and Iloilo. The two other cities in Southeast Asia are Bali in Indonesia and Katmandu in Nepal.

As for solid waste management, Baguio is pushing for the building of its own engineered sanitary landfill at the former Antamok open pit area owned by Benguet Corporation in Benguet. Once this is put in place, the city would be freed from the high expense of hauling its garbage to the Urdaneta landfill in Pangasinan.

Earlier, the city government said it had spent over PHP1.2 billion in a span of 10 years for hauling the city’s garbage to its previous disposal facility, a private engineered sanitary landfill in Capaz, Tarlac.

See said Baguio’s regreening project in its watershed areas goes on in an attempt to increase forest cover and thus, more groundwater and more stable water supply for the city.

Domogan rallies the private sector to keep on helping the city government in maintaining Baguio’s pristine environment, the reason, he said, foreign and local tourists continue to flock the mountain resort city.

Baguio, the mountain city resort in the Cordillera region, was designed by American colonial urban planner Daniel Burnham as a summer getaway for its cooler weather.

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