A ‘green, green, green’ Philip­pines

Manila Bulletin - - Views • Features | Mindanao News - By SEN­A­TOR SONNY AN­GARA

Philip­pines is a coun­try en­dowed with so much nat­u­ral beauty. But where God has gifted us with stun­ning vis­tas of land and sea, lush forests, cool lakes and rivers, and tow­er­ing moun­tains, we have not done such a good job with build­ing up our cityscapes and en­sur­ing that our ur­ban spa­ces truly nur­ture life and pro­mote pro­duc­tiv­ity.

The Greek philoso­pher Socrates once said: “By far, the great­est and most ad­mirable form of wis­dom is that needed to plan and to beau­tify cities and hu­man com­mu­ni­ties.” Yet, data would show that even if we have our own share of “wise” ur­ban plan­ners and de­sign­ers, their wis­dom hasn’t been re­ally put to good use.

For in­stance, in the 2012 Asian Green City In­dex—a study of 22 ma­jor, of­ten high-den­sity Asian cities across cer­tain cri­te­ria—Metro Manila reg­is­tered very low in terms of the amount of green spa­ces avail­able per in­hab­i­tant. Where res­i­dents in Sin­ga­pore each had ac­cess to 66 square me­ters of green space; 50 in Taipei; 44 in Kuala Lumpur; 27 in Lon­don; 23 in New York City; 19 in Shang­hai; and 17 in Hanoi; those in Metro Manila had only 4.5 square me­ters. Only those in Bangkok, Jakarta, and Kolkata had ac­cess to fewer green spa­ces.

In­deed, un­fet­tered ur­ban sprawl has suf­fo­cated the green spa­ces that were once abun­dant and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble across Metro Manila. This is a shame since sev­eral stud­ies have also shown that there are real men­tal health ben­e­fits to hav­ing greener cities.

For in­stance, one pub­lished in the Jour­nal of the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion de­tailed a case of how the con­ver­sion of aban­doned lots in Philadel­phia, Penn­syl­va­nia, into com­mu­nity parks and gar­dens ac­tu­ally led to a 68 per­cent de­crease in res­i­dents’ feel­ings of de­pres­sion, par­tic­u­larly among those liv­ing be­low the poverty line. In­ter­est­ingly, a re­cent Aarhus Univer­sity, Den­mark, study re­lated satel­lite maps of Den­mark’s green­ery with in­ci­dences of schizophre­nia and found that who did not have ac­cess to green spa­ces within 210 sq. me­ters of their homes were 50 per­cent more likely to suc­cumb to the men­tal ill­ness.

Con­ges­tion due to poor plan­ning has also led to an ur­ban land­scape that fa­vors cars and other mo­tor ve­hi­cles, mak­ing it in­con­ve­nient — some­times dan­ger­ous — for peo­ple to travel around as pedes­tri­ans.

It’s no won­der then that a 2017 Stan­ford Univer­sity sur­vey of 111 coun­tries de­ter­mined that Filipinos were the 4th most lethar­gic or phys­i­cally in­ac­tive peo­ple in the world, walk­ing only 4,008 steps or 4.6 kilo­me­ters a day. In con­trast, the most ac­tive—those from Hong Kong—walk close to 7,000 steps or 6 kilo­me­ters a day.

All these un­der­score why the Depart­ment of Bud­get and Man­age­ment’s (DBM) new pro­gram called “Green, Green, Green” is aus­pi­cious, as it marks a de­ci­sive step to­wards un­leash­ing the wis­dom of our ur­ban de­sign and plan­ning ex­perts across the coun­try in tan­dem with our Lo­cal Govern­ment Units (LGUs), par­tic­u­larly cities.

Un­der this year’s bud­get, up to P2.6 bil­lion has been set aside—as the as­sis­tance to cities (AC) com­po­nent of the Lo­cal Govern­ment Sup­port Fund (LGSF)—for grants and sup­port for projects that in­volve en­rich­ing open spa­ces; es­tab­lish­ing for­est parks and botan­i­cal gar­dens; in­stalling benches and proper shad­ing to streetscapes; set­ting up bike­ways and walk­ing lanes; and con­struct­ing other “green” in­fra­struc­ture.

While such projects are def­i­nitely about mak­ing our cities beau­ti­ful and greener, they’re also about mak­ing them more re­silient, es­pe­cially in the face of the dev­as­tat­ing ef­fects of cli­mate change.

Out of the coun­try’s 145 cities, 143 ex­pressed in­ter­est when the DBM launched the pro­gram ear­lier this year. And out of that num­ber, 65 cities re­cently com­prised the first batch of re­cip­i­ents of as­sis­tance of var­i­ous amounts de­pend­ing on the project scope, pop­u­la­tion size and land area cov­ered.

Ours is such a beau­ti­ful coun­try. It’s only right that we build up our cities to am­plify, not di­min­ish, that beauty.

E-mail: sen­son­nyan­gara@ya­hoo. com| Face­book, Twit­ter & In­sta­gram: @son­nyan­gara

Sen­a­tor Sonny An­gara was elected in 2013, and now chairs the Se­nate com­mit­tees on lo­cal govern­ment, and ways and means.

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