Rehabilitating the  ‘City of Pines’

Published January 13, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

E CARTOON JAN 14, 2020
After  Boracay  and Manila Bay,  the government  now turns its attention to the environmental degradation  that  has befallen Baguio City.

The city government  itself, led by Mayor Benjamin  Magalong,  is leading  the cleanup drive with a 15-year program  that will start with  Burnham Park,  the city’s  famous  center which  is   probably the most frequently visited  part of the city by tourists coming  mostly from  the  lowlands in  the south.

The national  government,  through   the Department of Environment  and Natural Resources  and the Department of Interior  and  Local Government, will be involved  in the enforcement  of  environmental and  other  laws. The Department of Tourism  is committing to a P480-million improvement of Burnham Park.

There are many tourist attractions around the city, but  it is at Burnham Park,  with its small lake and tiny rowboats,  where everybody ends  up.   Not  too  far away  is  Mine’s View Park, but  it is constantly jammed with  traffic.

In fact, the entire city now suffers from heavy traffic   On any given  day, but especially during weekends and holidays,  thousands  of cars  speed  through  the  series  of expressways  from Metro  Manila, only to  slow down to a crawl  up  Kennon  Road. There simply are too many visitors and too many vehicles.

With so many people,  both  residents  and visitors, Mayor  Magalong has  included  the boosting of the city’s sewerage treatment  plant   among  his first projects in his 15-year plan. This need may not be readily visible,  but  it is at the core of  any environmental  problem, such as in  Boracay  and in Manila Bay.

To  many  visitors, the more  obvious  change   they have seen in Baguio over the years  has  been  the sight  of so many small houses  clinging to the sides of mountains,  slopes  that  used to be green with trees.  These  and  other structures  so dominate the landscape where there used to  be pine trees, so that some critics ask if Baguio is still   the “Clty of Pines.”

Baguio, chartered in 1909, was  originally designed for 25,000 people  by American architect  Daniel Burnham.  It  suffered much destruction  at the end of World War II in 1945 and in the Luzon  earthquake of 1990, but  it  has continued  to grow, with a construction  boom and an urban sprawl  that destroyed many of the city’s  pine trees.

The city’s population has been estimated at around 400,000, but  the visitors from the lowlands  were estimated  at 1.8 million in 2018, up from 1.5 million in 2017. At this rate,  the weekend  population of the city must be over 2 million by now and increasing.  No wonder,  Baguio has a pollution and sewage problem  and Mayor  Magalong  has made expansion of the city’s sewage system  one of  the  first  projects of his 15-year plan.

Baguio will continue to grow and it will continue to draw visitors in the millions because it  is blessed with  good weather  and  now, with the new  expressways,  greater accessibility.  The pollution,  over-construction,  and   traffic  will be  the principal targets of the  rehabilitation program.  But the people will  more  easily see  its success and  welcome  it when they see more pine trees  growing all over  the city so that it is once again truly  the “City of Pines.”