Manila Bay’s white sand is just like Paris in the summer

Published September 4, 2020, 7:00 AM

by AA Patawaran

Artificial beaches have a purpose—and here are others from all over the world

BEACH IN THE CITY The baywalk on Manila Bay after its rehabilitation last year. Photo by Lost Juan

Manila Bay beach, why not?

It’s not a new idea. In 2002, the French capital introduced the idea of the “Paris Plage,” which later became “Paris Plages” or Paris Beaches. Just like here in Manila, just like now, the moment the Parisians, critical by default, caught sight of then Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoë  trucking sand, along with palm trees, into the city, they were up in arms, lamenting the frivolity as well as the cost of the project.

PARIS ON THE SAND Paris Plage on a stretch of the Seine riverbank. Photo by Pawel Rivera

But dissent did not stop the project. From plage to plages, see? In 2002, the fake beach was set up on the right bank of the river Seine. By 2006, there were two beaches, the other set up on the left bank close to the Port de la Gare metro station. By 2014, there were three, the third on a stretch of bank near the artificial lake at La Villete in the northeast of Paris.

But more than beautification, Paris Plages had a practical purpose. August in Paris is, literally, a ghost month. The city of lights, as mercury rises, turns into a ghost town, as everybody flees to the countryside or the coasts. Some businesses would shut down and tourist activities would be slow. The beaches, sprawling on the riverbanks as if overnight, were an attempt to tide the city over the monthlong slump, as well as to provide recreation for those who might feel trapped in the city.

DESPITE DISSENT Former mayor of Paris, Bertrand Delanoë (2001-2014), pioneered Paris Plage in 2002, bringing the beach to the city in the summer months. It was a major success. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen

You can’t swim on the Seine, just as you cannot swim on Manila Bay, but Paris Plages has water activities, like a floating swimming pool, mini-pools, and fountains, to get you wet, and “kayaks are available for no charge,” according to the Smithsonian. Now, there is even a ferry that traverses the Seine to bring guests from one beach to another. It’s fun, a vibrant, sunny scene, replete with parasols, sun lounges and deck chairs, ice cream vendors, and maybe a beach bar, from which to get yourself a piña colada and a tall glass of pastis mixed with water, a favorite summer drink in France.

But Paris Plages is only a temporary scheme. The beaches are there for the whole month of August, sometimes starting earlier in July, sometimes extending a few days into September. But it has been a major success. In 2007, summer visitors attributed to these temporary beaches topped four million.

LA PLAGE TEMPORAIRE Floating pools on the banks of the artificial lake at La Villete in the northeast of Paris

In Manila right now, netizens are mad, mad, mad about what the fisherfolk group Pamalakaya called “the artificial rehabilitation focusing on aesthetic appearance rather than addressing the environmental degradation problems.” They have a point. The group Pamalakaya suggested that the cost and effort the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) project entails be poured instead into planting mangrove forests and sea grasses to restore and balance Manila Bay’s marine ecosystem.

PARTY BEACH The Sunny Beach, constructed on the South Bund of Shanghai, to attract sun worshippers and beach lovers. Photo from Smart Shanghai

But if ever, Manila Bay beach won’t be the first of such projects in the world, especially in landlocked cities. There’s Paris Plages, for one. There’s also Sunny Beach in Shanghai, set up in 2010 as an additional attraction to the South Bund. Now (at least before the pandemic), it’s a party destination, with beach bums coming in droves to eat, drink, dance, and dig their toes in the sand. Until 2007, there was a heated, indoor beach in Kyushu, Japan. It was called the Seagaia Ocean Dome that boasted of sand and palm trees, as well as a retractable fake roof in which the sky was permanently blue and a fake volcano spitting fake fire. Even the Maldives, paradise for sun worshipers and beach lovers, has an artificial beach in Male, its capital, which is now a popular venue for parades, live music, sports events, and community parades.

INDOOR BEACH The now defunct 850-acre resort Seagaia Ocean Dome on the southern island of Kyushu in Miyazaki, Japan. Photo from flight965

But let’s take a moment and pretend to take a deep breath of fresh air on Manila Bay. Greenpeace weighs in on the DENR project that aims to transplant a beach paradise on a 500-meter-stretch of the baywalk, near the US Embassy. The questions are valid, such as how to contain the sand from just being washed away into the bay, especially by the monsoon rains, the seasonal winds, and the storm surges.

NO BEACH, NO PROBLEM Although it is the capital of a beach paradise, the Maldives, Male has no decent beach of its own, so it built an artificial beach, now a popular venue for parades, live music, sports events, and community parades

Also the sand isn’t exactly sand, but crushed dolomite boulders from Cebu, as DENR clarified. We have yet to know if, just like sand, whose mining to create or expand distant beaches is tricky, if not illegal, crushed dolomite is prone to erosion and how it will interact with the eco-system of Manila Bay.

But Paris Plages is only a temporary scheme. The beaches are there for the whole month of August, sometimes starting earlier in July, sometimes extending a few days into September. But it has been a major success, a brilliant scheme in city planning. In 2007, summer visitors attributed to these temporary beaches topped four million.

SUNSET ON MANILA BAY And possibly gleaming on the white sand. Photo from last year by Lost Juan

So we do need to rethink Manila Bay beach. Or maybe DENR and the City of Manila have yet to let us know exactly what the purpose of the beach is, other than to turn what is miserably gray into gleaming white. Is it just beautification like neo-classical lamp posts on a functioning bridge? Is it to attract tourists to the area? Is it to give Manileños respite from the scorching heat? Where’s the beach party? And more important, as we know from experience when the baywalk along Roxas Boulevard was a nightspot busy with open-air cafes, live concerts, mimes, and acrobats, where to park?

 
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