Challenges in building sustainable cities

This article is still on the paper presentations in my Philippine Urban Administration class, this time ‘sustainable communities’ which was presented by the female duo from the John Hay Management Corporation. Much of their talk is taken from the updated Philippines National Urban Development Housing Framework 2009-2016, our bible for the class. (The document has been sleeping in a corner where I live and awaits my reading. I must, soon, because exam’s just around the corner!)

The NUDHF, implemented by the HLURB, defines among others the primary strategies in achieving sustainable communities, and enlightened on these we asked how come the practice of urban development and management is so way out of line with the national Framework. To this, one architect classmate said that in Canada, building officials monitor building constructions at every critical stage to assess if standards are in place whereas here, guess-what-building officials-do. This started an extended discussion between the professor, an HLURB Regional Director, and the two women from JHMC. In Baguio City, the building activities in Camp John Hay are a continuing source of concern among locals, City Hall, and we discovered the HLURB. The discussion focused on building permits. The public is concerned that the Camp is being developed too commercially, depriving locals access to it and destroying one of the City’s major water source (CJH is the City’s watershed area and a DENR-declared forest reservation). An unfortunate thing because when the US Armed Forces were still in possession of the area, locals could go in and out of the Camp as they please because the place and amenities are open and free to the public with only minimum fees for upkeep such as the fee for use of picnic tables. I remember skating, golfing, playing pool, and binging on imported ice cream there. You only pay for what you buy or use. Then, too, the strong smell of pine cone, pine leaves, and pine bark (“saleng”) stayed in the air inside and even outside the Camp gates. That’s how pine trees were healthy and in abundance then. Now, the place is a changed landscape not to mention that only those with at least PhP10,000 to spend each day stand to “enjoy” the place. To assuage our fears, our classmates from the JHMC said the Corporation has not fully developed the 250 hectares allocated as a built up area (as against the Camp’s total area of 1,600 hectares).

Going back to the concern on the use of the building permit as a unified regulatory tool in the Camp’s development, the HLURB RD said that since CJH is within the jurisdiction of City Hall, the Camp management should secure building permits from City Hall. To this, our classmates from JHMC explained that the Camp has its own building official, in fact its own GPS to keep track of the Camp’s physical development; that the Camp’s building official is deputized by the DENR hence would know about environmental regulations; that building officials regardless of their employer adhere to the same standards. The discussion went on awhile and ended on the note that the CJH issue is still a big “headache” and even LGUs are rendered speechless against the clout of corporations. Meanwhile, in the ensuing turf war, locals bear the brunt of it in terms threatened water supply and urban ecosystem. Read more of the issue here.

The contentious subject on the CJH development is lightened by the presentation on pedestrianization as one primary strategy toward sustainable communities. We recalled how in our college days the CBD was walkable, you don’t fear for your lungs sitting on the sidewalk cafes because there wasn’t smoke belching. On the plan to develop the national railway system, we hoped that this time it’d be bullet trains city to city. We thought about the possibility of cable cars in the mountain. We ranted against the prohibition of bikes by City Hall, which is so anti-smart and anti-green growth. I asked the architect why he thinks it is prohibited and he said “safety for bikers in the face of bumper-to-bumper traffic?” Haha. We talked about people who waste fuel and park on private driveways because they had to use their SUVs just to buy one bloody bag of salt bread (“pandesal”) at the corner shop. We recommended that City Hall ought to ordain “bike and pedestrian days” similar to Jollibee’s strawless Fridays. If the private sector, supposedly a major source of pollutants, is trying to do its duty how come government isn’t? And just to show how serious we are in our convictions, we said we were going to walk all the way into town from CJH after the class meeting. Perhaps we weren’t trying hard enough because after our meeting upon the invitation of a classmate we gladly climbed into his SUV into town. It wasn’t to a corner shop, at least.

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