Power to shape community

All politics is local. This is the saving grace of globalization: that locals have the power to shape their community and future. It’s the paradox in life: that good things can live beside the bad or that good things can come out of what’s seemingly bad.

Returning to Baguio City after a brief project in Manila, I came to find protesters on the Cathedral ground. Is it mere coincidence? Because every time I go home, I am met by environmental protests.

A briefer of their protest was enthusiastically handed to me by a young person. The protest: NO to earth balling of trees on Luneta Hill by the SM Group. Scanning the group, I found a familiar face – a local artist to whom I was recently introduced by a common friend. When you see creative, intelligent, and respectable people of the community joining a protest you know it’s for a good cause. An urgent one. These people won’t risk their faces and names on the front lines unless.

The subject of the protest – the expansion of SM particularly the construction of a parking building along Governor Pack Road in front of the University of Cordilleras and the resulting earth balling of trees at the site – was the topic of discussion in my graduate class as early as the last quarter of 2011. This was in relation to the Environmental Impact Assessment exercises my class was doing. Everyone in the class was against the construction of the parking building and the earth balling, and everyone includes a couple of foresters.

The arguments were basically about (1) retaining the feel and landscape of the mountain city – how could the City be effectively marketed as a summer retreat when it will be soon as hot as the lowlands/there are no more trees to cool it? Trees – especially the pine – define the character of Baguio City. Take them away and it’s the death of this City; (2) low survival rate of earth balled mature trees – if 10 out of the 400 mature trees lived after transplant, is the rate deemed a success?; (3) while it is encouraged and welcoming that a business entity is one with the City in solving the local parking problem, its proposed solution is seen as supply driven and prepackaged. In the face of the lack of a contextual and integrated understanding of the parking problem, supplying a new parking facility may not be the optimal or best solution considering that the City has not tried doing parking management. It is a misconception that abundant parking space is the solution and there is lack of realization that this perspective only reinforces the cycle of automobile dependency. Baguio City particularly its central business district is a walkable area; the strategy for the City ought to be on how to integrate and improve the walkable spaces instead of accommodating more vehicles; (4) the purported benefits (present and future) of the SM expansion do not actually accrue to the local community. In fact, these destroy the community.

I went into the mall recently and locals are true to their stand: the establishment is bereft of people hence buyers. Neoclassical economics says there is always a substitute. Locals – who are simple people at heart – have long survived with just the public market and locally-owned supermarkets. I think that this is a hard lesson for businesses even the big ones (though it isn’t a new one as the case has been put out in many business and management books, that sustainable practices in business in this age when people and countries are feeling the negative impact of “bad” industrial practices will bring in, not shoo away, profits). The message of the boycott is that for a mountain city like Baguio City nature cannot be substituted.

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