The lyrics of Big Yellow Taxi is running through my mind, “Don’t it always seem to go; That you don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone; They paved paradise; And put up a parking lot.” Can’t blame me because it is happening again right in my own backyard! It’s not a parking lot this time but a gym–and the city of Manila wants to put it smack at the center of the Arroceros Forest Park.
Now, Arroceros Forest Park, though small at just 2.2. hectares is considered Manila’s last lung. Located beside Pasig river at the foot of Quezon Bridge, it is home to over three thousand trees including the endangered Narra and Molave, 6 varied bird species, and a colony of fireflies–which is a rarity in highly urbanized Manila.
Imagine all those thousands of trees breathing oxygen out and cleaning the air of pollution, creating an oasis of fresh air in the heart of Manila. A group of women worked really hard and fought to make this dream come true.
In 1993, the city agreed to let the Winner Foundation develop the historic area into a forest park. With the help of the Manila Seedling Bank, the area was transformed into a paradise. In 2003, then-Mayor Lito Atienza ordered its closure to give way to a huge Park & Ride building and a City Department of Education building.
‘They paved paradise; And put up a parking lot.’
For five years, the members of the Winner Foundation fought the good fight–but they lost. Hundreds of trees were cut and about a fourth of the park was destroyed. In 2010, they got the keys to the park back from new Mayor Alfredo Lim. Since then, they had been busy trying to restore Arroceros Park to its old glory.
All was well–until they received another marching order from the city last July to vacate the park because the city wants to put up a gym inside.
Landscape architect and Philippine Star columnist Paulo Alcazaren presents conceptually how the building will impact the park area.
Arroceros Forest Park at present
How the building of gym building could impact Arroceros Forest Park
If things escalate and a condo building is developed on the property
Arch. Paulo says that even if the infrastructure of roads, water, drainage or power cannot support it, the site is considered a prime location for a high-density multi-tower condominium development.
He points out that to save the Park, we need to save the entire district.
“What is lacking is a vision for the entire district (not to mention, the entire city and metropolis).
Another problem, he says, is that the country does not have a national law requiring parks and public open (and largely green) spaces that are proportionate to a city or town’s population.
“Arroceros Park is just one element in the Arroceros district that includes the Mehan Gardens (or what is left of it), the Metropolitan Theater, Liwasang Bonifacio, the Post Office, McArthur Park (that small piece of open space between the Sta Cruz Bridge and the Post Office which contains a monument to the general), The MWSS complex, The City Hall complex, SM, and surrounding parcels in various stages of development (most of them leading to tall dense tower complexes that put a strain on the already inadequate infrastructure of the district).”
He explains further that the Arroceros district must also relate to two other urban entities, the Intramuros and the Pasig River. “The connections to these two would also ensure the district’s survival and vitality. These connections must favor pedestrian connections, especially across the river. Many great cities with great rivers benefit from pedestrian bridges – London, Singapore Melbourne, etc.”
He presents us with a grand vision, “Imagine being able to walk from the LRT station through the Arroceros Forest Park, along the Pasig River Esplanade west to the Intramuros or across to Quiapo.”
According to reports, after the group called on current Manila Mayor Erap Estrada to preserve the trees, he deferred his decision to repossess the park but has not abandoned his plans of building a gym in the area.
If you, like me, prefer a forest over another building, you might be asking, “what can we do?”
We can show our support for one. One of the Park’s supporters, the corporate social responsibility arm of the Manila Doctors Hospital, has put up a petition to help save the last forest park of Manila.
Sign the petition through this link.
You can also share this story to help spread the word.
In this age of climate change, trees are now more important than malls or gyms, don’t you think so? Preserving our heritage is important, too. Why does it always have to suffer? In any case, there should be other locations for the gym that the city of Manila wants to build. Architect Alcazaren says that one option is to use the little-used Park and Ride building behind the Met Theater.
Do you have other suggestions? Share them with us and let’s help save the Arroceros Forest Park!
Photo credits: Paulo Alcazaren