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Why urban parks are important

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Urban parks provide benefits to the environment and human health. Parks, through their trees and vegetation, have been shown to reduce flooding, prevent erosion, provide oxygen, improve air quality, promote biodiversity, help cool down surrounding developed areas, and provide shade. By facilitating relaxation and physical activity, the presence of and access to parks have been associated with reduction of several chronic diseases and their symptoms, including anxiety, obesity and cardiovascular disease.1-3 

 

Urban green spaces threatened by urbanization

Unfortunately, parks and other urban green spaces are under threat from the pressures of rapid urbanization, commercial development, and population growth.2,4 Metro Manila in particular lags behind other Asian cities in terms of square meter per capita of urban green spaces.

Source: Asian City Green Index 2018, Solidiance, as featured in The ASEAN Post

Even though urban parks provide environmental and health benefits as well as contribute to tourism, remaining vacant sites and open spaces in densely built-up cities are a hotspot for physical development, noted Arthur Lagbas in his study published in 2022 in the Ecosystems and Development Journal of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB).5

Lagbas is an assistant professor at the Technological University of the Philippines and an expert in land use planning, environment and natural resources management, and coastal resources management 

According to Lagbas, planning for tree parks, greenbelts, and similar forest development projects in an urban area often take a back seat to other planning categories. Policies to improve, expand, or create a new public park in highly urbanized areas always compete with infrastructure and physical development. Moreover, public parks planning is often a secondary policy priority at the local level due to tight budget, absence of a national policy and local legal framework (ordinance), and underappreciation of ecosystem services.

 

Rethinking urban land use policies

Lagbas recommends incorporating rational and coordinated land use policies that integrate public park conservation, preservation, development, and management for urban sustainability, resiliency, and the general welfare of urban dwellers in mandated local land use and development plans of every city and urbanizing municipalities. He considers spatial and landscape structure, naturalness, biodiversity, tree cover area, accessibility, good facilities, protection of land use for cultural heritage properties, and threatened plant species as important considerations that should be integrated into public open green space planning and management.

Lagbas believes that analyzing public perceptions of urban parks, other green spaces, and urban environment problems can lead to a better understanding of the existing demand for ecosystem services. Such an understanding, he explains, will promote the conservation of the remaining public open green spaces that will help make cities resilient to climate change impacts and future global health crises.

 

Gov’t support for parks development

The Department of Tourism (DOT) has committed to fully support the continued development of the culture of tourism, which includes developing parks not only in Metro Manila but also all over the country.6 

Tourism Secretary Christina Garcia Frasco expressed the government’s commitment during her keynote address at the opening of the 1st Philippine Parks Congress held at the Rizal Park Open Air Auditorium on November 24, 2022. Based on Frasco's directive, DOT attached agencies have already begun providing local government units (LGUs) across the Philippines with assistance and guidance in the development of parks within their jurisdiction.

Cecille Lorenzana Romero, Executive Director of National Parks Development Committee (NPDC) called for legislation to create a national authority for parks and open spaces that can provide guidelines to LGUs. Data from the NPDC revealed that urban park visitors reached over 3 million from January to November 2022, an increase of over 50 percent compared to the over 1.5 million visitors in 2021.

With the theme “Growing healthier, more livable cities through urban parks”, the inaugural Philippine Parks Congress gathered public and private sector stakeholders involved in developing urban parks and green spaces across the Philippines. It aimed to lay the foundation for the creation of a national framework for the development of Philippine urban parks. The event was organized by the DOT, NPDC, Nayong Pilipino Foundation, Intramuros Administration, Tourism Promotions Board Philippines, and Urban Land Institute Philippines in partnership with the City of Manila, City of Baguio and Philippine Coast Guard.

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