The ‘rewilding’ of Metro Manila

Arroceros Park, home to more than 3,000 trees of diverse variety, is said to be the green lung of the City of Manila; and, together with the La Mesa Watershed in neighboring Quezon City, represents the last remaining true forested area in the National Capital Region. It does not have to be. There are many pocket open spaces across the metropolis that can be converted, not just to green manicured parks but more of forested areas where concrete jungles are converted to real jungles and where biodiversity is allowed to grow in its natural state.

Urban reforestation is a growing trend that is currently being advocated by urban planners globally. Also called “urban rewilding”, or introducing nature back into cities, it’s a fairly new concept that is evolving into so many environmentally pleasant deviations. You have Bosco Verticale in the City of Milan where vertical forests are intertwined with residential buildings. Another example is Manhattan’s High Line where you have a green trail on an abandoned railway or the Mauerpark in Germany, running along in areas where the Berlin Wall used to be located. In these areas are pocket forests or shrubbery that   are left to grow in their natural state, unlike the usual urban parks we are all familiar with, such as Luneta and the highly manicured parks we have in Makati or BGC.

Why this growing trend towards the “naturing of our urban environment”? What would be its benefits? We all agree that climate vulnerability and urban heat, common occurrences in our cities, endanger the physical and psychological well being of our urban dwellers, not to mention their long-term effect on our economy. The pandemic has even made this climate threat more pronounced with most urban dwellers still literally trapped in their cities, despite the lifting of lockdowns.  Any effort towards greening the environment, whether involving manicured parks or through the present rewilding trend, will resolve these concerns, but urban rewilding has its distinct advantages. For one, urban rewilding is less costly on maintenance. Plants and trees are left to grow in their natural state. No need for manicuring or trimming, more so no need for the use of fertilizers. To lessen watering costs, it would do well that such rewilding efforts be near bodies of water like the Arroceros Park beside the Pasig River and the La Mesa Park near the watershed. And with this comes another benefit as forested areas literally mitigate flooding by acting like a storm water system. With the expected increase in rainwater as a result of climate change, such a benefit cannot be ignored. Another benefit of rewilding is the richness of biodiversity where there is a greater chance of the return of birds of color and even fireflies, not just insects and the mayas that we are familiar with. In some areas, fruit bearing trees can be incorporated to provide additional sources of food for the public.

Where can we have such urban rewilding?  The good thing is that there’s an abundance of such possible spaces in Metro Manila, both involving private and public properties. The university communities such as UP where you have already pocket forests, plus the Ateneo and UST; the church areas, the private subdivisions, among others, and even the public and private cemeteries. With government-owned properties, you literally have a lot. GSIS alone owns around a thousand or more hectares of unutilized open spaces in Metro Manila alone. We also have the military camps and the abandoned or semi-used buildings in almost all the cities in Metro Manila. Then we also have the underutilized easements of the railway, as well as the ones along the rivers and esteros. This will even discourage the unauthorized infraction on these easements. And with more parks and forests, it will come as a natural next step to take care of our neglected waterways, which also need our utmost attention.

We are indeed entering a new era of living in our cities. Its development and progress will not be measured anymore by the amount of steel and asphalt that we see but rather by the livability that it can provide, as well as the way they are maintained by city dwellers. Urban rewilding is therefore a good step in this direction. Going back to how we lived before may be necessary in order for us to be assured of our survival in the future.

The author may be reached through e-mail: thomas_orbos@sloan.mit.edu

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