The Duterte administration is not only determined to pursue its “Build, Build, Build” (BBB) infrastructure buildup program to further spur economic growth and development, but also wanted 145 cities across the country to be “livable and sustainable.”
According to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM), the BBB program and the development and improvement of open public spaces are closely linked and interconnected in accelerating economic growth and development.
With this as a premise, the DBM said it is set to release P2.5 billion for the development and improvement of open public spaces in different cities of the country.
However, the funds will only be released after the cities, through their respective local government units (LGUs) propose, “conceptual designs” on the development and improvement of chosen open public spaces are approved by Budget Secretary Benjamin E. Diokno.
Before the projects are implemented, mayors belonging to the League of the Cities of the Philippines (LCP) and other concerned officials of the different city governments should first strictly observe and abide with the laws on bidding scuttle the possibility of graft and corruption.
However, the DBM was silent on which agency will monitor the projects to ensure smooth implementation.
In his meeting with the LCP on March 1, Diokno promised the mayors that the DBM will set up a unit to “help the cities access” their share in the P2.5-billion funds, lawyer Shereen Gail C. Yu-Pamintuan, LCP executive director, told the city mayors on her advisory letter to them on March 2.
Pamintuan also said the “LCP welcomed the [DBM’s] creation of the help desk.”
The DBM launched the project to develop open public spaces in February.
The DBM said that “[t]he program will support city governments in creating a ‘breathing space’ by enriching open spaces through the establishment of parks and gardens, upgrading streets and waterfronts, and revitalizing plazas,” when it launched the open spaces project.
“It will also improve the connectivity and accessibility of spaces by constructing eco-friendly bike lanes and walkways,” the DBM added.
What is good with the P2.5-billion project is that it “is a parallel endeavor to the government’s massive national infrastructure development program, Build, Build, Build,” the budget department said.
However, this one will be done “in close collaboration with local government units,” the DBM added.
The department said “[t]he rising urban density in the country is creating more challenges for the Philippines’s LGUs and citizens. Problems previously not experienced such as overcrowding and traffic congestion, as well as the lack of open spaces where people can socialize and practice an active lifestyle, are now a daily obstacle to urban dwellers. These conditions significantly make cities less livable and less sustainable. They also make communities more vulnerable against natural and man-made disasters.”
The Philippines has around 50 million people living in urban areas for the past 50 years, according to the World Bank’s Philippine Urbanization Revue.
This is expected to reach 102 million in 2050, that is equivalent to about 65 percent of the total population in the said year.
“With these intensifying [population problem], there is a pressing need for local government units and citizens to find ways to manage urban evolution, to steer their cities toward sustainable development,” the DBM said, adding that the department is convinced that the “[c]ities are not made up of just buildings and streets. The most successful and livable ones have open spaces which take up half of their land area.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the successful cities in the world have a minimum of 9 square meters of green space for every citizen.
The allotment of open space, the WHO added, will even result in the improvement of the quality of life of inhabitants.
But, what may have actually struck Diokno about the viability and beauty of transforming the open public places into a useful place were the Iloilo City Riverside Esplanade, Vigan in Ilocos Sur, particularly the Calle Crisologo and the People’s Park in Davao City.
“These public open spaces, cherished by their people, provide a sanctuary from the busy and crowded urban areas, while promoting a healthy lifestyle and creating opportunities for socialization and community-building. The establishment and revitalization of the public open spaces has also increased the value of nearby real estate, thus, attracting more investors and entrepreneurs into the area and creating more jobs for the residents,” the DBM said.
The allotment of open city space is actually embodied under the United Nation’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, specifically under target 7 that focuses on public spaces.
The UN has pegged that the countries, which are signatories to UN Development Goals must, “[b]y 2030, provide universal access to safe, inclusive and accessible, green and public spaces, in particular for women and children, older persons and persons with disabilities.”
This UN commitment was, in fact, expanded after the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development held in Quito, Ecuador, in 2016 came up with “New Urban Agenda.”
The countries, which include the Philippines as signatories to the New Urban Agenda, vowed and asserted that “[w]e commit ourselves to promoting safe, inclusive, accessible, green and quality public spaces as drivers of social and economic development.”
In 2015 the LCP and the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC) issued a joint Declaration on Philippine Cities Network on Public Space as expression of strong support to the New Urban Agenda.
But the previous administration did not pursue projects on open spaces.
It is only under the present administration where it was linked to the BBB program, and that urban development issues are part of economic growth and development.
However, the LCP expressed disappointment in reducing the open- space allotment from P5 billion to P2.5 billion.
LCP argued that the P2.5 billion is not enough to finance the projects since they are talking of about 145 cities.
In their March 1 meeting, Diokno explained to the mayors that it was reduced to P2.5 billion because half of it was tapped to contribute for the P50 billion free college at the state-owned universities and colleges in the country.
Diokno promised them that he would convince Congress to raise the budget in the future.