LUNETA BOARDWALK PROJECT SPARKS DEBATE
Manila, July 8, 2000 An ambitious tourism-oriented project to build a boardwalk on Manila Bay behind the Luneta’s Quirino Grandstand has focused attention on the pros and cons of developing the bayside area. The following thought-provoking article, written by Paulo Alcazaren, was published in today’s Philippine Star:
It cannot be denied that central Manila needs a major makeover. Everyone is concerned and a good number of people in the government are desperate for "doable" fixes, "flagship" and "showcase" that could "catalyze" the area. These, to help restore the image of the government, boost, and hopefully give everyone a warm feeling all around. These "fixes," though, may traumatize more than catalyze our already embattled urban environment.
In the momentum to get things done in this "doable-fix-it-showcase-flagship" mode, we may be sacrificing longer term and bigger-pictured solutions for the illusion of accomplishment and the waste of hard-to-come-by funding. The projects mulled seek to remedy the myriad symptoms and not the root problems of our metropolitan mess. Moreover, this approach may lead to the further erosion of the city's historic and functional integrity. The current intervention under construction at the Luneta waterfront is a case in point.
The project in question is now called the "Luneta Boardwalk." It was previously referred to as the "Luneta Waterfront Development Project" earlier this year but regardless of the name, the project has obviously fended off any attempt to stop it and piling is underway. The facility is basically a boardwalk on concrete stilts off the western edge of the Rizal Park. Several two-and-a-half-story structures will be built on this platform to house restaurants, cafes, galleries and similar commercial establishments. Three bridges are to connect the platform to the existing Luneta promenade.
When completed in the next two years, the Philippine Tourism Authority hopes that this facility will rejuvenate the Luneta area and enhance the nearby Intramuros. PTA's general manager, Lito Banayo, says that this project would also serve as a link between Intramuros and Malate's Remedios area. Local political leaders have been convinced that this project may re-establish Manila as the nation's business and tourism capital. Mayor Lito Atienza is hopeful that this project will also serve to attract needed investment to the city. All these high hopes may not be founded on solid ground.
We should look at the Luneta Boardwalk Project of the Philippine Tourism Authority to see whether the proposed facility will create the "world-class" impact it promises. We have to question if the P400-million budget may be better spent elsewhere or spread out for the Luneta's much needed revival. Finally we have to make sure that this or any other project respects the site's irreplaceable fabric of heritage and does not compromise its use as a public park.
The dream to revive Manila's former pre-eminence has been on everyone's mind since after the war. Countless master plans and projects have been commissioned, approved and consequently shelved and forgotten. The Luneta and the Intramuros have seen some improvement from programs started in the Sixties and Seventies. The Valencia years of the Luneta saw it transformed from a cogon-infested field to a proper park with great green spaces and a balance of amenities. The Intramuros Administration has rebuilt most of the walls and some of the old fabric in the walled city.
The dream had started at the turn of the century as the Americans sought to shape the city in the image of a great colonial capital. Daniel Burnham stood at the old Luneta (somewhere around the present Rizal monument) and saw that the greatest asset of the area was its proximity to the waterside and the "priceless" view of the magnificent bay and the daily magic of its fiery sunset.
But the port works were already in progress and were blocking the view so he immediately suggested the extension of the waterfront a thousand feet into the water. This reclamation would also allow for a hotel and other leisure facilities on either side of the extension framing a clear and unimpeded view of the bay. These were built within 10 years of the plan and have been part of Manila's historic landscape for the past 85 years. Three generations of Filipinos have enjoyed the priceless amenity of this open space. Future generations may not be so lucky.
Today, both the Luneta (and the Intramuros) are struggling to fight the relentless invasion of commercialism, handicapped as both are by reported lack of budgets, pressures of influential businesses and deteriorating physical and management structures. The two areas are now open season for fast-food outlets, discos, and other incompatible uses along with structures that disregard urban design and conservation guidelines and even the minimum standards of taste. The Luneta is suffering from an increasing population of monuments, contorted statues, concrete and stone obelisks and all manner of architectural accretion. The park's future seems to be set in concrete and commerce ... a lot of both. (While the Intramuros doesn't know whether it wants to be a National Heritage site or a clone of Malate's J. Nakpil or Makati's The Fort!)
The problems of the central historic area were exacerbated by the proximity of the ports. The nature of port activity led easily to blight. By the Sixties, the Intramuros became one big warehouse district. Another factor is the failure of rail transport after the war, which led to the dependency on trucking and consequently to Manila's traffic woes and burdened infrastructure in and around the ports. Then there is the further phenomenon of informal settlers who provide the needed hard labor for the ports. Because of the lack of any options for affordable housing or cheap mass transport these people have to be near their source of income. Some estimates show over a hundred thousand residents in South Harbor and the Intramuros area alone.
These problems are not unique to Manila. Countless port cities around the world have faced similar problems with their waterfront. Over the last 30 years many have found ways to rejuvenate these deteriorating city centers. Benayo cites the models of: The Opera House and the Rocks in Sydney, the Kuching Waterfront Development in Malaysia, Boat Quay in Singapore, the Inner Harbor in Baltimore, the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront in South Africa, Pacifico Yokohama, Cosmo Square and the Ring of Fire Aquarium in Osaka, the Queen's Quay Terminal in Toronto, Rowe's Wharf in Boston, and Pier 39 and Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.
These are all excellent examples of waterfront redevelopments indeed and aspects of many of them could be adapted in Manila. But look closely at the examples cited. They point both to the inappropriateness of the Luneta frontage as the site of the proposed boardwalk and also to better sites. The examples also show the need for siting any intervention in the larger context of a long-term master plan for the entire city center to bring the hoped for sustainable "world-class" impact.
The Kuching and Singapore examples are riverside developments not seaside situations. The equivalent areas in Manila are the muelles of the Pasig River. In fact, the Muelle de Industria, Muelle Del Rio and Muelle del Banco Nacional along the Pasig River are almost identical sites to Boat Quay, Clark Quay and Robertson Quay along the Singapore River. The Pasig River Redevelopment Commission, in fact, has identified these sites for development. The development of these muelles would boost the rejuvenation of the heritage-rich districts of San Nicolas, Binondo, the Escolta and the Intramuros with "downstream" effects on Quiapo and the Metropolitan Theater/Mehan Garden area.
The examples of Sydney, Baltimore, Capetown, Yokohama, Osaka, Toronto, Boston, and Pier 39 and San Francisco are all harbor re-developments and not one compromises existing parkland or these cities' existing waterfront or historic views. The Sydney, Baltimore, Toronto and Boston examples are all inner harbor interventions that have taken two decades of careful planning and implementation. The sites were not parks. The Pacifico Yokohama Complex is located beside a park, the Rinko Park, but does not block the park's view of water.
The Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, in Capetown, is a 103-hectare project that redeveloped the derelict docklands of Cape Town in South Africa. The planning started in 1989 with the first phase completed in the early '90s. The project has been 10 years in the making. Since then, visitorship has increased from 1.4 million visitors to 20 million.
All the examples above point to the potential of Manila's South Harbor as the missing link rather than the waterfront at the Luneta. Is the Luneta Boardwalk project the only one that the PTA has envisioned for Manila? Is it or any other current project part of any vision or framework of the Authority or of the Department of Tourism? Have they or the other government agencies or LGUs not thought of the South Harbor? As it turns out, the PTA has a tourism masterplan for Central Manila. This plan is only two years old and outlines in great detail just how Manila could be rejuvenated. The Philippine Ports Authority (PPA) also has a plan for the port's redevelopment and has been considered in this master plan.
The Tourism Development Framework Plan for Central Manila -- Final Report dated September 1998 -- was a master plan commissioned by the DOT. The master plan set the long-term sustainable vision for the rational development of Central Manila with a focus on tourism. This was accomplished in development plans for nine Special Design Districts (SDDs) emphasizing appropriateness, sensitivity to the city history and conservation of cultural heritage.
The report notes the largest concentration of museums in the city. These are the National Museum, the NHI Museum of Philippine History, Museo Pambata (Elk's Club), and the Museo ng Maynila (Army and Navy Club). (The area also has the most number of libraries -- the Manila City Library at the LRT station, the National Library at the park, the Doroy Valencia archives also at the park, the Museo ng Maynila library at the Army and Navy Club, and the Thomas Jefferson Library at the American Embassy.) Who says there are no amenities in this area?
These facilities and the park suffer from lack of access, transport links, pedestrian comfort, inconsistent landscape and lack of activity along these links. The recommendations of the report include the rehabilitation and conservation of all the historic structures, a tranvia transport service looping around the area and improved lighting. The design guidelines include, among other strict parameters, that "No building, signage, landscaping, or monument shall be erected without prior review (as regards) visual impact (and how it will affect views, both long and local)."
This Waterfront Special Design District covers the stretch from the CCP to Rizal Park and beyond past the Manila Hotel and on to the South Harbor till Engineer's Island. The objectives of the plan were for the redevelopment of the waterfront promenades, upgrading of land use patterns and activities, conservation of the entire stretch as open space clear of obstructions, increased pedestrian accessibility both land-side and water-side, improvement of activities in relation to the view corridor and finally, the development of the South Port Waterfront according to the South Harbor Master Development Plan.
In the South Harbor component, the plan called for the development of an Ocean Center and Fisherman's Wharf. The plan calls for a new cruise ship terminal to service this growing sector of the Asian tourism market. Manila is one of the few seaside cities that have not improved its infrastructure for this purpose. The Ocean Center is seen to be an extension of the Rizal Park and Quirino Grandstand area. This center would include an improved Cruise Ship Terminal, a multi-story Ports of Call Marketplace, An Excursion Boat and Inter-Island Ferry Terminal, a heliport and support buildings.
As in many other port cities, eventually most cargo port activities will be shifted out of the city. In Manila's case this would be to Batangas and Subic, the rest of the South Harbor then can be developed into "an attraction comparable to San Francisco's Fisherman's Warf." This would include seafood restaurants; themed gift shops, hotels and other tourist-related establishments. The Ocean Center, the report says, "...would serve as a catalyst to the redevelopment of the South Port area."
The report and master plan involved a large team of competent consultants, both local and foreign. The study was comprehensive and even included aspects of finance and social issues. Consultations with stakeholders were extensive. So what happened to this plan and the time, effort and money that the PTA/DOT spent for it? It may be difficult to find the answer to this question but most people would figure that it was chucked out the window when the new administration came in.
The recommendations of the master plan make a good case for taking a longer-term approach to what is ultimately a large-scale urban redevelopment project. This plan has to be comprehensive in scope and bring in the total cooperation and commitment of many parties -- the PPA, the PTA, the DOT, the City of Manila, the IA, NGOs, private businesses and the tourism industry. It is not an easy task and "long term" seems to be missing in most bureaucratic vocabularies here (most civil servants and politicos confuse "long-term" with "term of office"). "Success is never instant." Baltimore took over 20 years from the late '50s to the mid-'80s before tourism blossomed.
If there is no stopping the PTA, if the harbor plans are too far in the future or if the PPA (as with other government agencies) want to keep their plans to themselves and finally if the PTA cannot wait to spend the money on a project that would bring the most bang for our devalued peso, there are options and directions that could be taken:
First, the same amount of space can be derived from making use of the rear of the Quirino grandstand. The mass of the grandstand could hide the new facility with ease. The PTA's report says that the boardwalk was about the same size of the grandstand anyway so making it three stories high would make this very doable. The added advantages are that the cost of expensive piling is averted, less internal roadwork is required, views from the higher floors give diners a great view and speaking of views, the original public access to the bay is conserved.
Secondly, the PTA need not build the whole facility completely. Most restaurant complexes provide a basic shell and very strict architectural guidelines. The locators (as the restaurant owners are called) would fit out their respective facilities themselves. The whole project could actually be bidded out wholly as a private lease, thereby costing the taxpayers no money at all. This is more than a win-win situation!
If the PTA/DOT saves a whole lot of money on this restaurant complex, the money can be spent improving the park. The PTA had actually promised earlier in the year to improve the Luneta while waiting for their Environmental Clearance Certificate. A look around the park today bears little evidence of any improvements. The skating rink looks like an abandoned job site. Nobody knows what that new metal sculpture is supposed to stand for (maybe the Nuestra Señora de Monumentos Abandonados?)
The pavements are cracked and the grass and shrubs are ill-maintained in Rizal Park's 52.8 hectares. The Luneta has approximately 30,000 trees and the extensive grounds require a force of 800 people with an annual budget of P100 million. The biggest maintenance problem is still water. The park has two deep wells, which are not adequate for such a large area. Even if the park had enough water, it does not have a distribution system. Only the Rizal monument area has an automatic sprinkler system. The rest is serviced manually using the one water truck still serviceable. The landscape work is also manual as there is also only one working tractor left.
The saved money can also be spent on conserving the Army and Navy Club and the Elks Club complex so that these two museums can accommodate more displays and host more visitors. A workable master plan for this was made with the help of the Australian government two years ago but nothing has happened. The pedestrian access around the park and across to the Quirino could also be improved, as even the PTA's studies point out. The park's connectivity with the city's transport system leaves much to be desired. Finally security and lighting at the park could be improved as a deterrent to crime and also to highlight the deserving historical structures like the neo-classic buildings.
As for cultural and artistic performances, the P400 million could be used to revive the Metropolitan Theater and the Botanic Gardens. President Estrada had promised this project since early last year. There has been no progress. A revived Met and Mehan would have immediate impact on Manila's cultural scene and provide an alternative venue for theater and performing groups displaced by Miss Saigon at the CCP.
The question of the Luneta Boardwalk and similar "showcase/flagship" projects is a question of whether it represents long-term, sustainable, comprehensive solutions to the city's problems. The issue of compromised cultural heritage, public access and lost views are valid for this and many other projects -- projects that are perceived by the public to be driven more by political and/or profit-centered agendas.
At the end of the day, not only our cultural heritage is compromised but also the trust in the competence and integrity of our public servants. Similarly, public access is not just a physical issue but a social one, one that also questions transparency, accountability and the right to participate in and have access to the processes that shape the political and spatial economies of our struggling city and government.
Finally, we may lose more than the fabulous views of our beloved bay and sunset. For if we do not break the habit of short-term "fixes," or the obscenity of wasting precious money and energy (on showcasing our insensitivity to the provision of basic services in the city -- clean water, clean air, housing, schools, sanitation and security), we may lose that vision of a just, equitable and humane Manila we all yearn for.
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(You may phone the Heritage Conservation Society at 528-04-91 and 528-09-76, or fax at 527-43-90 for more information on the HCS's current efforts to save the likes of the Jai-Alai, the Luneta Waterfront, the Manila Hotel, the Walls of Intramuros and our endangered urban sanity. Messages or protest and/or support, feedback or suggestions may be coursed through www.bwf.org.)
Note: Feedback about this article is welcome. Please contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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