More than a place for leisure, public parks can keep us alive

Cities are more than just buildings. To make urban living less stressful, authorities have to provide Filipinos with more adequate green spaces.

Towering skyscrapers and road widening initiatives are representations of a broader trend in the Philippines: a growing scarcity of green spaces. Though the Philippines boasts over 100 national parks, it is dominated by over 1,000 malls. Many people flock to malls not just to shop, but to find a place to hang out, walk, or simply sit around—activities traditionally associated with gardens, parks, and any vegetated land in an urban space.

Apart from the beauty of its nature, parks can also bring people together and raise awareness to bigger environmental issues.

The available land area in the city is already limited. As one of the country’s natural resources, it should be free and open to the public. Yet the communal needs of Filipinos seem to play second fiddle to the personal desires of corporations and local officials. With the sweltering heat experienced by Filipinos today, the death of nature in cities becomes glaringly apparent.  

When it rains, it pours

Beyond their aesthetic appeal, they are critical infrastructure that should be treated as such. Being the green lungs of our cities, parks serve as a space where citizens can unwind to free themselves from their daily grind. Moreover, urban designer Paulo Alcazaren states that parks serve as our natural shields, becoming detention areas for floodwaters, a filter for air pollution, and areas of refuge during natural disasters, with parks across the country doubling as evacuation centers during earthquakes and refugee centers after calamities, such as the Bataan Technological Park being used to house refugees from Typhoon Yolanda. 

Greenery from parks can also replenish underground aquifers and provide shade and moisture to mitigate the “urban heat island effect,” where concrete and asphalt absorb heat and return it into the atmosphere. By trading cities’ greenery for gray, people face worsening floods and air pollution as they get cooked between concrete expanses and the blazing heat. “There should be a balance between open and built-up areas in all urban settlements,” Alcazaren stresses.

By our design

Despite these benefits, public parks seem to be low on the list for local urban development. We continue to suffocate our cities with more infrastructure without building more parks and plazas to compensate for the lost space. It was not very long ago when Arroceros Forest Park, the green lung of Manila, was almost replaced with a gymnasium, and many parks that currently exist remain poorly maintained, such as the Children’s Park in San Nicolas. To make matters worse, Alcazaren observed that local governments tend to build all kinds of structures over existing parks. Even subdivision developers who are required to reserve 30 percent of the subdivision for open spaces frequently neglect to do so.

Coupled with the inefficient transportation system, the inadequate number of public parks has also made it difficult for people to access them. Alcazaren lists Singapore, Sydney, and New York to have set the standard that a park must be
accessible within a 15-minute walk. “We don’t need huge parks like Central Park in New York. Providing smaller parks of one hectare in size for neighborhoods and two to three times that for districts will suffice,” he exemplifies.

Architect Angelo Felix Regalado highlights how the pandemic shifted people’s perspective on the places they can visit when going out. “It’s really the change of scenery…kasi sawa ka na sa walls and windows,” he says. Regalado also points out that public spaces are essential to people. However, they are pointless if people are not given the freedom to choose between commercial areas and public spaces.

(It’s really the change of scenery…because you’re tired of walls and windows.)

Ground of equality

When parks are designed to accommodate the needs of the community, they can be a driver for economic growth. The beauty and splendor of the park can improve the image of the city. Well-maintained gardens can also become a tourist attraction, inviting foreigners and other Filipinos to come and bask in the unique atmosphere.

Apart from these tangible benefits, public parks are also essential to people’s well-being. They may emerge as places of inspiration and interaction, which can reduce people’s stress and stimulate creativity. Encouraging people to make fond memories in these places also allows them to have a personal connection with it. Parks that are located on historic sites may even push people to explore their cultural heritage.

Public spaces serve as an equalizer. Public parks are neutral grounds where people can freely walk without worrying about their social status or seniority at work. It is a place where people of different classes, gender, and ethnicity can feel safe. 

A fabric of our community

International standards stipulate that there should be a certain amount of green areas within urban areas. An example is the World Health Organization recommending nine square meters of parks per person in urban areas. In Davao City, the local government has levered these standards to build new parks. Additionally, areas that are unsuitable for urban development due to poor soil or vulnerability to natural disasters can also be turned into green spaces, rather than trying to build potentially dangerous infrastructure over them.

To convince more authorities to act, the public needs to care and demand for parks. Not only is it critical to raise awareness about the importance and benefits of these spaces, but building more parks and rehabilitating existing ones can also go a long way in showing the public that parks are an important fabric of our communities. This can be observed with the success of major projects such as the Pasig River Esplanade, which saw popularity not just as a tourist attraction but as a place for community and heritage.

Parks also offer an easy way to introduce trees in urban landscapes. When people are exposed to these types of environments, they might strive to increase green spaces in the country.

For years, the idea of development has always been entangled with the rise of commercial infrastructures. Changing this mindset will require the help of all stakeholders. As Regalado says, “You really have to involve everyone.” The community, the government, and the private sector should all move toward preserving and expanding the parks we have, rather than allowing them to be consumed by the never-ending machine of urbanization.

This article was published in The LaSallian‘s Vanguard 2024 special. To read more, visit

Rachel Manlapig

By Rachel Manlapig

Aaron Perez

By Aaron Perez

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