SINCE the recent holidays, there have been efforts from city authorities to resolve, or at least mitigate, the effects of heavy vehicular traffic along Leonard Wood Road that reaches peak build-up in front of the gates of the Baguio Botanical Garden.
It began with the decision to implement one-way loops using the C.M. Recto parallel road and the M. Roxas bridge bypass taking the downgrade towards the Teachers Camp gate. Then early this year it was declared that starting January 16, prospective visitors to the Baguio Botanical Garden will now have to register online through the city’s VISITA platform. In other words, the message is, those who wish to enter the magical world of the Botanical Garden – get your a_ _ in line.
This directive is probably for the better. If we can skim off the overflow of people and limit foot traffic within the park to its capacity, then it might be possible to cut back on the volume of vehicles and decongest the stretch of Leonard Wood Road. At least that is the hope. When the word of the directive got out, it appears that public reception and perception was positive.
Residents in this area are, to an extent, cautiously optimistic about the proposal expecting relief from the stresses of traffic for the sake of health and sanity. There are those who further suggest restoring the VISITA system to its pandemic scope which means that non-residents who plan to sojourn in the city must register and obtain QR passes through and from the VISITA portal.
As to the first point, it is clear that this measure provides a practical response to this traffic crisis after an appeal from the collective for a solution to this congestion became resonant. The queueing system is seen to eliminate the stacking of vehicles right outside the park facilitating better movement to and from the place leading towards the residential areas. On the other hand, those who critique the ethos of the proposal raise the question on the propriety of requiring residents to sign up for a scheduled visit, arguing that this directive gives the appearance that, for residents at least, parks are no longer open.
So, there really is no pleasing the Baguio resident is there? First, they ask for the government’s response to the traffic problem, and when they get a sound answer, they double back and say “well, this creates another problem.” In the first place, I believe that’s just the nature of palliative solutions. If you plug a hole, you’re bound to spring another leak somewhere. And we simply can’t set aside the view that parks should be open and accessible. However, considering the shifting dynamics of city life, all of those we have grown accustomed to – the slow pace, the open spaces, the laid-back mood – are all in the past.
Baguio in the past was boring, and today nobody wants a boring Baguio. “Boring” is not a word that would describe the Botanical Garden today, for sure. Every element found within is calculated to generate optimum excitement and the way to create this is to stimulate the visual. As a result, the place has been landscaped for the sights, and for making pictures that would later be uploaded on social media for views, hits, and likes. Everything must cater to the superlatives. Heck, even the public restroom must subscribe to the requirement of being best enough to earn awards in the category of “outstanding” global standard restrooms. I wish I was exaggerating. But this restroom had a lot of play on social media. You pay six pesos for five-star excretory comfort, they say. Best of all, it’s “instagrammable.”
Indeed, who wants to go back to a time when things in Baguio were so mundane? Remember the time when it was a dark, ominous, and foreboding place with an infamous name “Imelda Park?” Long ago I went there anyway and chanced upon three local boys angling for bayyek or tadpoles along a creek which I could not find now. The point is, if kept this way, we sure can’t cash in with kids playing along the creek catching tadpoles – all boring stuff we need to get rid of. Thus, the decision today to put the fences and gates up so that entrance fees could be collected.
That’s where we are today. We have transformed Baguio into a one humongous theme park. “Everything your heart desires” so goes a Disney song, is here. Thus, it’s no surprise people come to Baguio – in droves. We have pulled all the stops including the idea that Baguio has permanent residents and therefore is not purely, solely, exclusively, a theme park. Trouble is, did we even do a modicum of risk analysis when we decided to pull all the stops? Maybe that’s the reason why we have traffic. Maybe that’s the reason why we provide palliative solutions. As residents we no longer have agency. Instead, we become functionaries to an enterprise we hardly signed up for and consequently, we are required to sign up to enter a park that is found in our own backyard.
Assuming the online registration for the Botanical Garden helps contain the traffic problem in the area, build-up will likely occur in another place. Consider the plan to create another place of excitement in the same vicinity which is to construct a “dancing fountain” at the reflection pool fronting the Mansion House (and we’re not even talking here about the historical implication of this “enhancement” to the original design of the place which was the colonial seat of government in the “summer”). It is yet another potential instagrammable place and so a place of congestion. Should people sign up to see it too?
This brings us to the final point which is the idea of requiring visitors to register online for a visit to Baguio and not just to a park. It sounds like the best “bad idea” we have so far considering that doing so requires the need to tighten our borders once again affecting the flow of essential goods among others. A bad idea, yes, but it leaves us no choice at this point knowing we can’t simply settle for a boring Baguio anymore.