Burnham Park: Then and Now
An Essay by Jonathan Best
When American architect Daniel Burnham first drew up his city plan for Baguio in 1904, he saved the very best piece of real estate for a public park.
His thinking reflected the progressive social values of the time. Government was expected to serve the people and provide for their health and recreation. A large public park with open fields and an artificial lake was considered a necessity for a modern urban environment. Even for a small
city such as Baguio, which was only expected to grow to around 25,000 people, a park was considered of prime importance.
Burnham Park was planned as a “green park” in contrast to an amusement park or a formal garden. Amusement parks are designed to be exciting, noisy and commercial while formal gardens are decorative showcases for plants. Green parks are designed to provide piece and quiet, open space, fresh air and a direct link to unspoiled nature. In larger parks in Asia and the West, tame deer, flocks of swans, ducks and songbirds are propagated and allowed to roam free. City dwellers are encouraged to use these parks for walks, bird watching, picnics and amateur sports. Buildings, roadways and other artificial man-made structures are deliberately kept to a minimum so as not conflict with the natural environment of a green park.
Burnham Park is laid out at the center of Baguio’s hilly terrain on the city’s largest expanse of valuable level ground. It contains all the amenities of a traditional green park, mature trees, flower beds, a small lake, walking paths, open fields and facilities for bike riding and paddle boats.
Originally, there were two circular pools at either end of the lagoon, which boasted a “magic” fountain that was illuminated at night. The open parkland once stretched from the grounds of the famous Pines Hotel, formerly on the hill at the northeast end of the park, all the way to the grounds of the present City Hall. Buildings and parking lots have encroached at both ends over the years.
About the Author:
(quoting Julie Yap Daza’s column):
"Jonathan Best was born in New York. His father was a book publisher and his mother a book illustrator, which should tell you where his heart and genes were when he was preparing this book. He has been a collector and dealer in old Philippine books, maps and vintage photographs for the past 20 years (despite the lack of any mention of a Manila or Philippine background in the notes about the author on the jacket).
If he did not grow up in the Philippines, Best has nevertheless written articles on collecting Philippine historical material and mounted exhibitions both here and in the US. He is a partner of our own John L. Silva, a collector and museum specialist (for want of a better word), and makes frequent trips to Manila to do research or business."
Despite being in the tropics, the park’s high elevation, over 5,000 feet, creates an ideal climate for flowers from the temperate zones. Roses, hollyhocks, daisies and marigolds flourish in Burnham Park. Trees of weeping bottlebrush and Baguio’s beautiful pink and white “angels trumpets” line the present day lagoon. The scent of pine trees is almost always in the air. On rainy afternoons, from June to October, it is not unusual for a romantic fog to swirl in from the surrounding hills as it often does in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.Originally, there were two circular pools at either end of the lagoon, which boasted a “magic” fountain that was illuminated at night. The open parkland once stretched from the grounds of the famous Pines Hotel, formerly on the hill at the northeast end of the park, all the way to the grounds of the present City Hall. Buildings and parking lots have encroached at both ends over the years.
Back in the 1970’s, on my first trip to the Phillipines from frigid New York City, I had expected to find a quiet island nation, something like Japan but situated in the tropical South Seas. Jet lagging from the 17-hour flight and dazed by culture shock, I was not prepared for Manila’s battalions of jeepneys with their blaring disco music, the chaotic traffic and terrific heat. My gracious hostess thoughtfully took me up to Baguio on the second or third day after I arrived and I felt I had discovered the most perfect spot in the world. Burnham Park seemed like heaven. It had the climate of California, flowers from around the world and friendly relaxed inhabitants. I remember spending long afternoons walking in the park, lying on the grass, sketching and watching people.
Today, Burnham Park is facing severe challenges from commercial developers, ill-conceived municipal projects and poor maintenance. Baguio has grown to over 300,000 people, which puts an almost unbearable burden on all open spaces and public lands. Squatters have surrounded much of the city and traffic and pollution have increased geometrically along with the population. The sheer number of people walking, riding bikes and using the lagoon threaten to permanently change the character of Burnham Park. The grass is wearing thin, the walls of the lagoon are eroding and the air is filled with noise and pollution from the surrounding city. The growing ranks of tourists coming to Baguio for the holidays add to the problem.
"Today, Burnham Park is facing severe challenges from commercial developers,
ill-conceived municipal projects
and poor maintenance."
"The good citizens of Baguio and the city’s many visitors around the Philippines and overseas should be uncompromising in their defense of Burnham Park."
Without a doubt the greatest threat to the park is from the ever-increasing number of cars, buses, and jeepneys which are allowed to park on the perimeters and directly inside the park. Motor vehicles do not belong in a park. Given Baguio’s lack of space, one solution might be to build a money-making underground parking facility deep beneath the playing fields along Harrison Road. The dozens of jeepneys, which now stand by at the City Hall’s end of the park, are creating a squalid mess. Drivers, touts and assorted vendors hang out on the grass and under the trees, spitting, urinating and throwing their refuse on the ground. Large buses manage to find places to park or stay with their motors idling for hours at various spots inside the park where they don’t belong. Vendors selling all kinds of junky souvenirs and snacks should also be limited to one area and supervised.
Burnham Park is one of Baguio’s most valuable assets and truly a Philippine national landmark. Generations of young and old alike have walked in the park and relaxed in its tranquil environment. It has been the favorite promenade for honeymooners, a playground for countless children and a space for nostalgia and quiet reflection for generations of old folks. The good citizens of Baguio and the city’s many visitors around the Philippines and overseas should be uncompromising in their defense of Burnham Park. Not one square inch should be handed over for above ground parking, food concessions, vendors, cheap rides and noisy amusements. A green park is for peace and quiet and the enjoyment of nature.
Without Burnham Park, Baguio would hardly be Baguio any more.
The article was originally published at the Sunday Inquirer Magazine on May 20, 2001 under Mr. Best’s column End Page.
Mr. Resty Refuerzo kept a copy of the essay for six years which he emailed me.
I searched the web for a link to the article. Finding none, I decided it was best to reproduce it at the Baguio Insider blog in toto.
All highlighted portions and text links to other Go Baguio! pages are mine.
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