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Inquirer Northern Luzon
Baguio takes second look at Burnham Plan

By Vincent Cabreza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:15:00 11/12/2008

Filed Under: Housing & Urban Planning, Regional authorities

BAGUIO CITY ? This city, the country?s undisputed summer capital, was designed by Chicago-based architect Daniel Burnham to host 25,000 residents in 1906.

Officially chartered in 1909, Baguio will celebrate its centennial next year. The city achieved its maximum population in less than 50 years, from 489 residents in 1903 to 29,262 in 1948.

Almost 100 years later, local architects and urban planners have been busy studying how much of the city?s development template could still be applied to an urban renewal campaign for a city population that reached 183,000 in 1991.

Baguio?s population grew to just under 300,000 after 2005, says Mayor Reinaldo Bautista Jr.

Filipinos today only remember Burnham for the manmade lake and park named after him. But his name has been inevitably tied to the city he helped build.

At the start of a month-long housing summit sponsored by the city government, architects of the Saint Louis University and the University of the Cordilleras tackled the practical elements of the Burnham Plan for residents who hoped to enforce urban reforms before Baguio turns 100 years old on Sept. 1, 2009.

Details of the Burnham Plan are now outdated by a century of urban growth and decay, says Bonifacio de la Pea, dean of the SLU College of Architecture and Engineering.

But he says the foundation of the Burnham Plan could still be used to its neighboring towns in Benguet, and help correct the problems Baguio had already suffered.

For example, a few subdivisions that have sprouted around Tuba and Sablan towns in Benguet have little regard for the geological hazards in their areas and have barely enough space for green zones, says Robert Romero, an architect.

Burnham helped introduce the idea of green zones in the United States.

The architects say they hope that exporting parts of the Burnham Plan to the towns of La Trinidad, Itogon, Sablan and Tuba could also revive a proposal to wed them with Baguio into a metropolitan sharing unit called BLIST (the acronym stands for the towns).

Burnham is considered one of the modern world?s icons for the ?City Beautiful Movement? in the early 20th century. This is an urban planning philosophy which theorized that introducing physical beauty to an urban American landscape would inspire its inhabitants to moral and civic virtues during a period preceding the Great Depression, according to the University of Virginia website.

Burnham was responsible for introducing changes to the American cities of Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco and Washington D.C., the seat of American government.

Common to most of these cities, including Baguio, are the way their road systems are laid out to surround a core city district.

Like Baguio, Burnham redesigned these American cities using three equally functional grids or districts.

Almost all of the Burnham-designed localities have a central park where people promenade, a government center like Washington?s Capitol Hill or Baguio?s City Hall compound that looms large over its downtown area, and a row of residential areas.

The Burnham Park and its lake are the city?s most recognized facilities, next to the government center and the district where the presidential mansion stands.

Foreign experts revisited the Burnham Plan in 1991 when they helped design a new urban renewal plan called the Baguio-Dagupan Urban Planning Project (BDUPP) for Baguio, which was almost wiped out by the July 16, 1990 earthquake.

This time the plan guides developers in shaping BLIST.

Although the outcome was probably the most comprehensive plan for Baguio, it was never pushed. Quarrel over political jurisdiction between the city and the Benguet town governments had been blamed for abandoning BDUPP.

The housing summit again discussed the Burnham Plan last week, but participants focused instead on Burnham?s commonsensical ways.

Romero suggests that developers use a cluster-based design for subdivision development, which frees more areas for tree parks. In the design, home lots encircle a central market area.

He says the principle has elements of Burnham but is also inspired by indigenous Cordillera communities, where homes encircle a common trading center.

?Because these settlements (encircle a central district), it encourages cooperation. And if certain groups of people want to live apart from the rest, their grouped community would not break the circle,? Romero says.

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