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Looking beyond Burnham Park for tourism

/ 02:19 AM April 13, 2011

BAGUIO CITY, Philippines—Baguio residents have found the Oscar award-winning “American Beauty” interesting, not for the surrealistic tone or unexpected violence but because the family in the movie is surnamed Burnham and they want to know how to properly pronounce it.

That said (the “h” is silent), the role of the mountain city’s popular Burnham Park is clearly pronounced not only during American architect Daniel Burnham’s time but even now.

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University of the Cordilleras last year spent 20 months crafting a Burnham Park development plan that will give the former cattle drinking area a P1.15-billion facelift.

It is up to the city government to follow the UC plan, a couple of years ago, it started rehabilitating the children’s park and a group led by Bishop Carlito Cenzon has been fencing the area through funds from residents and private institutions.

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Although Burnham Park has become synonymous with Baguio, concerned residents are asking the city to look beyond to give tourists more options.

An informal group led by Isabel Ongpin, Baboo Mondoñedo, Laida Lim Perez and others recently met with Councilor Elmer Datuin to discuss the state of public parks in the city.

The Baguio Botanical Garden, formerly Imelda Park and now known as the Baguio Centennial Park, is getting its own share of attention, Datuin says. The Tourism Infrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (formerly Philippine Tourism Authority) is plunking P5 million for its improvement.

Saint Louis University, led by Dean Criselda Soriano of the College of Architecture, is coming out with a layout for the park to showcase the city’s history from its roots as “Kafagway” (ranch) to the advent of the Americans, its destruction during World War II, the golden age of Baguio tourism in the 1970s, the 1990 earthquake and its present state.

Datuin says the city plans to give P12 million to build a natural amphitheater in the Centennial Park that will sit 500 people.

Investors from Baguio’s sister cities in Japan also cleared the tunnels used by Japanese soldiers during the war. The cave network, which is 200 meters long, can be a unique experience for tourists, Datuin says.

Problem parks

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The other public parks, however, are in dire straits.

Wright Park, for example, is beset with shanties. What started as five has ballooned to 20, Ongpin’s group reported.

Another is the Pine Trees of the World, which was envisioned to have as many pine species from all over the world as possible. Before one can say “foreign species infestation,” it should be noted that none of the foreign trees survived.

Mines View, which was opened to showcase the burgeoning mining area in Itogon, Benguet, in the 1960s, has gained the nickname “No Mines, No View.” It has been invaded by stalls and the view is now of housing projects.

Datuin says the city government is planning to put the more than 400 stalls there in a single building to decongest the park.

The area that the mining industry wanted to develop is the former Diplomat Hotel compound, which used to be a seminary for the Dominican priests in the 1900s. No improvement has been introduced in the area, Ongpin says, and the Presidential Management Staff would like to get it back from the city government.

The mining industry wants to convert the place into a museum, while a Christian group wants to turn it into a worship area. While waiting for the result of the impasse, some groups, like airsoft gun clubs, have been using the grounds as shooting arena.

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TAGS: Government, History, housing & urban planning, Philippines – Regions, Tourism & Leisure
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