The other day I was passing by the Capitol Lagoon and was glad to see that its brand new playground was filled with children and families enjoying the facilities and having fun. It was nice to see people enjoying themselves, safely and free of charge, in a green public space provided by the local government. A decent playground in a park or plaza, no matter how small, looks like a good investment and it made me hope that the towns and cities of the province follow the lead of the governor and also provide, repair, or rehabilitate their public playgrounds.
Seeing the busy Capitol Lagoon playground made me think how it can be the ‘gateway drug’ to having a decent public park, especially for our towns and cities where any public parks and town plazas don’t seem to be given too much attention by city officials.
If you come to think of it, if a city or barangay somehow gets a nice playground, either through having funds allocated for it, or by working with the private sector, then the area around that playground will also have to be spruced up as well, because it wouldn’t be fair to the nice playground. If that somehow happens, then there is a chance that the beautification and development can steadily grow outward, until the whole park or public space is transformed into a decent park.
Assuming that we start with the playground, a decent park only needs some benches, trees for shade, green open spaces for outdoor activities, plants, a clean restroom, a drinking water fountain, lights, and most importantly, a group of people responsible for keeping it clean, safe, and well-tended. That shouldn’t be so hard to do, and if city officials can make it happen, then they have provided their constituents with a place for recreation and socialization that is not primarily a commercial interest.
Of course, once a park becomes nice, it will need to be managed. It is not like a field of dreams where all you have to do is build it, and it will take care of itself. There needs to be a park manager. Street vendors and food carts/kiosks will have to be regulated. Trash must be disposed properly. Equipment, facilities, and even the plants will need maintenance and any safety issues addressed. It needs to be safe and secure from petty thieves and even bullies.
That is why I think a nice playground is a gateway drug for any self-respecting town or city. Once the project gets started, and the city officials put value in their green public spaces, the rest of the park should follow. A master plan would be nice before it begins with earnest, but I guess beggars can’t be choosers so a hodgepodge park would be better than no park at all. I guess that would be better than the usual glorified parking lot with a street vendor gathering area among a few trees and plants.
We already know that there is no way we can have something like New York City’s 340-hectare Central Park, because in the Philippines, even 1 hectare for a park in the middle of a city is already a luxury, and those who live in a city whose officials haven’t sold off prime public properties yet to commercial developers should be thankful with a hectare of green public space in an accessible area.
So that is why maybe we can just start small with playgrounds. When a park or plaza gets a nice playground, the kids will come, and they are usually accompanied by adults. And the nice thing about it is it won’t take much to make the park that is attractive to kids appealing to adults as well. Turning it prettier, greener, and adding a few amenities should be enough. Although the lack of space means it can get crowded and messy, but as we said before, beggars can’t be choosers and we are at the point that we should just be happy to get local officials that are willing to take the first steps to make our parks better.
Seeing the hustle and bustle of the newly renovated Capitol Lagoon playground made me want to see it being replicated, even at a smaller scale, among the towns and cities of the province, with the end goal of having the plaza or parks also being improved to the point that it can actually compete with malls and fast food chains as the social and recreational centers of the community, not just among kids, but for residents of all ages.
Maybe it is a blessing that most fast food joints no longer have nice playgrounds, so local government can be forced to take over and provide that amenity to their young constituents, which could make our mediocre parks more attractive and start the ball rolling towards better public green spaces where we can socialize and engage in recreation free of charge, while at the same time making our communities better.*