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Public spaces

One issue that the Covid-19 pandemic and our government’s preferred response of the indefinite and vague roulette of quarantine status and restrictions has exposed is the lack of public spaces in this country.

We are now approaching the anniversary of our seemingly never-ending series of lockdowns and the demographic that has been most severely affected are the minors and senior citizens who are still not allowed out of their homes. Our government has been content to keep them locked up for almost one year now, providing absolutely zero alternatives for leisure and exercise for a significant chunk of our populations, all in the name of the public’s health and safety.

A couple of weeks ago the rule-making body whose mission-vision is probably to make things as difficult as it can for the Filipino public with a plethora of unnecessary rules that seem to be based more on whim rather than established science, decided that kids aged 5-14 may be allowed out of house arrest in a bid to revive what the government had allowed to become the worst economy in the region.

Because of the lack of any science-based national strategy that meant the pandemic had never been contained, certain groups naturally disagreed with that decision of the IATF. Within a couple of days, that ruling had been reversed by our dear leader who likes to make a show of “decisiveness” by reversing whatever decisions of his appointed generals that he deems reversible. As a result, the house arrest of millions of minors all over the country now continues to remain in force.

If the purpose of releasing minors into the wild is so they can go to air conditioned and enclosed spaces such as malls, then I have to agree with our dear leader’s benevolent decision. That is where most Covid-19 infections and super spreader events take place and generally just a bad idea.

The problem with our country is that air conditioned malls are our only idea of public spaces. Our towns and cities don’t have parks, playgrounds, walking paths where people can safely enjoy a respite from the cramped homes that they’ve been stuck in for almost a year now. If you come to think of it, whatever tiny parks we have are so inadequate in size that they had to be closed during the ECQ period. The lack of parks meant people who wanted to exercise or enjoy the outdoors could’ve overcrowded those tiny green and open spaces within our cities.

In most other countries where parks are part of the city’s design and urban planning, city folk have the option of enjoying the outdoors there as long as they responsibly practice physical distancing. Here in the Philippines, our IATF would probably allow that as long as you have a government approved and crony-supplied personal plastic barrier but the problem is that we don’t have enough parks. In Bacolod City, there are only three known parks: the Public Plaza, the Provincial Capitol Lagoon, and the Panaad Park. The rest are memorial parks.

If our government officials only had their constituents in mind, particularly the minors and senior citizens who are by now suffering from various degrees of cabin fever, the creation of more parks and safe public spaces would be on their list of to dos. Such parks wouldn’t only be useful during this Covid-19 pandemic, but it would also benefit future generations as well by providing green and free alternatives to the same old shopping malls that have ironically become badges of progress for most towns and cities in this country.

Last week, my daughter’s boredom drove her to giving her skateboarding another go and even if our home has a yard and driveway, she wanted more space for the chosen activity to be actually a little more fun. We don’t live in an exclusive village so the next best option for her was the town plaza where she might be able to enjoy the space for a bit. However, because there are no clear rules on children/minors in such public spaces that are supposed to be safe as long as mask-wearing and physical distancing is observed, it wasn’t an option for us. I can only imagine how much more worse it is for families who have been stuck in cramped homes for the better part of a year.

Even if the IATF and most local government officials can’t see it because it runs contrary to their primary solution to this pandemic which is making people stay home, Covid-19 has ironically highlighted the need for parks and outdoor spaces for leisure, exercise and the general mental health of the population. It’s a need that’s not as urgent as our nose diving economy but it is a basic need that our towns and cities have failed to address for decades. Now that the pandemic has sparked an al-fresco revival, maybe we can finally see the value of such public spaces.* rvived – but now must face impeachment cases!

***

Did you know that some countries have made up lists of places they have tagged as “Red”? No, not because the people there are communists, but they are supposed to be regarded as unsafe, I guess, because of the pandemic. For that matter, one might say the whole world is almost red because this vicious COVID has already been classified as pandemic. I hope it is true, though, that cases in the Philippines, including our province and city, are lessening, even before  the vaccines have reached us, February 15 is the target date, but when the provinces will get them  is still anybody’s guess.*

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