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The great outdoors

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The other day I was at a Bacolod mall when I decided to check out their al fresco section that I haven’t seen since the pandemic, and was surprised to see it is literally a ghost town these days, devoid of tenants except for a few sad food stalls. The only thing missing there was for me to see a few tumbleweeds rolling over the central area that used to be occupied by its water fountain.

To be fair to that outdoor area of the commercial establishment, even their main, air conditioned section doesn’t seem to be doing so well these days either, as it seems to have turned from the place to be a few decades ago, into a place where people now go to run errands or out of habit.

It is ironic to see that the COVID pandemic resulted in the demise of al fresco sections of malls in the Metro Bacolod area, especially when there was a time when outdoor gatherings were the rage, due to it being perceived as a safer option during a time when our biggest concerns centered around an highly contagious airborne coronavirus.

But if you come to think of it, even before the pandemic, the writing has already been on the wall, as far as Negrenses and al fresco mall areas are concerned. We’ve been watching open-air areas struggle and wither away for some time now, and when the pandemic and its resulting lockdowns simply struck the final blow that most struggling businesses couldn’t recover from.

The two most noteworthy al fresco areas that we have lost over the past 3-5 years are that one at the Mandalagan mall and the other one further north, in Talisay. What is sad about losing these dining and entertainment areas is that being mostly open air and thus providing excellent ventilation, such options would’ve been perfect for dealing with the threat of COVID.

I guess the conclusion here is that Negrenses just can’t live without airconditioning, even if no improvements have been made in terms of technology to make aircon units safer against highly infectious respiratory diseases like COVID. We would rather stay inside an aircon area, where we can pretend-wear masks only upon entry and for the first five or so minutes, only to take it off once the food, drinks and socialization starts. And since there are al fresco options hardly offer alternatives or competition, the airconditioned establishments that survived the pandemic test have felt no need to spend precious funds to upgrade their rudimentary HVAC (heating ventilation and cooling) systems to make it safer for patrons who still come anyway.

Anyway, aside from the COVID issue, which doesn’t really seem to be a problem anymore these days, thanks to the millions who got their jabs and boosters for everybody else’s sake, it is sad to see how al fresco areas don’t seem have a chance at thriving here. After seeing separate attempts by two different mall developers to introduce the concept fail, it would be safe to assume by now that any future developments are going to be more of the same – giant airconditioned boxes.

Our climate must play a role, as the only weather we get is either searing heat, maximum humidity or outright rain. There is a 1-hour window from 5-sunset when the ambient weather can be quite pleasant, but that’s it, then its night time, which isn’t that bad if you come to think of it. And then, when it comes to ambient temperatures, we get only 3 weeks max of the pleasant temperatures that we are currently enjoying. I’m actually bracing myself for the weather to turn and the sizzling summer heat to come crashing in within the next few days.

But, if you come to think of it, al fresco areas are actually good for the environment and climate change because these areas do not have the same energy demands as airconditioning. The energy malls consume because of air conditioning is actually quite massive, and if most of that energy comes from non-renewable sources, then we are actually making this world hotter, which may be something we can tolerate because of the air conditioning we have become dependent on, but it will be something our children and grandchildren will pay for when the planet eventually decides to call in our debts.

Considering that al fresco leisure and commercial areas are actually good for us and our planet, it’s a shame that we don’t give these areas much of a chance, just because we can’t be bothered with the ambient temperature of our climate.*

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