Pedestrianization: Challenge and possibility
Is it possible to pedestrianize the streets surrounding the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño and, if so, how would it affect stakeholders, especially public utility vehicles that will be affected?
This was, in gist, the main focus of a meeting at the Basilica last Thursday presided over by Fr. Aladdin Luzon, OSA, with fellow heritage advocates, architects and an environmental planner in attendance.
The small gathering essentially tackled the probability of closing Osmeña Boulevard and D. Jakosalem Streets from vehicular traffic permanently and beautifying it as a pedestrian haven of sorts while serving as an important buffer to the centuries-old Basilica, which suffered much during the 2013 earthquake.
Built in the 1730s using lime mortar masonry, coral stone blocks and thick hardwood posts, the church and convent of the Santo Niño were designed when foot and horse traffic were the norm until the start of the American colonial period, with virtually no carbon footprint and no vibrations. The latter, coupled with smoke from cars are without doubt taking a heavy toll on this very important gem in Cebu, where celebrations marking the 500th anniversary of the arrival of the Santo Niño image on Philippine shores will be held on April 14, 2021.
Coming on the heels of the six-month experiment to pedestrianize a section of Session Road in Baguio City that began yesterday, there is hope that this very tiny section of the metropolis can indeed serve as a possible test-case to see the potentials for the eventual pedestrianization elsewhere.
Already in fact, the section of Osmeña Boulevard running the side of the Basilica is closed off during Fridays — a kind of limited pedestrianization. Then too Zamora Street, that short road between the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral and the Basilica, is already pedestrianized somewhat, although badly in need of cleaning and sprucing up.
A surprise visitor in the meeting, which probably augurs well for this endeavor, was Mayor Edgardo Labella, who dropped by after attending Mass together with a female cousin from Guam. Unbeknownst to many of us, it was the good mayor who, as councilor way back in the 1990s, submitted a resolution precisely to pedestrianize the Basilica streets, something that alas did not pass due to opposition from the majority block.
The challenge in this campaign, which should happen even before the 2021 event, is to ensure that even drivers of jeepneys who will be re-routed as a result of this scheme, will come to accept that pedestrianization is a necessity if we are to prolong the life of the church structure by minimizing vibrations and smoke emissions from cars. Ditto also for private vehicle owners, especially since much more of them ply this section of the city than public utility jeepneys.
I hope that the Cebu City Council or Sangguniang Panlungsod will see merit to this proposal and finally bring back and approve what then-councilor Labella proposed some two decades back.
Two friends passed away this week and last and I would like to say some words about them. My good friend in the heritage movement, Paul Gerschwiler, an acoustics engineer from Switzerland who married a Cebuana, Mercy, and settled in Argao, gave up his mortal soul last week. His passing left a void for he was an expat who went out of his way to do something abour our past. He was a rare breed indeed in that in his overwhelming desire to do something to preserve what has remained of Cebu’s past, he write two books, “Boljoon: A Cultural Sketch,” published by The Foundry in 2009, and “Argao: In Search of a Usable Past,” published by the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation (RAFI) in 2015. He also co-authored with Todd Lucero Sales the “History of Argao” for the Cebu Province. On a more personal note, however, Paul and I talked a lot and communicated by email about what to do with history and Cebu’s cultural heritage. My wish is that many more expats in Cebu can fill his shoes and continue what Paul has started. That would certainly make Paul very happy.
The other friend I was to devote the little space I have left here is architect Frank Go Yu, husband of an equally dear friend, Dr. Hope Sabanpan-Yu, the director of the Cebuano Studies Center. After a long and very brave struggle with cancer, Frank’s body finally gave up but not before he showed us all that there was more to life than letting a dreadful disease dampen one down. A doting husband and loving father of only child, China, Frank was the epitome of a brave warrior who refused to surrender and fought the hard fight down to his last day. He would attend all the events that Hope would organize in and out of USC, never showing any hint to those in attendance that he was suffering or was ill. Barely weeks before his sudden and unexpected passing, he even went on a trip to the United States just to visit many architectural landmarks including the famous magnum opus of Frank Lloyd Wright, ‘Falling Water.’
One truly cannot know what the Almighty has planned for any of us. Rest in peace Paul and Frank.
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