GREEN SPACE: Landslides and the need to green Davao City with accessible public spaces

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(Norma T. Javellana and Arnold Vandenbroeck wrote this piece for the Davao Shrine Hills Advocates (DSHA), a member of the Sustainable Davao Movement)

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 26 July) — On July 14, 2017, a major landslide occurred on Shrine Hills along the Diversion Road. The landslide caused big mature forest trees and fruit bearing trees to come crashing down. The huge landslide even overran the Diversion Road itself and blocked all traffic in both directions for several hours. Even now, more than 10 days later, traffic along the Diversion Road remains much affected, as trucks move the huge volumes of loose soil.

The landslide is the net result of several factors that are all indicative of the lack of care, of coordination and of concerted urgent action both on the side of the Davao City government and on the national government agency involved.

The landslide is the net result of several factors that are all indicative of the lack of care, of coordination and of concerted urgent action both on the side of the Davao City government and on the national government agency involved. Photo by Davao Shrine Hills Advocates

Four years ago, in 2013, the Davao City Council, under the helm of then Vice-Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, classified more than 222 hectares of Shrine Hills as Environmental Zone in order to protect its natural features and prevent natural disasters. Specifically, the area was rezoned as an Urban Ecological Enhancement Sub-Zone (UEES). According to the Zoning Ordinance this sub-zone “is intended for massive greening for ecological enhancement as (…) part of risk reduction against flooding, landslide and inundation as the edges and slopes of the ridge or hill are found to be highly susceptible to landslides. Therefore the same is hereby declared protected at all times.” The area where the landslide happened is part and parcel of this Urban Ecological Enhancement Sub-Zone as is part of the Diversion Road itself.

This latest landslide was partly triggered by past and present road widening activities by the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH). In spite of the slopes being prone to landslides and the need for maintaining massive greening and protection, no mitigating measures were considered, and the widening has been going on unabated. Neither was there any coordination between the City and the DPWH to protect the slopes in line with the zoning classification. As a result, the slopes along the diversion road are made steeper and steeper with less and less vegetation.

At the same time, at the top end of the slopes, multi-storey buildings continue to be constructed and green vegetation and trees continue being cut for expansion of buildings and access roads. Both developments, at the bottom and at the top of the slopes, are recipes for disasters that are surely to follow in the coming years, sooner rather than later.

All these are happening even after the Mines and Geo-Sciences Bureau of DENR already reported many years ago, in May 2009, that in Shrine Hills there is “high potential for instability for the whole eastern slope section (along the Diversion Road). Significant portion of the western slope (along Ma-a Road) is unstable as well. Even the unstable portions of Shrine Hills (southeastern portions of Jack’s Ridge, part of Las Terrazas, northern GSIS, Nacilla Village,…) have been developed.” The same 2009 report “highly recommends that no additional development activities be allowed to reduce the risk and prevent further possible damage due to mass movements in the area.” The report concluded that for big portions of Shrine hills: “the ideal situation would be to have no development of any form whatsoever”.

Very recently, a May 2017 study of 39 green spaces in Davao City conducted under the technical guidance of New York University and participated in by staff and volunteers coming from the City government, NGOs and academe, stressed the potential of Shrine Hills as a city wide park. It concluded that: “Davao City is completely lacking large regional (city wide) parks. Even the largest and best maintained public open spaces in Davao are still quite deficient compared to other comparably sized cities, including those in developing countries. Ordinarily, the lack of such parks is difficult to remedy after an area has been developed.  Davao has a unique opportunity to secure a large regional park close to the city center. The Shrine Hills area, if properly secured and maintained, could be a vital urban amenity that could remedy this deficit.”

While the degradation of the slopes along the Diversion Road needs to be arrested, and the use and greening of home lots properly regulated, the development of substantial portions of the 222 hectares of the Shrine Hills UEES into accessible green areas has to be pursued as well, even though much of this land is private land in the hands of big developers.

One way to move in that direction is spelled out by our national Housing and Land Use Regulatory Board (HLURB). In its document  “Planning Strategically (2001) it states on  page 81: “Even without an Open Space or Recreation Strategy, real opportunities exist for the provision of additional parks and gardens. With LGUs always short of funds for the acquisition of land and their development into parks, they have to be more creative in attracting private property owners to get involved. Highly urbanized cities that have zoning ordinances (…) could offer bonus floor area (…) if property owners willingly provided the public with accessible open areas in front or around their buildings. This increases pedestrian space and can make other pocket parks more accessible.” The point is that especially big landowners and developers thus must be encouraged, and, if justified, given incentives to allocate substantial parts of their lands as accessible public parks, either under their own management or under city management.

This is also, in essence, the approach to public green space in urbanized areas which has gained wide acceptance in many cities worldwide, under the name POPOS (Privately Owned Publicly-Accessible Open Spaces) through negotiating with big landowners/developers. POPOS can be small or bigger parks, walking paths, wooded plots, fitness trails, etc… Applying the POPOS approach will increase the quantity and variety of public green space in Shrine Hills. POPOS can be (1) voluntary, (2) a requirement, (3) in exchange for something such as a construction density bonus, or approval of a particular development project.

In one draft of the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) for the Urban Ecological Enhancement Subzone, the Davao City Planning and Development Office (CPDO) has included the POPOS concept. In the many cities worldwide where POPOS has become an effective and operational concept and tool, it is because City Governments, especially its Mayors and planning units, have been at the forefront of pushing and negotiating POPOS,  with a clear vision of greening urban areas and of what they want to get out of the negotiations with the developers.

We, the Shrine Hills Advocates, strongly suggest that as a declaration of policy for the IRR of Shrine Hills as an Urban Ecological Enhancement Sub-Zone, the City of Davao will not only welcome but will initiate, facilitate, enable and require the consolidated effort of private landowners, especially the big developers on Shrine Hills, to partner with the government in jointly achieving an ecologically balanced and publicly accessible subzone. The City of Davao must effectively and creatively negotiate the integration of substantial, specific and detailed POPOS before and as a condition for the granting of any development permit.

With such policies the Davao City government can play an effective lead role not only as a regulatory agency but as a proactive planner in greening the City with accessible public spaces. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Green Space is open to anyone who wishes to share his/her views on environment issues in Mindanao) 


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