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Rough Cuts | The Bhutan that Davao once was

International news report: Car boom brings misery to “green, happy” Bhutan.”

Yes, Bhutan, that south-central Asian country noted for its Gross National Happiness over economic growth resulting to its being dubbed “the poster child for sustainable development.”

But today, the Bhutanese’s increasing capability to buy luxuries is changing the country’s landscape. According to reports, over the past few years people in that country have been buying cars. And the new luxury living seems to have impacted on government efforts to preserve its status as a carbon negative country.

The same news also say that the rise in the resident’s living standard — their acquisition of new cars resulting in increase vehicular traffic — is “testing the good humor of citizens.”

Well, we need not look far. We have our very own Davao City. For those who were born shortly after the second world war and lived and grew up in the city and are still around, they are witnesses to the fast evolution of the place from a green, fresh, windy and happy place to live in into a suffocating urban steel, concrete and thatch jungle.

We remember ourselves as a young man fresh from college who came here in Davao supposedly to take a vacation. We were enticed to take a vacation here because of the close to mystical description of the city by an uncle policeman who migrated to Davao in the late 1950s. We also wanted to escape, even for just two weeks, from the hustle and bustle of Cebu City that was then fast becoming a hell to live in due to its fast urbanization. That was in early 1975.

During that period we noted that some areas of the city’s downtown were still sporting heavy patches of green — courtesy of large, perhaps century old acacia trees. There were even lagoons and marshes within a 5-kilometer radius from the city’s main business district. The widest road leading to and within the city proper was only 2-lanes built of asphalt.

The city’s shorelines that stretch from Agdao to Toril were still populated with mangroves, pagatpat, and pandan. Its water pristine with hardly anything to see that could lead one to suspect its polluted. The city’s fresh water bodies were all mirror-clear and would only become turbid when strong rains result to flooding.

There were fewer streets and commensurately lesser number of vehicles plying most of which were public transportation.

Yes, that was the Davao City of the not-too-long-ago where people’s lungs were not in danger of getting toxic particles from the air and water.

Now, where have all those seemingly “carbon negative attributes” of our own city gone? Apparently these have been eased out by our unceasing quest for social uplift as well as physical development of the city.

What we are seeing today is a Davao City with shorelines getting to become destinations of informal settlers. Its greenery now changed into agglomerations of houses built so close to each other leaving no space for fresh air to pass.

Our once vacant lands within the outskirts of the city? Well, these are now massive residential subdivisions that virtually cover every inch of soil with concrete leaving only a few square meters of open soil for rain water to sip in.

As to the then available open spaces in the city’s urban center, these are now sites of large commercial establishments and high-rise office and condominium buildings all competing for supremacy over both the city’s ground and skyline spaces.

And the areas zoned for light and heavy industries? They are now home to the city’s biggest industrial plants, all stationary emitters of carbon dioxide to the air that Davaoenos are breathing every second of their lives.

Of course, the city’s roads, wide as these have become, are now the display areas of our people’s new social status. What used to be the domain primarily of public utility vehicles are now the arenas of classy privately-owned land transportation competing with each other for attention by the less lucky to appreciate and envy on.

And the capacity of Davao City streets are further tested to its maximum limit with the unrestrained increase in the number of public utility vehicles brought about by the demands of the overly fast population growth rate.

Imagine the volume of toxic elements pumped into the air from the exhausts of these tens of thousands of vehicles crowding our city’s thoroughfares! All these undesirable elements are putting poison to the air.
We can only look back to the Davao of old — the Bhutan that it was until the city’s officials forgot that there has to have a balance between development and sustaining a livable environment.

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