My Town

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The summer heat is driving more people to spend their breaks in Tagaytay City. To most Metro Manilans, Tagaytay is the next option to Baguio City. This is, however, misplaced. Tagaytay can never be cooler than Baguio and, most of all, it definitely cannot offer the kind of rich, mystical culture that the Cordillera has. Tagaytay, in fact, is losing its bucolic charm and giving way to an urban frenzy that, if it runs away, will make it looking like any other burgeoning Philippine city, with the same malls, same cafes, and same space-gnawing condominiums.

Intoxicating Aroma

When we first transferred here more than a dozen years ago, we were seeking for a quiet environment. Our humble house was hemmed in by a coffee plantation on one side and a pineapple farm on the other. And whenever the coffee flowers bloomed, the air would be filled by an intoxicating aroma. Whenever I would take my early morning walks, birds of various colors would dart from one clump of trees to another. But these are all gone. Even the fireflies that used to light the huge camachile tree in front of our house have left for good.

Today, there are high buildings puncturing the blue skies of the chartered city. Except for those who have the wherewithal to buy units in them, I have yet to meet somebody who is ecstatic about the condominiums. The consensus is that they are ugly, perhaps expecting that Tagaytay retain its country air forever. To the credit of Ayalas, they have made their own versions of condominiums here follow the contours of the land, carefully working around old trees.

There used to be a Metro Tagaytay Master Plan which stipulated strict restrictions on how high structures could be built in the city. The idea was when you look at Tagaytay from Laurel or Talisay in Batangas, for instance, there wouldn’t be any edifice jutting out and violating the undulating horizontal lines. The Master Plan was also clear on the principle of easement of views – that no structure should be built that would obstruct the view of neighbors. Tall buildings should be in the inner districts, with much regard for the environment. The planners weren’t saying so but they probably meant: go slow on the carbon footprints.  But, today, impelled by mounds of cash, developers cannot resist building tiers upon tiers of rooms with a commanding view of Taal Volcano – a magical mirage shimmering on an ever-blue lake.

Mushrooming Edifices

Just a few years ago, there was hardly anything else to do in Tagaytay but to settle into a meditative groove.  You get infected by the prayerful vibes that come from the scores of churches, chapels, and retreat houses that densify the city. For your dine-out dates, there were just Josephine’s, Diners, and Kaye Ryan. If you want to go dancing, there was One Bagger. For groceries and banking, you had to motor down to Alabang.

In one sweep of a wand, restaurants with differentiating market positions have sprung up everywhere in Tagaytay. I have nicknamed a cluster of restaurants as the bulalo belt, all of them jostling for customers who hanker for hot beef soup and heavenly bone marrow, a fare to die for. Starbucks has three outlets within a five kilometer stretch. The strongest, highest grossing Starbucks in the Philippines is in Tagaytay, that is why its management send their new baristas here for them to perfect their caffeine preps.

Government Initiatives

Tagaytay was probably among the first movers as a smoke-free, plastic-strict city. To the city hall’s credit, it has been able to prevent billboards from proliferating in the city. The leaders may also want to make the city din-free. The influx of visitors have made the streets unkind to people. In a stroke of irony where the rich collaborate with the poor, the macho men in hot leather jackets and big bikes unite with the tricycle drivers in stinking sando and safe-suspect contraption in assaulting the environment.  The ridge road has formed a noise tunnel for transposed urban traffic.

At the same time. our barangay leaders in San Jose are apparently inutile in curbing noise in their neighborhood, with karaoke singers doing their ghastly thing 24 hours a day. Dyaskepatawarin! Don’t tell me it is a national malady like indolence is.

Thankfully today, the city hall is replacing the multicolored street lamps with tall no-nonsense posts and bright streetlights. The leaders have to respond to the economic upsurge and the changing demographics of the city. Already, we are experiencing unexplained waterless days. This can really be frustrating. It is easy to suspect that the flurry of construction and the growing number of people in the city are pressing on the capability of the local government to deliver basic needs.

The city cries for wider roads with safe sidewalks to boot. Tagaytay could probably do what Dasmarinas City did and that is, do not wait for the national government and spend local money to improve at least the main arteries. The Sta. Rosa-Tagaytay Route, once a farm-to-market road, has become too narrow with rumbling bumper-to-bumper traffic wasting fuel and time. Perhaps Congressman Bambol Tolentino is working on a solution now.

I heard from the grapevine that Metro Manila Development Authority chairman Francis Tolentino is contemplating on getting back the mayorship position in Tagaytay. Running the MMDA is a thankless job. Sala sa lamig, sala sa init ang ano mang gawin mo don. In spite of that, he is doing a splendid job. His bent to put hanging gardens in that dreary urban jungle probably stemmed from his stint as head of a then sleepy town. It was clean and really green. Perhaps, if ever he re-assumes the helm of the city, he would like to bring the bitter lessons of Metro Manila and this is, resist the allure of concrete and neon that only accelerate the decay of any city. – 30

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