Marikina River Park
Marikina River Park is an unexpected green space in Metro Manila. It's a vast system of parks, trails and open spaces along the Marikina River. It was developed in the nineties and relived the river banks after decades of negligence and pollution.
The recreation facilities stretch over 11 kilometer. The park covers an area of 220 hectares. It contains the Riverbanks Center, a mall and office complex. Throughout the park, different kind of facilities are scattered. Among others an amphitheater for 20.000 people, floating stages for cultural events, a Roman dome, a Chinese Pagoda, a gazebo and picnic grounds. The sports facilities include a baseball field, a basketball court and a skating rink.
On the riverbanks urban farmers plant vegetables and hold animals in the so called salamyaans. Elderly come together and spend time together.
The park and river banks are bringing people together and are strengthening the community. That was also one of the objectives of the 'Save The Marikina River' (.pdf) program, the initiative that shaped the river park in the nineties. The rehabilitation program was launched in 1993 and had different aims: reduce flooding, improve the eroded riverbanks, resettling informal settlers and create an environment for community building, leisure and sports.
A dead river
By the 1970's the Marikina River was heavenly polluted with domestic sewage and industrial waste. The river was practicaly dead. On the river banks 2.000 informal settler families built their house in an area that was often flooded. The quarrying of the river and its banks resulted in erosion. All this lead to more flooding, to poor water quality and hygiene problems. Moreover Marikina lies in an earthquake prone area.
From 1992 on the government took a series of resolutions and actions to rehabilitate the river and prepare the city for the frequent flooding and earthquakes. The informal settlements were removed through a relocation program. The decade long initiative was a success. The Asian Disaster Preparedness Center summarizes the program in a leaflet titled 'Flood Disaster Mitigation and River Rehabilitation by Marikina City, Philippines' (.pdf) It received also the Galing Pook Award (.pdf).
A lot of initiatives are taken. Often with the best intentions. But that doesn't guarantee success. Marikina made sure that inhabitants and – important – the informal settlers were convinced of the project. Mayor Bayani F. Fernando (.pdf):
“The people have to touch and smell the water. It is hoped that this experience and exposure will galvanize them to muster enough political pressure for the government and the rest to act and conserve the river.”
The rehabilitation plan contained:
- Building access roads to allow men and equipment to go near the river and undertake the necessary cleaning and clearing operations
- Clearing the banks both of its informal settlers and other encroachments
- Improving the river water quality by demanding industries to set up and maintain water treatment facilities
- Creating sports facilities, historical and cultural structures
- Enhancing the aesthetic appeal of the river environment by planting various flora and trees
Today, the park is the center for community activities and sports. Thousands enjoy walking, biking and jogging. The restoration created job opportunities, relived the spirit of Marikina and empowered the community. Marikina River is not healthy yet, but awareness has been created. Hopefully neighboring cities will start seeing that enhancing a river can lift a whole city.