August 19, 2016 – From food, to art, and fashion, the "support local" movement has continuously gained ground in the Philippines. Such efforts have also crossed over to urban planning. One development at a time, Ayala Land has taken the lead in introducing native trees to the emerging landscapes.
Little do Filipinos know that most of the plants they see around are not native to the Philippines.Ayala Land Sustainability Manager, Anna Gonzales, shared that early landscaping practice in the country was influenced by trends and looks from abroad, particularly the United States. Exotic or foreign trees such as Acacia, Bougainvillea, and Fire Trees, among many others, made their way into urban gardens and parks as these were more familiar to designers and planners. The demand for these plants, coupled with scant knowledge on the use of Philippine plants for landscaping resulted in the lack of general appreciation and utilization of our native species in urban areas.
The fight for Filipino foliage
“It would be great if more people knew about the Philippines’ very unique ecosystems," Gonzales bared. "A lot of plants and animals co-evolved in our islands separate from others, and because of that we have more than 6,000species of plants and trees found only in the Philippines."
This abundance of endemic and native selections has given Ayala Land the chance to opt for native trees whenever possible. As "locals", native vegetation needs little or no special integration to the Philippine topography. The different species, after all, co-evolve with the land, making them resilient to natural and manmade impacts.
"The advocacy for native trees is our way of assuring the sustainability and continuance of life that is appropriate for the Philippine environment. These native trees provide food and shelter to other life forms such as birds, bats and insects," said Gonzales on the benefits of using native trees. "It's a two-way street: we're protecting the environment but the environment will also protect us. That's why it’s important to understand what kind of plants, trees and animals are actually keeping our ecosystem in balance and to find out how to support them in our developments."
Interestingly, Filipinos may not always be aware of what native trees are.
"Most of what we think that are native are not," said Gonzales. “What’s a good clue to finding out what is native? Many towns and places are named after native trees: Antipolo, Balete, Betis, Cupang, Calumpang, Calumpit, Talisay."
Numbers don’t lie
Landscaping in large-scale developments by Ayala Land utilizes 60 to 80 percent native trees and plants. In Nuvali alone, one of ALI’s 19 sustainable estates spread across key growth areas nationwide, there are 60,000 native trees planted, and the trend continues in their other projects all-throughout the country. The plants involved include 75 indigenous tree species from 38 plant families.
Its active partnership with various organizations, including the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, has helped Ayala Land boost awareness on native tree use. Additionally, the company also collaborates with Filipino scientists and architects to identify the best native plants to use in urban landscapes. The sustainability of these efforts, meanwhile, is assured through the establishment of native plant nurseries right within the said communities.
Such efforts did result in industry recognition. The Philippine arm of Urban Land Institute (ULI), a nonprofit research and education organization founded in 1936, recognized Ayala Land for "Excellence in Health and Sustainability" in its 2016 Healthy Places Awards. The organization, which recognizes developers who use innovative design strategies to promote healthy living, cited Ayala Land's Anvaya Cove, which has integrated native tree propagation and other biodiversity programs in its development.
Gunning for a greener generation
The battle to sustain a thriving native ecosystem, however, is not the only purpose of introducing native trees to Ayala Land developments. The other more significant reason to plant them is to improve the lives of people who live in it.
“Emerging studies are showing that humans are healthier and happier when amid other life forms, an experience that is also provided by landscapes. Whether they realize it or not, their body responds positively to greenery,” added Gonzales. “There is the biophilia hypothesis, which says that intuitively, people feel affinity toward living things."
“As pioneers, as planners, we work towards creating communities where people can live healthy, thus, live well. And planting native trees, for one, keeps these communities sustainable and beneficial not only today but in the coming years,” Gonzales said.
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