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Al fresco

Three full quarters into the coronavirus pandemic, the Philippines is still dealing with its first and only wave of infections. Based on the statistics showing that the wave has not been flattened, we can safely say that Filipinos are no longer expecting miracles and most of us are resigned to the fact that our government’s response that has been criticized as severely lacking has doomed us to expect many more months of community quarantines.

A couple of vaccines are reported to be at the verge of release but because we have government officials who like to ramble about stuff but are not as quick to take proactive action, it would seem that nobody has been able to secure a guaranteed supply and establish a proper supply chain and distribution network for Filipinos. Our only consolation is the past nine months of fending for ourselves have made us one of the most compliant people on the planet when it comes to face mask and face shield wearing.

Most developed and progressive nations led by visionary and effective leaders are already making preparations for vaccinating their populations while we are still deploying a unified contact tracing solution. This state of affairs puts our country approximately six months behind the curve and while it may be good for our mental health to be optimistic in the face of incompetence, realists should know by now that the New Year could most likely come with the same old problems of 2020.

If you come to think of it, Filipinos have already become used to life under coronavirus and quarantine status. As towns and cities slowly and cautiously open up because we have no other choice but to do so, we do our best to take care of ourselves because we also have no choice. Government has been telling us to wear face masks, face shields and observe physical distancing for nine months already so we know all those rules by heart.

One precaution that many of us have also started adapt is a newfound appreciation for open air spaces. This is a major departure from our love affair with air conditioned spaces but because the consensus is that Filipinos will still have to deal with COVID for the entirety of 2021, it is something that many of us will have to consider as part of our new normal.

There are two open air spaces that have seen tough times in the months leading up to the COVID pandemic. One is a section of the mall in Mandalagan and another is the mall in Talisay. Both non-aircon areas have seen many tenants vacating the non-aircon spaces that Filipinos obviously detested before 2020.

During these difficult times, not many businessmen will probably take the risk and open a business but if I had the capital, I’d consider investing in those sort of open air spaces. It would be even better if LGUs could help out by giving incentives and perks to allow the revitalization of those areas that have suddenly become valuable to consumers who are not as comfortable with the risks that come with air-conditioned spaces.

Those malls at Mandalagan and northern Talisay, along with that development near the Bacolod City government center, could become new commercial and social hubs that could reenergize our stagnating business environment. If the business sector and local governments can work together to make those safe, we could enjoy a sense of al fresco normalcy that could even be sustainable to the post-COVID era.

The Talisay mall in particular used to be one of my favorite because of its open-air design. However, it was ahead of its time, in terms of location and design and it eventually became a ghost town. But now that al fresco is the new comfy, it has an opportunity to make a comeback. It will take brave entrepreneurs to (re)start a business during these uncertain times but these are the sort of places that could work. Too many shops and restaurants have closed down these past months but if safe and comfortable areas are made available, along with local governments that are supportive, comebacks are a distinct possibility.

Al fresco dining and shopping areas serve multiple purposes. Aside from being safer against COVID, their carbon footprint is also smaller because of lower energy requirements. Filipinos have fought against nature for too long, taking the easy way of air conditioning. Until COVID struck, we had no reason to retrofit and repurpose buildings and developments to be less dependent on aircons. Perhaps now is the best time for Filipino property developers and businessmen to start giving al fresco design and concepts a little more thought.*

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