As humans living in the 21st century, we’ve normalized (and capitalized on) making sacrifices in the name of progress, even if it comes at the expense of rural and indigenous communities, marginalized sectors and their respective habitats.
Case in point: Metro Manila, where the distribution and management of land hinges on the differing interests of private developers. In place of open parks and gardens, we have roads, highways and condominiums as far, wide and tall as the eye can see.
Yet instead of viewing this as a concern, we beam with pride and regard it as a sign of our growth. We think that if we free up access to resources and urbanize our communities, our Third World country stands a chance at being globally competent and competitive. Abolitionists and environmentalists have called upon us to shift our focus away from such capitalist ideals.
But could it be that the answer to this dilemma has been in our homes, sitting by our windowsills this entire time?
I personally had been fascinated by the idea of caring for plants even before the pandemic. As a science nerd in grade school, I memorized their many benefits by heart so I could get perfect scores in quizzes and convince my parents to let me keep my own.
A plant may not look okay at the moment, but just give it time and the right amount of care and it will bounce back. Like us, they too need water, light and love to live.
Unfortunately, my brown thumb managed to kill all three low-maintenance cacti I cared for over the years, no matter how hard I tried. Thankfully, about a few weeks into lockdown, I got to live vicariously through plantitos and plantitas, who took the world of Instagram by storm with their little green friends.
But while plant parenting can pass off as a mere hobby or source of self-fulfillment, what we don’t know is that it can also mark the beginning of a reclamation, a reconnection, and maybe a revolution. Contrary to popular belief, urban development is not the enemy.
With 80 percent of global activity concentrated in our cities, the World Bank says it’s become easier and cheaper to gain access to public services and achieve productivity. But in our attempt to keep up with the changing times, we have developed an increasing apathy towards nature, as evidenced by the mountain ranges and farmlands we’ve converted to subdivisions and membership-only clubs.
Caring for a plant encourages us to slow down in a world that favors instant gratification and constant optimization. It’s true that we do reap what we sow —but this doesn’t happen overnight.
“If there’s one thing being a plantita taught me, it’s the value of patience,” said Amoure of @basta.halaman on Instagram. “A plant may not look okay at the moment, but just give it time and the right amount of care and it will bounce back. Like us, they too need water, light and love to live. If you do them good and stick by them, they will reward you with the most beautiful leaves.”
Katie, a 50-year-old businesswoman, applied these same principles when she started her own garden. “I tried it out because it looked like a very interesting and intricate hobby that would be worth my time while I have to stay at home,” she told Young STAR. “Now my family doesn’t have to buy vegetables outside because we can harvest directly from our garden. Seeing it fill with produce gives me fulfillment and motivates me to continue this practice more.”
As we return to our nurturing and empathetic states, having plants of our own allows us to examine the effects of our actions (or lack thereof) on their growth. One would argue that it also prompts us to look at the bigger picture and reassess how we interact with our immediate surroundings.
“Personally, being close to my small collection of plants has helped me imagine how beneficial access to green spaces would be for the community,” claimed Sofia, a 21-year-old marketing student. “But in bringing this idea to life, we will need collaboration with community members and the commitment to make this sustainable.”
Kline, a 26-year-old graduate student and the face behind @kln.plnts on Instagram, admits that caring for his plants prompted him to research achievable ways to integrate green spaces into our communities.
“Off the top of my head, (I can think of) trade-offs. For every tree they cut down, they can relocate it or just plant another tree somewhere near,” he suggested. “Government agencies involved would also have to learn more about which plants would be beneficial for a certain location, and plan more projects related to conservation and development of existing parks.”
The need for green and open spaces in cities is projected to spike worldwide, post-pandemic. People will be looking for respite from the stress of urban life and we’ll have no choice but to meet this demand.
Best of all, this practice invites us to think long-term and incorporate sustainable practices in our daily routines. Unlike our supply of dalgona coffee and ube cheese pandesal, our household ferns and ficuses will most likely outlast COVID under the right conditions. Because of this, plant parenting has the potential to redefine our long-term notions of progress and ultimately reconstruct our ideal city — one that doesn’t automatically prioritize commercial interests, and gives way to natural and communal spaces.
Our lack of urban planning leaves us with nowhere else to turn to but malls, thus rendering any other multipurpose facility impractical and unnecessary. But the need for green and open spaces in cities is projected to spike worldwide, post-pandemic. People will be looking for respite from the stress of urban life and we’ll have no choice but to meet this demand.
Surely, this is no easy feat since we’re practically starting from scratch. According to the Green City Index research, Metro Manila only has 0.03 percent of its land area dedicated to public spaces and parks, while the concrete jungle that is New York managed to squeeze in a whole 14 percent!
Urban planning has never been a priority for us, as we often lack the policies and manpower on an institutional level to put our plans into practice. After all, we’re probably aware by now that our current administration would rather take life away than create it.
But not all hope is lost. The future doesn’t rest solely in the hands of our government officials anyway. We citizens can do our part, as well — whether it’s through mobilization and collective action, or even proper education. Sometimes, all it takes is a single seed and some soil to save an entire town, along with the willingness to get our hands dirty and the determination to wait for our efforts to bear fruit.
Photo art by Pat Fermin