Seares: Planners tag South Road Properties as Cebu City’s new central business district. The old CBD, the downtown area, where Colon St. is, designated heritage district… Colon fascinates poets too, as Bob Lim’s book ‘Batang Colon’ tells.

IN A Cebu City Council session last January 6, 2023, urban planners gave a glimpse of the city’s comprehensive land use plan (CLUP) and zoning ordinance, as “envisioned” by Mayor Mike Rama for the next 10 years.

Architect Ann Marie Cuizon, officer-in-charge of the City Planning Development Office, said “development directions will be integrated.”

FIVE AREAS. Most salient of the plan is dividing the city into five major development areas, which designates the South Road Properties or SRP as the new central business district, and the downtown area, the old CBD. as the heritage district.

Colon Street, considered as the country’s oldest, is apparently the centerpiece of that heritage area. After superstores and malls in mid-town and uptown Cebu City wrested in the nineties dominance of business outlets along Colon, there had been efforts to “revitalize” it.

EARLY STUDIES ON COLON. The initiatives included a P5-million study funded in July 2015 by the national government and a four-day workshop in April 2016 by student architects from three schools in the city, supervised by a visiting German planning expert.

Those early studies, none of which came close to their goal, harped on “pedestrianization” of Colon: more people, fewer vehicles.

On the current CPDO study, architect Cuizon said “the downtown district is very important as we planned this to really restore and preserve our heritage and culture, as Cebu City is really known and has a very historic significance in the whole country.”

Obviously, none of the past plans led to what they sought to accomplish: to bring back Colon’s old zest, if not glory. Let’s watch how the current plan turns out.

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COLON AS BOOK TITLE. Poets look at Colon differently. Bob Lim -- whose book of poems titled “Batang Colon" will be launched Saturday, January 21, 2023 -- says Colon to him is a metaphorical place.

A photographer, Bob Lim had his first photo studio at the Gaisano Metro for two years, then moved it to Oriente Colonnade where the shop was for eight years. It was a decade of having his commercial photography business in Colon and, from 1968 to 1976, keeping his and his siblings’ residence “in a small apartment” in Colon-Climaco and returning to the same address for several more years.

AFFINITY WITH COLON. He is not Batang Colon in the meaning of a street-child or “batang kalye,” not a Batang Quiapo or Batang Tondo in the sense of having lived on the street and growing up into a tough guy. The affinity is more from having stayed in Colon where he first engaged in the practice of photography that he dearly loves.

In the same month that the public hears of City Hall working on a plan to “restore and preserve” Colon and the rest of the downtown district, a slim volume of poems titled “Batang Colon” is published. Well meaning residents cheer the first, despite the city’s past setbacks; older residents who used to frequent Colon are curious about what the book says about their former haunt.

‘WHERE ELSE CAN WE GO?’ In one “Batang Colon” poem (“B/B”), Lim uses Colon to recall establishments where people shopped, ate, or met. In another (“Kantoratoy”), the line “Adto kono sya sa Colon magpatidpatid og lata” strikes a nerve among those who experienced the 80s and 90s. As he wrote, in a 1975 Colon poem, “Here we are in the midst of Colon City. Where else can we go?”

And yes, Colon’s movie-houses. Lim said Wednesday (January 18), the cinemas along Colon “stretched the journey to an expansive one,” as they “allowed its denizens the opportunity to travel far and wide and experience second-hand life stories written by people beyond the limits of the small street.”

Comparing the experience of shooting pictures with writing poetry, Lim said, “After writing, I feel drained. It seems I go through an out-of-body experience. In photography, the creative process comes naturally for me. There’s usually a positive surge of energy...”