More on Burnham Park

This is Baguio City’s only park but how come City Hall couldn’t maintain it as it should? Is City Hall bankrupt?

Seats around the lake and elsewhere. They’re the same old ones from my childhood and my parents’ college years. What’s not doable with improving say five seats a year following modern design (as below) until every seat has been updated?

Park seating design

The grass at Melvin Jones football ground. Shamefully patchy and an embarassment to City visitors if not City residents themselves. The City’s tree planting activities should expand to grass patching in this area.

“Let a thousand flowers bloom” so goes the Panagbenga banner. Where else in the City to show this but Burnham Park? But, for several years now, the statement is like the truth in most ads: believe it at your peril. Take for instance, Pantene’s current TV ad of it’s 3-Minute Miracle Conditioner. This beautiful lady with the beautiful long hair goes off to stand inches away from a jet plane’s engine. The engine is started and the turbine whirls sending the hair flying in all directions. The turbine is turned off and…”damaged hair”. But no worries, Pantene Miracle Conditioner will save the day. Thing is, in the real world, there’d be no more hair (or, head of hair, wait, in fact, no more beautiful lady) to speak of when you stand right in front of a jet’s churning turbine. At full speed it’d send you off to Laguna de Bay if not suck you in…a bloody mess for the airline’s mechanics to clean up. Back to the Park. Anybody with eyes, a City resident or a tourist, can see that the few surviving flowers at the Park are near-wilting. Or, perhaps since the City has not actualized the bloom of a thousand flowers since the first festival it’s time to revisit the slogan to see if it’s still appropriate. The phrase is actually borrowed from Mao Zedong:

Letting a hundred flowers blossom and a hundred schools of thought contend is the policy for promoting progress in the arts and the sciences and a flourishing socialist culture in our land.

In reality, however, according to history, “many of those who put forward views that were critical of Mao were executed”. 

The Children’s Park. On hot windy days, earth from the grass-less ground is carried by the wind to end up on children’s skin and into their lungs. Meanwhile City Hall declares itself a child-friendly City.

The Cycling Area. The place is full of potholes. City Hall has leased this part to rent-a-bike entrepreneurs who, obviously, have not done any maintenance work. What are the provisions in their contract with City Hall? Whose responsibility is it to maintain and repair the area? If it’s the entrepreneurs’, what’s City Hall doing to ensure they act on their responsibility? The area is not private property that maintenance is left to the whims of the users.

The Park as a cultural space. For culture to thrive, grow, and be appreciated and enhanced, it needs to be made a regular part of community (or, public) life. Where else to do that best than at the Park? The mall has become the place to see, hear, and know culture but what’s hosted there are the commercialized versions. As a result, people now believe that them buying and putting on a pair of earrings of native design is culture. That’s similar to getting pranked on April Fool’s Day. Culture is a mindset, that shows in one’s daily decisions, actions, and habits.

Theater stage modern design

How else could Cordillerans pass on their indigenous legacy than through stories, songs, and dances, art forms very much indicative of who they are? Once a year as in street dances on opening day of Panagbenga is not doing their culture justice. These require a public staging place. How else did the English influence the rest of the world with their culture? They were staged (in short, written and replayed again and again to audiences who in turn passed them on to and through their networks and so forth, similar to Facebook’s friends of friends business model).

Open public theater

Speaking of Panagbenga, City Hall should’ve by now come up with minimum quality standards that booth-owners renting space at the Park should comply with (otherwise, go find the place where polluters are so welcomed). This sounds heartless but, think, this is the only remaining Park we have in the City- would we leave it’s health to business which if left alone to do it’s thing will naturally maximize free resource in order to squeeze out the most profit? The years have shown that the businesses that rented from City Hall were just that. 

Booth design sample starbucks

Finally, the felled trees of the Park. Where were they brought to? They should be publicly-displayed artistically, something like the one below, with appropriate captions (name, age, specie, history) as monument to ancient ones that had lengthily served the City and it’s people; also to educate and develop appreciation among the public for the City’s tree species and the role of trees in the survival of human communities.

Tree logs public display

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To build or not to build: City parking at Burnham Park

Baguio City is back to two of it’s more contentious topics- parking and Burnham Park. The long term solution to this, given that the City’s land area is non-expandable unless the mountains around it are bulldozed (I say this because it’s actually started for inappropriate residential and commercial projects and I don’t know if some people have just totally gone mental) is usage of economic tools to manage vehicular traffic within the CBD in particular and car ownership in general. There has been no initiative from City Hall toward this, despite persistent recommendations from local architects and planners, which is why parking has grown and grown and grown into this monstruous problem now.

In the short- and mid-term, parking buildings could be considered which as prerequisiite should’ve undergone environmental impact assessments. Anybody who’s done an EIA would know that risks posed by construction of a parking building in Burnham Park include:

  1. Cultural – loss of heritage (mana) for the City’s present and future generations, as in, ano na lang ang mamanahin ng mga anak natin at ang kanilang mga anak? a graveyard of parking buildings?;
  2. Environmental – during the 1991 7.6 earthquake and aftershocks, those of us who were trapped in the CBD and spent the night (or, days) at the Park know, from experience, that the ground there is water underneath; increased pollution from incrrased vehicular traffic in and out the Park; increased heat island effect as a result of pollution and conversion of green space; accelerated loss of biodiversity as a result of pollution and habitat disturbance; decreased capacity of the Park to provide ecosystem services eg. air filtration, protection from solar rays, carbon absorption, climate regulation;
  3. Socio-Economic – loss of space for the City’s civic activities (eg. jogging, morning exercises especially among senior citizens, strolling instead of in malls thus benefitting from fresh air and natural Vitamin D) that promote health and wellbeing in the population; loss of green space offering to tourists and visitors (they don’t come to this mountain City in order to drool over a parking building but rather for the zen effect of mountain foliage and cool weather that are fast becoming a thing of the past by the way);
  4. Etc.

Such an assessment, together with cost-benefit analysis, will provide scientifically-correct data and information on which to base decision as to whether project risks can be mitigated or the entire project scrapped.

Let’s say City officials take the road oft-travelled which is, to go on ahead and put up, without being informed by an EIA, the parking building right in the Park. Common sense will still say the project has got be done in a way that it  will “continuously compensate” for the losses, hardships, and inconveniences it brings to the community. What are some of these compensations?

One, design. The reason why City folks (and others in the country) are protesting such a project is because of how ‘parking building’ has been normally imagined by Filipino builders: a massive concrete box and nothing else. Walang ka-arte-arte. The word now in building design is ‘green’ as in integration of carbon minimizing aspects of the naturally beautiful natural environment into built spaces.

Parking area design

Green building design

Green building design

And, since the City is the residence of choice of artists, the building could be a mount for their works (which by the way should be regularly maintained and, resouces permitting, changed periodically. One of the City’s bad habits, which it needs to change, is inaugurating a work of art in the public space and then completely forgetting about it until bugs have eaten it away and there’s nothing to see, or a passerby had to be hospitalized after the rotting thing fell on his head).

Green building facade design

Two, as talk show host Boy Abunda always reminds his audiences, be kind. This in today’s design sciences means, buildings are mindful of the needs of people, both their residents and visitors. An unkind building is one which has not for instance a single bench for children, the elderly, pregnant women, people with disabilities, or the suddenly ill to sit or rest while, say, waiting for the elevator to come up or down from the 100th floor.

Once, at a posh department store, at the ground-level parking area, I saw a man, maybe 50s, shopping bags of women’s brands to his side, sitting on a narrow bench just outside the mall doors. He was apparently waiting for his partner who I guessed, if she’s female, was still deliberating on a thousand choices of shoes. He looked spent and close to imploding. That area of the mall was hot but I had a feeling his state of being was more due to discomfort. Where he was waiting wasn’t exactly heaven and if he was inside his car, well, these days everybody’s saving on gas, and if he waited inside the mall he had to do it at a cafe or restaurant which meant he had to buy, again. 

Green building interior design

A kind building has thought ahead about it’s users and visitors and purposefully integrated human needs into it’s entire space (versus throwing in a bench or two on afterthought). My point, basically, is for buildings or technology to cater ultimately to humans (people) and not to things. When planners, decisionmakers, and builders use this as their guiding principle there’s no reason for most people to protest or suffer from effects of mindless decisions.

On the plan to build a new Marawi City

Coordination for the City’s rehabilitation is said to be led by ADB and the World Bank. I don’t know what their terms of reference as lead coordinators entail but I’m sure Filipinos prefer to have a national body or institution in the lead. Marawi City is not just a city, it’s a heritage city (as Aleppo is in the Muslim world). For this reason alone, the City’s rehabilitation should be fronted by insiders. Planning and actual rehabilitation should involve or integrate input from City residents especially the Moro people. In fact, visioning exercises can already start now with the temporarily-displaced inside evacuation centers in Iligan City and elsewhere, for them to also get their minds off despair and on productive and hopeful thoughts. Peace-building could be embedded as a strategy into the rehabilitation which should bring to the table the GOP, MNLF, MILF, civil society, private sector, and urban planning experts. This project could be implemented as a pilot project to test the operational workability of the Bangsamoro Basic Law (rather than have Congress again bore citizens to death by arguing theoretically whether or not BBL works).

On Headstart, in June, I watched the interview with Senator Gordon about the plan to rebuild Marawi City. He said that a tourism hub is what comes to his mind. This is the thing, whether or not Marawi will become a tourism city should be an offshoot of the planning process with City residents not what politicians want. Says who? you might ask. Says lessons learned.

I’m really excited for the rebuilding of Marawi City. When I told my host organization I’m interested to take part in it, they exclaimed “are you planning on committing suicide?” I didn’t expect the reaction. But my primary motive is, I’d like to put my urban management knowledge into practice, to help ensure that the foundation of the rehab plan is anchored on input from locals/residents. It’d be similar to an architect or interior designer getting the clients’ vision of their dream house and giving expert suggestions as to the best way to put the dream together and then render that on paper and eventually onto the actual space. In other words, to transpose this creative process – collab – in planning the new Marawi City (in contrast with the usual practice of urban planning in this country which is developer-led or largely the playground of real estate developers which does nothing to bridge the gaping divide between the haves and have-nots of this country).

It is said “war in Mindanao is a business” the reason why conflict is sustained which benefits the architects and actors of such a business. It is also the reason why Mindanaoans in general are wary and distrusting of external initiatives that promise peace and stability. Sincerity is needed, for once, and the opportunity to demonstrate that has presented itself once again this time in Marawi City. Let’s not lose it (like we did with Tacloban City post-Haiyan).

war torn city via livejournal

Pioneers in the 21st century

Displacement is one of the wicked issues affecting people and governments in the 21st century. Camps and centers are not home, merely holding areas. Eventually IDPs leaving the camps find new places to resettle in preferring urban areas for their perceived wealth of opportunities. For the urban planning community, this implies the need for new strategies in designing inclusive settlement areas.

Rude awakenings

The Fire Rooster is indeed a hard worker. It’s still the first days of the new year and already we’ve been buzzed up to hard realities. We need those energy bars to keep up!

First: Typhoon Nockten/Nina made a total of eight landfalls. It’s second was in Pili, Camarines Sur when it was at it’s strongest, around 300 kph. Turns out 12,000 out of the municipality’s 17,000 households incurred damages. And except at the town proper, electricity has yet to be restored.

I learned of this just two days ago. I was shocked because media has reported just about everything post-Nina but these. The typhoon struck the area on Christmas Day while the rest of the country were gorging on Noche Buena fare and joyful for gifts received. There was a report about the Vice President who went to her hometown, Sorsogon, right after her return from the US where she spent Christmas. She commented on the response as “I think it is somewhat slow” and “wish(ing) I was here”, but nothing more afterward.

As it happens around here, owing to so-called politics over local funds earmarked for disasters, local governments have again failed to step up as first responders. By this, I mean not just handing out one-time emergency food rations but as mandated of them in the DRRM Law, ensures compliance to humanitarian standards, and systematic and comprehensive disaster management up to the time affected communities have recovered. Once again, it appears the bulk of response (as there are still households in remoter areas in need of food rations), recovery, and reconstruction work is heaved upon civil society, triggering within the community switch to familiar hyper-fast high-adrenaline mode of doing things.

Stressful for humanitarian workers but on one hand, projects that do get funded give rise to relatively high-paying job opportunities for otherwise unemployed locals that in turn help revive otherwise stagnant local markets, contributing in the long term to the phenomenon of disaster areas becoming boom towns. For the urban manager, this opens up the opportunity to plan ahead and set in motion the strategy that will shape the “future town” the people want (as opposed to a hands off approach to growth and development which inevitably leads to sprawl which was what happened to Baguio City after the 1991 earthquake).

Second: Former President Noynoy Aquino et.al. are sued for plunder over his sign off during his term on the shipment to a bank in Thailand of USD141M 3,500 metric tons of gold bars of 99.999 percent purity confiscated from the Marcoses. In exchange of the gold bars, the Philippine Government under Aquino had purportedly agreed with Thailand’s Centennial Energy Company to produce funds for humanitarian projects. Talk about disaster politics! True or false, my god!!!

Third: South Korea has the fastest average internet connection speed globally, Akamai reports. At 26.3mbps Whoa! At the rate we’re used to here, 4.6mbps, Filipinos find it hard to imagine that kind of speed.

What is with speed? I knew of employees who got memos (getting sacked even) for “not immediately responding to urgent emails” and “lying about why you’re not responding to urgent emails”; organizations missing out on much needed funding because “sorry, you did not send in your proposals on time”. Headquarters with their relatively faster internet speed have difficulty believing that field offices located in godforsaken areas are hard put (and fed up) with what to them is a 0.0000000000001mbps internet speed at best. The email site takes years to open and another century for one document to be uploaded. Then, just when you’re on the verge of throwing out the device you hear a beep. It’s the telco sending a notice hi! we noticed that your data usage today has been really high. we’re now reducing your browsing speed to maintain quality service for all users blah blah blah; oops, you’ve used up the MBs of your surf promo. The regular browsing rate will now apply…avoid unexpected data charges by turning on SurfAlert blah blah blah. In these places, it is more reliable and speedier and a lot less stressful to send documents, photos, and recordings via bus lines but then this forfeits the meaning of ‘urgent’. Folks at head offices who rarely visit therefore wouldn’t know how it is really conclude that field people are ignoring their notice. They refuse to acknowledge that internet speed is a valid concern.

Same conversation between consumers and the telcos. The latter, because they’re only, what, three (plus a subsidiary each)?, they put on earplugs to cancel out the constant banging of customers on their doors (picked up even by international papers such as Forbes), or better yet, stage superfluous marketing gigs that promise more than what could actually be delivered. In this sob story we see the Department of Communications approaching the telcos’ doorsteps at incredibly slow-mo- ten years at a time. Could someone please throw them the dictionary opened at ‘breakneck’?

In the aftermath of Haima/Lawin

I haven’t been posting lately because of an insane work schedule but I’m taking a few hours off to write something on issues I feel strongly about:

Primary hazard. In the case of the Philippines, natural hazards eg. typhoons are just secondary causes of disasters. The primary cause is continued inaction of local governments (barangays up to the provincial levels) to finance or allocate significant funds in order for local disaster risk reduction strategies, programs, and projects to be implemented. Typhoons such as Lawin/Haima only serve to expose these gaps in local governance.

Compliance to and monitoring for quality standards, for instance. Road cuts in the highways of the Cordillera Region have been due in large part to substandard engineering practices. I’m not an engineer but looking at the image of the Tinoc-Kiangan road cut below, common sense tells you that the way this particular structure is engineered (eg. thickness, no reinforcement, no mitigation structure to counter soil quality, etc.) as exposed by Lawin/Haima will not stand up long to the “wolf’s huff and puff” as it did eventually.

Tinoc-Kiangan Road
Road cut Tinoc-Kiangan Road

Devastation in housing has been due mostly to negligence in monitoring for compliance to zoning and building standards; and, lack of access to low cost housing and subsidies to low income families eg. tenant and small landholder farmers and fisherfolks in order for them to build safe houses because of course nipa huts and houses of light materials will not stand up long to a 300 kph typhoon.

damaged houses in the aftermath of Haima/Lawin
via rappler

Damage to power lines can be mitigated or minimized by financing underground installation of such which given this country’s exposure to natural hazards by way of it’s geographical location should have been started yesterday. But it had not as we continue to build as if blind to our geographical realities.

Damaged power lines along the Maharlika Highway leading to Tuguegarao City
Damaged power lines along the Maharlika Highway leading to Tuguegarao City via philstar

Devastation to agriculture as a result of typhoons especially among agricultural households shouldn’t be as financially devastating to these families when universal access to insurance (crops, livestock, fisheries) or subsidies to such are ensured. There is the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation but only a small percentage of farmers and fisher households are covered.

Poverty reduction is also a disaster risk reduction strategy. But the poor in this country have not been pulled out of their poverty at the rate that we said poverty reduction should happen. Those who need social protection the most ie. the poor continue to be left behind in social security and health insurance coverage, among others. Jobs in localities are not created and growing at the rate that is more or less equal to the rate that schools produce graduates. Nor is labor in localities protected from exploitation eg. employers who pay below minimum such that families of workers are unable to eat three meals a day. Investments in localities are not as high as those in already overcrowded cities eg. Metro Manila in order to incentivize graduates or those looking for jobs to stay rather than migrate. Lands are not redistributed as provided in law. Etcetera. And it is the children who suffer the most from continued neglect of their local governments to finance and implement local poverty reduction.

'Lawin' leaves P5B agri damage in Cagayan
via abscbn

Like Tacloban City with Yolanda/Haiyan, cities such as Ilagan in Isabela and Tuguegarao in Cagayan as well as urbanizing municipal towns as those in the Cordillera are being developed as if their legislative and planning councils have not heard about the environmental impact assessment or the national urban development law/agenda, among other urban development and planning policies and strategies. As if local governments have no land use plans or zoning laws. Real estate development continue to be allowed in floodplains without mandating for mitigation measures.

So it’s not the typhoon (or earthquake, etc.) but it’s the lack of disaster risk reduction measures. Preparedness is merely about, well, preparation just before the onslaught of a hazard, but again in order for preparedness to be effective the assumption is that risk reduction measures have been put in place long beforehand. This country’s law (RA 10121) specifically calls for disaster risk reduction and management, not just preparedness. But what we’ve been doing so far is just preparedness. Also, look, one of the reasons for the DRRM Law is to provide local governments the independence and flexibility to allocate funding for risk reduction and preparedness even without declaring calamity. But what are we again seeing? So no, it’s not typhoons that citizens ought to pray deliverance for but against the harmful mentality and stubbornness of local governments.

Bayanihan. This old Filipino practice among families within neighborhoods is voluntary ie. it arises from goodwill among people who know or have good relations with each other. It should not be spoken about (especially by broadcast media) as an act that another is entitled to or that Filipinos are obliged to do. Bayanihan is not an obligation. If there is any obligation that stands in the aftermath of disasters it is government’s obligations toward it’s citizens ie. to protect and uphold rights standards even during emergencies (local governments therefore should know by heart the Sphere Handbook). It is the obligation of government to bring out the necessary resources that have been paid for by taxpayers eg. equipments, manpower, money to clear roads, clean schools, drain floodplains, trim trees, etcetera. At once. Immediately. Local governments should feel ashamed if they have to wait for private agencies and I/NGOs from miles away to be the ones to respond and make physical assessments of the areas. Government, supported by taxes and other resources, should feel ashamed if it relies on bayanihan to bring back order.

Reporting by broadcast media. “Christmas came early for the students of Casili Elementary School in Rizal.” Reading this news report further you’d see that it refers to a bridge built with funding from the Foundation of Outstanding Mapuans Incorporated, which school children in said school can now use. What’s wrong with the words utilized in this news? It puts forth the message that bridges are Christmas or Santa’s gifts instead of as a right and duty (ie. linked to children’s right to education as well as a duty of government to protect and address the right of citizens to basic infrastructures). A lot of disinformation and mis-messaging hence ignorance are perpetuated by mainstream media, sadly and unfortunately for the Filipino masses. Similarly, whenever I see recipients of aid being made to profusely thank donors or the government on TV when the aid is merely basic satisfaction of their rights (eg. school supplies relative to right to education, food packs relative to right to survival) I get in a rage. The aid recipients are made to be like rape victims who are abused again and again while everybody’s watching and cheering but because they don’t have any other option they do what is asked of them. Dignity during disasters is what duty bearers need to protect more than their policy for visibility, always.