A Radically Different Imaginative Landscape — Watershed Discipleship

Following my earlier post on the proposed National Bible Day, here is an excellent way to put biblical teachings into action (which the country needs more of), in keeping with the call to preserve biodiversity:

I learned about watershed discipleship while hanging out with some Mennonites about a year ago… the proponents of watershed discipleship invite Christians to become “disciples” who emphasize and attend to specific “bioregions,” that is, watersheds. The term “watershed” simply designates the reality that every region is attached to complex, interconnected sources of water, which shape the surrounding region. Watershed discipleship is taking seriously the unique context (cultural, biological, etc.) in which discipleship takes place… What does the particular community surrounding your watershed think about time? What seasons or events are significant to that particular region? What kind of people must we be to care well for our watershed? And what kind of spaces are appropriate to our watershed (i.e. do we really need another parking lot or do we need a green space populated with beneficial plant life?)? Finally, how does being a people who all depend upon the same source of water resist and finally unravel the idea of anonymity?…

Perhaps we will find our own unique way to be disciples in our watershed, disciples who take seriously the call to grow our roots deep into the soil of the city to which we’ve been called.

via A Radically Different Imaginative Landscape — Theology Forum

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L-worthy design

Longaberger Company basket buildingBuilt in 1997 as the headquarters of the Longaberger Company—an American manufacturer and distributor of maple wood baskets—the building takes the shape of the company’s biggest seller, the “Medium Market Basket.” The building measures seven stories and 180,000 square feet. The structure and its surrounding 21 acres were purchased by developer Coon Restoration.

But news has it that the building’s sold to a developer. The current design is amazing so I hope it stays. 

The Philippines doesn’t venture into similar “riskier” designs, architects here influenced and still preferring Brutalist design ie. concrete-heavy fortress-like buildings. But what buildings would we have if builders design out of the box? A bahay kubo (nipa hut) perhaps? But then there’s already the iconic still operational Cultural Center in Manila…derided by people of the extreme right on the grounds that it was a project of Imelda Marcos (in other words, everything the former First Lady had ever touched is bad). Or, perhaps a reimagined pine tree…burned during the holidays in Baguio City. Accordingly some people had had enough of the artificial kind that manifested each year the dirty hand of politics.

Tourism which is being aggressively-promoted in the country iif it is to endure as a unique offering need to be packaged as a total experience of place which includes architecture. You can’t call people to come visit for them to just see or smell the flowers (literal and not!) and not care about them seeing vandalism on buildings, abandoned and decaying properties, and haphazard and uninspired design all over the place. Consciously designing the place ideally right from the start should eliminate the need later on to hide from visiting VIPs embarassing elements such as decay.

Urban diaries

How can urban diaries influence effective city planning and development outcomes?

My answer, first of all, is that using the time-honored words of designer George Nelson, “to see is to think.”

I believe that urban diaries are one key to a more inclusive and empowering approach as our cities change around us. A camera and smartphone are great tools for development of this exploration and vocabulary. We can focus on common urban themes, such as street corners, plazas, parks, and other shared spaces, and evaluate what appeals to each of us, and what does not.

Urban diary topics are as varied as the inspiration that we find in cities. The urban diary interprets the intersection of the public and private realms, the boundaries of the built and natural environments, the relationships between land uses and transportation, and issues of adaptive reuse and public safety.

Five concluding suggestions gleaned from Seeing the Better City summarize how to start thinking more visually in urban settings, and help read, frame, and connect with urban surroundings:

  • Choose the diary tool and type. Will you photograph, write in a journal, sketch, record audio, tweet, or do a combination of each? Pick a medium that best fits your diary’s purpose, whether your aim is to explore, document, or advocate for change.
  • Plan your path. Decide whether to follow a prescribed path or wander. Where will you start and end? Will you walk, bike, use public transit, or drive? Use maps (paper or digital) to gain perspective and define initial goals.
  • Select what you will focus on. Examples include the role of transportation, nature, color, the overlap of public and private space, height and scale of buildings, street features, spontaneous expression (e.g., graffiti), and feelings of safety or discomfort.
  • Use the book’s LENS (Look, Explore, Narrate, and Summarize) Method. Here are some easy examples: summarize the walk from your home to a chosen destination in one to two paragraphs, videotape a walk, bike trip, or other focused activity along a street, or use continuous shutter or “burst” mode to photograph street life that you observe from a passing car, bus, streetcar, or tram.
  • Finalize conclusions and use. Assemble and present photographs and other diary media in a way that will inspire and show what is possible and what might be adaptable to your city or neighborhood. Most importantly, address human character and opportunity, no matter how the diary will be used.


 Seeing the Better City, Making a Better Place, Charles Wolfe, Planetizen

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

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.