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

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“Women’s paths to peace”

Saan ko nga ba huhugutin and aking Kapayapaan? / Where do I find my Peace?
Kagalingan sa sakit / Healing from pain
Kaligtasan sa hinagpis / Refuge from despair
Katapusan ng alitan / The end of conflict
Walang hanggang kapayapaan / Never-ending Peace
Sa armas? / In the use of arms?
Sa pagtitiis? / In forbearance?
Ang manahimik o magmaktol? / To keep silent or brood?
Ang tanggapin ang lahat ng latay? / To endure every lash?
O gumamit sa matinding galit? / Or seek revenge in blind rage?
Sa mundo kong mabilis ang pag-ikot / In my world ever-spinning
Nakakahilo / Dizzying
Saan ko nga ba huhugutin ang aking Kapayapaan? / Where do I find my Peace?
Saan nga ba? / Where?

– opening poem, Paths to peace: A forum on women’s spirituality 2001, Women’s Feature Service Philippines Inc.

On International Volunteer Day 2017

I tried volunteering this year. The kind in which you’re not paid a salary because you’re doing the work for altruism. I did get an allowance though and family insurance and a nice semi-furnished apartment and reimbursements of official business activities. For these, I have to humbly say I was much better off than local and national volunteers. A discrepancy that PVSCA should look into in order to propose change in local and national volunteering policies among sourcing agencies.

I decided to volunteer because (1) I wanted to know the difference between a formally-employed development worker and a volunteer who offers to be deployed in order to bring about change or development and (2) I’ve had my share of frustrations with agency-initiated development and I wanted to become the change to others that eluded me and communities in agency-based development.

I learned a lot from volunteering. Well, first, obviously I wouldn’t have known those communities if I didn’t volunteer to be in those communities. Second, what is volunteer work and what isn’t (relative to the official definition). One may say the word ‘volunteer’ is simply work with no pay, but mind you that’s not the entire definition. As part of my orientation, my mentor assisted me through an exercise that helped me distinguish volunteer work from not. Third, the faces and complex dynamic of conflict in the area. There are writings about the facets of conflict in the South, but one would understand it’s complexity only when one is actually in the midst of it– seeing, smelling, feeling it. Fourth, I bow down to all the volunteers there whom I’ve met. They continue to do and actively work for what is right despite threats to their lives. I’m so  much honored that they shared to me their experiences and thoughts. I’m wiser as a result. Fifth, the turf wars and the fight for limited resources (funding) among volunteer organizations. I guess this is what happens to volunteering when it is institutionalized. The personal and personalized (act of volunteering) is controlled using rules set by the organization that could spur resistance, in-fighting, and such unless these are effectively managed. This is to say, there’s really no perfect medium to deliver change or development. What really matters then is, given these imperfect media or vehicles for change what best suits the doer at the moment? People are not static beings nor are in static situations. We change our minds, tastes, some traits in our personality, etcetera. So yeah what medium best suit the change-agent or maker at the moment?

In all cases, however, volunteers always act first in times of crisis or emergencies. They are always the first to answer the call in times of need.

Today, the International Day of Elimination of Violence Against Women

We, in the Philippines, need to review the current Anti Violence Against Women and their Children Law (Republic Act 9262) to include non-spousal violence. This requires a real and comprehensive understanding of gender inequality, that is, violence done to women (and their children) isn’t confined within a male-female relationship, but also, in many instances, within a female-female relationship as for example a mother-daughter relationship wherein either is the perpetrator or abuser. As I’ve written in earlier posts here, women also abuse other women in covert and overt ways. What if your own mother assaults you and your children in the middle of the night? What instant legal remedy could you avail of? Authorities and public services, per RA 9262, respond only to women-victims of spousal or partner abuse. It’s the saddest thing when authorities are themselves at a loss when you tell them that you want a protective order against your mother. 

One might argue there are in the Revised Penal Code remedies against non-spousal violence. True, but, you see, the treatment under this Code differs from that in RA 9262. In the latter, there is urgent response and “special” considerations ie. arrangements that are sensitive to needs of the woman-and -child(ren) victim which are not provided for in the former (RPC). 

The lesson here is, policy-makers, in enacting gender-equalizing and protection laws need first to understand the concept of gender and women ie. it is not just men who are violent or abusive. And what about domestic violence done to LGBTQ? Moreover, enactment of laws such as RA 9262 cannot be divorced from laws such as on divorce given that women’s rights are non-divisive. One’s right to life cannot be divorced from one’s right to education. Sama-sama lahat yan. Policy-makers need to understand these in order to draw up effective policies.

International day elimination of violence against women

Four years post-Yolanda: remembering Filipino aid workers

the filipino aid workers of typhoon haiyan
Newton Tech4Dev Network launches the book The Filipino Aid Workers on November 9, 2017 at De La Salle University. The commemorative book brings together powerful stories and evocative photographs of eight Filipino aid workers who conducted technology and communications work for international aid agencies in the wake of Yolanda. The book recounts not only the difficult stories of working in an emergency context, but also their personal challenges. The launch will feature a roundtable to discuss with the aid workers to be honored their key lessons learned from the Yolanda response and invite reflection on how global aid agencies can better support local aid workers.

The featured stories provide a snapshot of the work of Filipino aid workers in the country, the challenges encountered in the field, and the innovative solutions borne out of those challenges. The book is available to download on Newton Tech4Dev.

Baguio City: UNESCO City of Crafts and Folk Art

​The role of culture is…now taken into account particularly within Sustainable Development Goal n°11 to “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable”. UNESCO and other stakeholders have been actively advocating for the integration of culture and creativity in the international development agenda.

2030 Sustainable Development Goals

It is first and foremost at local level that culture and creativity are lived and practised on a daily basis. It is therefore by stimulating cultural industries, supporting creation, promoting citizen and cultural participation and approaching the public sphere with a new perspective that public authorities, in cooperation with the private sector and civil society, can make the difference and support a more sustainable urban development suited to the practical needs of the local population.
The contribution of culture to urban development is also acknowledged in the New Urban Agenda (led by UN Habitat).

Building partnerships and sharing practices lies among the key principles of the (UNESCO Creative Cities) Network. However, despite significant effort to improve the geographical balance of the Network, cities from the Global South are still under-represented. Ensuring equitable representation from different regions is a strategic objective to ensure the sustainability of the Network through inclusiveness as well as its capacity to demonstrate the power of creativity for sustainable development in diverse social and economic contexts, in line with the core values of UNESCO. Opening up the Network to cities from the Global South also offers the opportunity to explore new dimensions of creativity, often more intimately linked to local development, which is also a source of mutual learning for member cities.
The seven creative fields provide an anchor to characterize each city, ensure their visibility and facilitate fundraising to support their programmes. The categories also reflect the identity and strategic positioning of the Network and constitute an added value for its visibility. 

Baguio City joins UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, as a City of Crafts and Folk Art.

Baguio City UNESCO Creative City Crafts & Folk Art
via UNESCO webpage

So happy for the City! So proud for the woodcarvers, weavers, knitters, painters, tattooists, folk singers, writers, dancers and choreographers, jewelry makers, etc.! They have faithfully preserved their craft even when it has gotten difficult over time. Indeed the global recognition is a dream come true and opens up a world of possibilities for both the community and the City.


Quoted texts (except par.2), source: Building a Collective Vision for the Future, UNESCO Creative Cities Network (UCCN) Strategic Framework 2017-2021

Quoted text, par.2, source: Why Creativity? Why Cities?, UNESCO UCCN website

Why Ms. Avancena should be called First Lady and reporters, male and female, need to overcome prejudicial views of women

Common law wife. Others, just wife. Some, partner. But first things first: common law wife is not necessarily synonymous with mistress or kabit.

And, please, wife or partner is a non-title. It would be the height of discourtesy, or is it unlawful, in Britain, for example, if a local reporter headlines his report with Prince William arrives in Paris for a second State visit with his commoner wife Katie and their half breed children George and Charlotte who by the way is a spitting image of old lady Elizabeth. Such reporting will I’m sure bring out the Red Queen in Queen Elizabeth II. Wife, whether the woman is in Britain or the Philippines, a royal or not, is an adjective not a title not even a person. 

The President has been heard to have spoken about Ms. Avancena as replaceable, but logic would tell you, it was uttered perhaps just to wake up sleepy heads in the audience – at which time the sleepy heads did wake up, wrote down what they’d just heard, without understanding that those words were really for them not about Ms. Avancena, and if they’d dug deeper into previous talks, they should’ve also heard the President crediting Ms. Avancena for helping him look after his health which says something about his trust of her – so that, as verified by deeds, he’s actually respectful of her, a case of actions speaking louder than words.

Hence ik-kan tayo met a apo iti asin dayta sa-o tayo (let’s add in salt to our words), as what old folks in Ilocandia remind younger people. Let’s be more professional in our approach to reporting. Or, if we don’t want professional, then, be gender sensitive as this is a required competency in journalists. 

Moreover, media people’s refusal or difficulty acknowledging Ms. Avancena as the First Lady (shocking, too, that on the Net “history” has written her off as just businesswoman and nurse) in light of the annullment of the President’s first marriage could only be explained by machismo and prejudice overtaking their education. Because, people, in the Philippines:

When a man and a woman who are capacitated to marry each other, live exclusively with each other as husband and wife without the benefit of marriage or under a void marriage, their wages and salaries shall be owned by them in equal shares and the property acquired by both of them through their work or industry shall be governed by the rules on co-ownership.

In the absence of proof to the contrary, properties acquired while they lived together shall be presumed to have been obtained by their joint efforts, work or industry, and shall be owned by them in equal shares. For purposes of this Article, a party who did not participate in the acquisition by the other party of any property shall be deemed to have contributed jointly in the acquisition thereof if the former’s efforts consisted in the care and maintenance of the family and of the household.

– Article 147 of the Philippine Family Code

Why media editors do not know that the law recognizes common law union and renders it with rights otherwise would’ve promptly called their reporters attention is grave negligence on their part. They’re lucky nobody’s suing them (look at US First Lady Melania and Duchess of Cambridge who sued media outfits who publicized their photos. Yes there is the right to free speech but there are certain lines that can’t be crossed, out of basic human respect for another). Such also points to the role of the coomunications outfit for Malacanan, in terms of laying out the protocol to be observed by media covering the Office of the President: official titles, official names (eg. is it Honeylet or Cielito?), and important what-nots. The choice of public address of the wife of the Philippine President reflects not just on individual reporters but more importantly  on the Filipino people as he is their elect and on the State which he and his family represents. 

Livelihood programmes:  a comedy of sorts

​In the days and months after the Sri Lankan civil war ended in 2009, aid groups wasted little time.

Many women had been on the front lines, fighting among the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Now, these groups decided, those women needed a healthy dose of “empowerment.”

In development circles, the word “empowerment” has become synonymous with an income stream. So the organizations offered the women opportunities to take sewing classes or attend beauty school. “These are women who had joined an armed movement because of their political ideals,” said Kate Cronin-Furman, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School who studies human rights and mass atrocities. “And they were being sent to learn cake-making.”

A lot of these programs were actually disempowering, Cronin-Furman found. They kept women at home, disconnected from their networks and from opportunities to organize. One government official told Cronin-Furman that despite years of training programs, she had never seen any of the women earn a living from these skills. “It’s not just that they failed to help,” Cronin-Furman said. “It’s that it actually made them worse off, cutting them off from political power.”

Aid groups say they’re ’empowering’ women with cows and chickens. They’re not., Amanda Erickson, The Washington Post

Precisely. This reminds me of Angat Kabuhayan a national livelihood programme implemented by the Office of the Vice President. Apart from it (1) reeking of bad politics, that is, an obvious PR tactic to endear the VP to the people (the natural outcome of the VP’s name, face, and person going around localities to launch this and that livelihood project), (2) use of public and donated funds as if it’s personal money by attaching the VP’s name instead of the Filipino people’s or donors’ names as programme owner, and (3) which compels people to ask what’s the country’s VP doing livelihood projects when the VP ought to be strategic, provide oversight to the national legislative agenda, and assist the President considering they’re both the current Administration ie. the Duterte-Robredo Administration? (in short, lend the Office of the VP the respect and credibility it should), the Angat Kabuhayan is another replication of the numerous livelihood projects of various government agencies. DSWD has it’s SL or Sustaimable Livelihood Programme (apart from livelihood projects attached to it’s 4Ps). DOLE has it’s Livelihood Integrated Program / Kabuhayan Program. DILG, it’s own (why the Department of Interior funds village association-level livelihood projects behooves me. Truly only in da Philippinesfunded through the Bottom-Up Budgeting process. The LGUs as well have their own. And we’re not mentioning here those by the I/NGO community that’s come to billions worth through the years. The question regardless is, to what extent have all these livelihood projects contributed over time to regional and national GDP? It is apparent, without a PSA-type impact survey to know, that it’s been minimal, and what’s been stimulating growth ie. consumption instead are OFWs’ regular remmittances from abroad. 

Livelihood is alright but only as a stop-gap intervention. It’s always been a stop-gap intervention, intended to transition skills-, resource-, or capital-poor households from hand-to-mouth existence as when on top of production training they’re taught basics of accounting and saving, but agencies and organizations looked at livelihood as the miracle cure to poverty and the direct path to immediate wealth. But how is that when, in the first place, majority of livelihood project beneficiaries do not own the land they built their houses on and till so that no matter the tools given them, be these in the form of carabaos, goats, chickens, hoes, and loads of training, if they cannot decide on their own how to appropriate the land and enhance it according to their needs, as well as if they also lack mobility (essentially cash and networks to be able to relocate to a better place) these tools will eventually come to naught as when granaries built for them free turned into dance halls if not white elephants. Carabaos, goats, and chickens are butchered one by one and eaten for dinner by money-strapped and near-starving beneficiaries. Livelihood has never been the engine of economic growth. It’s not now, in this fast-globalizing and hyper-paced world.

The other argument against livelihood as the miracle cure to poverty especially when it involves public funds is fairness and justice given that many of these projects are dole-outs to individuals and families who are identified by contestible measurements because they filter out the more economically poor. For example, how is providing ten heads of goats to a farmer-household on leased land while withhelding intervention to a woman-headed household whose house is on public land fair and just? Livelihood projects in these instances overlook the systemic causes of poverty thus perpetuating these dynamics and so no matter the interventions the community, overall, ends up as poorly, forever in circles. Moreover, it’s painful for a taxpayer who is, say, paying off a mortgage at the same time putting the children to school and struggling to sustain medical needs of elderly parents, to reconcile with the fact that one is working one’s butt off just so for government to decide, oh, hey, there’s one family (out of 10M) we’d grant a capital fund for a sari-sari store. If it was a personal choice, the taxpayer would just as soon hand the tax amount from the year’s earnings to his ailing and widowed neighbor.

It would seem livelihood projects are to keep the mass of poor people busy never mind if what they’re busy at has, without their knowing it, gone bust even before it could take off. We wouldn’t want them to congregate into an angry mob, chant insensible things, destroy public property, and maybe if they’re lucky, overthrow an administration because they’ve got nothing else to do, would we? So keep them happy and busy raising pigs (without a market).

What the country need to further stimulate, support, and take advantage of right now, any economist would tell you, is entrepreneurship. And entrepreneurship is essentially about owning “intangible resources” as for instance the ability to visualize a clear vision of the livelihood or business you want and to communicate this as clearly and convincingly thus compel others eg. investors, consumers to latch onto and actually build your vision. Traditional livelihood on the other hand is about other people eg. governmeent, I/NGOs going to you to tell you that what you need to get yourself rungs up the ladder is, say, weaving. They then get into your head by painting a very rosy picture of you and your woven products that are unique in all the world they’ve caught the eye of the global market…and millions in exchange. What’s funny in this is (1) it’s the outsider-vision peddlers who are really the entrepreneurs and the beneficiaries the “consumer-victims” (for lack of an appropriate term), and (2) the “promise” of producing a “one-of-a-kind” product hence profit is however undermined or negated even before the beneficiaries have started with their weaving business because of funders’ decision to distribute 1,000 weaving kits which is all the households in the neighborhood.
The fair and just approach to poverty alleviation, aside from the support of entrepreneurship, is a social insurance system comparable to the Nordic countries’. We have a system but is still far from being fair and just. For one, many of the poor remain outside of the SSS and PhilHealth system which begs the question whatever happened to the “registration of indigents” that LGUs are supposed to oversee? It should’ve been completed by now.

Another is the upgrade of basic and adult education. The K12 that we have has turned out as an embarrassment to the study and profession of ‘public education’. The children no less are being shortchanged as a result. This conversation can start with the lack of and poor content quality of textbooks. Also, to have a significant number of illiterate adults at this time and age when technology is all around is the saddest thing for a country. The ALS program need to be re-designed for relevance in today’s workplace. But, in order for such innovations to be recognized and adopted, the public education system need to loosen up, meaning, to become flexible and agile.

And one more, land. How could the poor own land without being pushed to do the usual violence, or becoming victims of violence?  The right to own land is a human right, right? The concern is within libertarian aspirations thus ought to be the priority project of the Liberal Party. On the other hand, if the Communist Party is the one yakking about the poor owning land we ought to know this goes against communism (wherein resource ownership is communal) and is an indication of disjuncture within and among the Parties. Who are each of them yakking for really? ‘Me’, again?

In sum, what I’m saying is re-appropriate the amount targeted for livelihood projects instead to strategic high-impact programmes and initiatives. This implies a more efficient governance framework as programme redundancy is eliminated because then government and I/NGOs are talking to each other and agencies and organizations focus on producing and delivering their comparative advantages.

On human greed

‘Balance’ is an Oscar-awardee short animation film. It’s theme touches on human greed. I’ve had it for several years but it’s only recently that I watched it again.

My thoughts watching it is that greed is part and parcel of being human, it’s in fact a spectrum and the challenge is not to eliminate greed at all, because to an extent greed is necessary for human survival and continuity, but rather, as this brilliant animation shows, it’s striking a balance between “good” and “bad” greed. Extricating greed from the human system is impossible without causing irreversible harm to the human psyche. The less harmful way is to make dormant the “bad”. Or, better yet, to work out for a yin-yang situation.

“Good” greed is what pushes us to want to know about things in our environment, discover treasures, recognize the contribution (well, also the deceit) of others and allow them with us on the playing field, and so forth. 

Greed that veers toward the extreme end is one which sees the world as a place where there is only ‘me’ or ‘I’. In such a scenario, as what the film suggests, who’s going to help ‘me’ haul in the treasure chest? figure out how to open it? sell them if need be? Nobody. ‘Me’ ends up essentially with nothing. Greed of this degree completely contradicts the creation story of ‘us’ and ‘we’ hence is tauted as one of The Seven Deadly Sins.

The success of democracy (and free markets) rests on the framework of balance. Too much (eg. unregulated free market systems in which greed is given absolute rein) or too little (eg. communism wherein greed is altogether repressed in the service of community) causes a situation of imbalance which in turn implies the constant work of re-balancing.