stewart brand

The New York Times has a feature story on one of my favorite thinkers -and one of my intellectual heroes: Stewart Brand.

Two of his books have shaped my perception and thinking about cities, civilizations, leadership and personal and generational responsibility. I wholeheartedly recommend them.

I think Clock of the Long Now: Time and Responsibility should be required reading for anyone who is in any sort of leadership position. (Read more about the Clock project -and have your mind blown wide open.)

And How Buildings Learn should be required reading for all architecture students.

This gem from the NYT article:

He now looks at the rapidly growing megacities of the third world not as a crisis but as good news: as villagers move to town, they find new opportunities and leave behind farms that can revert to forests and nature preserves. Instead of worrying about population growth, he’s afraid birth rates are declining too quickly, leaving future societies with a shortage of young people.

How's that for counter-intuitive thinking? How's that for hope for our cities?


air of the future

via Celsias blog

Think about these air operated engines running the tricycles, jeepneys and taxicabs of Metro Manila and the rest of our cities.

It won't do much for the traffic congestion (until we pair it with guidance systems), but it will certainly do wonders for our air quality.

From Celsias:

A French designer of engines for Formula One racing cars has turned his attention to creating an engine that runs on, and emits, only air! By all accounts, this is no pie-in-the-sky dream invention either - as the vehicle’s release is slated for later this year.

With a top speed of 110kph (68mph) and a range of about 200kms (125miles), it looks to be an entirely useable commuter, and more. In fact, once the initial model is on the market, there are plans for a hybrid version - a car that will use a small amount of fuel to generate the compressed air required for the main engine - resulting in a 4,500km range (2,800 miles) from just one tank of fuel!

Because there is no ‘combustion’, the engine temperature remains tepid. This fact means the engine parts can be produced from metals with lower melting points, like aluminium - allowing for smaller lighter engines (about half the weight of a regular petrol engine) which increases the vehicle’s range.

  • Refilling the car will, once the market develops, take place at adapted petrol stations to administer compressed air. In 2 or 3 minutes, and at a cost of approximately 1.5 Euros, the car will be ready to go another 200-300 kilometres
  • As a viable alternative, the car carries a small compressor which can be connected to the mains (220V or 380V) and refill the tank in 3-4 hours
  • Due to the absence of combustion and, consequently, of residues, changing the oil (1 litre of vegetable oil) is necessary only every 50,000 Km
  • The temperature of the clean air expelled by the exhaust pipe is between 0 - 15 degrees below zero, which makes it suitable for use by the internal air conditioning system with no need for gases or loss of power - theaircar.com

If I owned one of those jeepney manufacturers back home, I would waste no time in getting the rights to manufacture these cars and engines.


peñalosa was here

Or rather, there.

And it's Enrique, not Gerry.

Apparently, my other favorite mayor, Enrique Peñalosa, was in town last month to keynote the League of Cities of the Philippines convention.

Entitled “Building a Just and Sustainable City,” Peñalosa’s presentation in the Convention emphasized the importance of creating a vision for a city—that which makes residents happier. He stressed that the most sustainable city is that which fosters human happiness as he puts premium to providing a good quality of life for urban residents.
You can read the rest of the LCP press release here.

Nary a mention of it though in any of the papers (or any of the blogs). You'd think this would be important to the metro pages. Ah, but then the only time we talk about our cities is when we complain about how bad it is.

I'm pretty sure he had a great presentation and I hope the mayors were listening. In a recent speech in L.A. for the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, Peñalosa talked about the role of the urban fabric in our democracy. This gem:
"The affluent person goes to a large house, with a garden, has access to restaurants, to country houses, country clubs, sports clubs and vacations. The poor person and his/her children have a small room, practically only room to sleep, and no alternative for their leisure time if there is no public space. Therefore, in a democracy, the first place that money should go is quality sidewalks, parks and pedestrian streets. I cannot give luxury housing to everyone, but i can give quality sidewalks to everyone."
Judging by his presentation (pdf 8.6mb) to the LCP, Peñalosa probably covered much of the same ground.

Like Jaime Lernier, Peñalosa knows what he is talking about. Project for Public Spaces tells us that as mayor of Bogota, Peñalosa:
  • Created a successful Urban Land Reform institution.
  • Created a new bus-based transit system: TransMilenio (BBC audio feature here wma, 5 minutes).
  • Spearheaded large improvements to the city center, including the rejuvenation of plazas, creation of a large park in an area previously overrun by crime and drugs, and transformation of one of the main deteriorating downtown avenues into a dynamic pedestrian pubic space.
  • Built more than a hundred nurseries for children under 5 and assured resources for their operation.
  • Increased children enrolment in public schools by more than 200,000, a 34% increase in four years; did major improvements to more than 150 school buildings and built 50 new schools.
  • Put in place a network of 14,000 computers in all public schools connected to both the Internet and a network of 3 large new libraries and several smaller ones that were built.
  • Planted more than 100,000 trees.
  • Built or reconstructed hundreds of kilometers of sidewalks; more than 300 kilometers of bicycle paths, pedestrian streets, and greenways; and more than 1,200 parks.
  • Instituted the city's first "Car-Free Day" in 2000, for which he received the Stockholm Challenge Award. Through a referendum, people adopted a yearly car free day and decided that from the year 2015 onwards, there would be no cars during rush hours, from 6 AM to 9 AM and from 4:30 PM to 7:30 PM. (Imagine a car-free day for Metro Manila! -UDC)
Peñalosa (in one of the last slides in his presentation to the LCP) defined the good city, thus:
"We could say that a good city is not one with great highways but rather one where a child in a bicycle could go safely anywhere."
What about you, dear reader? What do you think defines the "good city"?

dear jhaelnis

No, Gilbert Felongco is NOT the author of this blog.

Urbano dela Cruz is the author of this blog.

Gilbert Felongco is a correspondent for Gulf News -and I quoted from his article in my last post.

Don't get me wrong, Jhaelnis, I do I appreciate your helping me spread my ideas by re-posting it on this forum and this forum in Skyscraper City. Sometimes it just feels weird to have discussions about my blog posts in a forum where I can't* defend or clarify my thoughts.

(*- not so much "can't" as "would rather not." I mean, why keep a blog? Why allow comments and the end of blog posts?)

And I know you do try to credit my writing. It wouldn't hurt if you found out just a little bit about me, so you won't confuse me with Mr. Felongco or any other name you see pop up in my posts.



Image credit: Ikabod Bubwit, by the late, great Nonoy Marcelo


hooking up with the mutya ng pasig

It's not the ride, it's the connection.

So PGMA, in a textbook hallmark holiday gesture, launched the (newly revived) Pasig River Ferry Project on Valentine's Day 2007. The two-hulled (catamaran) ferries were even dubbed "love boats."

Gilbert Felongco, writing for Gulf News, describes the ferry service:

The new Pasig River Ferry, which covers a 27km stretch of Pasig River from the Manila Bay to Laguna Bay aims to provide commuters with alternative transport, authorities said.

According to Transport Secretary Leandro Mendoza, unlike several failed attempts in the past to introduce a mass transport system using Metro Manila's main tributary, the new ferry service will use airconditioned faster crafts and there will be more ferry stations along the stretch that traverses six cities. "The air-conditioned ferryboats will have music on board and a bar," he said.


"The stations will likewise be airconditioned and will have such amenities as pay phones, security system and a ticketing scheme that uses both paper tickets for single journey and radio frequency ID for stored value tickets," Mendoza said.

During yesterday's inaugural run of the ferry, Arroyo boarded the twin-hull catamaran from the presidential palace to the service's station in Guadalupe, one of the 15 ferry stops. Mendoza said that each terminal would cost 80 million pesos (Dh6.15 million).

Apart from the initial three catamaran-type ferries, another six will be added in the third quarter of this year. The revival of the ferry service is a government project financed by the Asian Development Bank to tap the potential of the Pasig River as an alternative transport corridor to help decongest traffic in Metro Manila.

Here's my advice to Secretary Mendoza: the onboard music and bar isn't important. The ferry stations are.

As far as networks go, it's a case of the proverbial weakest link. The airconditioned stations and the fancy ticketing system is worth jackshit unless commuters can smoothly connect to another transportation mode to get to their destination.

Making the Pasig River Ferry convenient (and the investment strategic) means, among other things, that:

More after the jump...

  • There should be a fast shuttle from the Makati Poblacion ferry station to the Makati central business district.
  • There should be pedestrian infrastructure that connects the Guadalupe ferry landing to the MRT station. (And, in the future, another fast shuttle to Fort Bonifacio.)
  • The end nodes, Sta. Elena and Del Pan, should have park & ride (and kiss & ride) lots so people can drop of their cars and get onto the ferry. (That'll reduce the number of cars on our main arterials!)
  • Nearby jeepney and bus routes should be re-routed to have them pass right in front of the ferry stations.
  • More importantly, the national goverment should look at available goverment properties (or foreclosed properties) around the ferry stations and redevelop them for affordable and middle income housing. So we can have (say it with me folks) Transit Oriented Development -then people can live near the ferry and take it to work or to school.
I think it is clearly a function of our auto-oriented elitism (and auto-riding elite) that condescendingly thinks airconditioning and music makes the ride. The decisionmakers all ride cars -and never take public transport and so don't understand what will really make it work. It shows clearly in how our investments in mass transit don't make the logical connections.

In transportation, it is connectivity that matters. Not the fancy amenities.

Or to paraphrase that veritas of real estate, as far as transportation goes, what matters is "connection, connection, connection"

Image credit: Pasig River Stations.


what, not where (3):
the filipino architect as advocate

"The architects' skills as creative thinkers, problem solvers, planners, listeners, organizers, and implementers are valuable and needed skills within the public arena."

-Harris Steinberg, AIA,
"Toward an Architecture of Engagement,"
in The Sustainable City II: Urban Regeneration and Sustainability, 2002.

So here's idea number 2, in this series of posts on what Filipino architects can do. A rejoinder to Paulo Alcazaren's column entitled "Where are the Filipino Architects?"

IDEA 2: They can begin advocating for plans, policies and investments that create more livable cities.

Like I said in my rejoinder, architects, as professionals trained to understand the built environment, should "speak out and help find solutions to the urgent issues that confront their countrymen who must live in that built environment...They should be an active voice in the shaping of policies that ultimately shape our built environment."

By all accounts we are one of the most rapidly urbanizing populations in the world (59% and rising). The majority of our population already lives in urbanized areas, and the number will only continue to grow. Where are the public discourses on the health of our cities? Can we think about metropolitan issues beyond traffic congestion?

Architects and the allied professions should be speaking with very loud voices on the challenges of our urban landscapes.

More after the jump...
One of the most overlooked aspects of requirements for democracy is the need for democratic space - real, three dimensional space. Civic life cannot prosper without civic spaces. I strongly suspect that the ailments of our democracy are somehow pathologically linked to our lack of dedicated civic space. Plaza Miranda, notwithstanding, the space of our democracy is defined by borrowed spaces - EDSA and Ayala Avenue -spaces dedicated to vehicular traffic. (Does this lend to the notion that the practice of our democratic rights is the exception rather than the rule?)

Even if they do not directly mention civic spaces and urban livability (or even architecture), our existing policy frameworks actively shape our built environment. From the use and restrictions of eminent domain, to infrastructure budgets that prioritize roadway expansion vs. all other transportation options; from housing policies, to rent control; from squatter relocation to regional planning -there are many, many policy conversations that could better be informed by the voices of architects, planners and designers who can bring an understanding of the spatial implications of the policies.

Perhaps the United Architects of the Philippines can take its cue from the American Institute of Architects who highlight the leadership role of architects in the public discourse. One of their key projects is the Center for Communities by Design, "a nonpartisan forum that provides information, develops policy, creates partnerships, and assists in advocacy efforts to facilitate discussions of community design and inform choices for neighborhoods, cities, regions, and the nation."

The AIA has also released "How architects can be advocates for more livable communities" (pdf 2.3mb), a 24-page guidebook that defines the role architects can play as advocates in their communities.

Over and above leading the conversation on the livability of our cities, architects and the allied design professionals, trained as they are in design thinking, can bring new insights and innovative approaches to solving some of the most vexing problems we face.

Image Credit: Photo by Dan Burden,
from the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center
image library (www.pedbikeimages.org)


those long pauses...

...are moments of doubt. or collisions with reality.

This is just a blog, after all. How dare I imagine that I could have some effect. How dare I imagine that anyone would actually listen.

I guess that is just par for the course for long distance love affairs.

Eventually it becomes unrequited. If it was ever shared in the first place.

(Perhaps this is just a dim echo of older loves. But then, that again is presumptive.)

What a fool believes, indeed.

Oh well. Maybe there are the enough words here to put on some pages, and enough pages here to someday cobble a book.


Image credit: "dead end -->" by SMN


what, not where (2):
the filipino architect as educator

Further to my rejoinder to Paulo Alcazaren, in my succeeding posts, I will showcase of what our local architects community could be doing to become more relevant to the urban discourse and have more of an impact in improving the quality of life in our megacity.

IDEA 1: They can begin educating their countrymen about the built environment and how it shapes our civic life.

The UK has the Commission of Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), a government funded statutory body, that "is the government’s advisor on architecture, urban design and public space."

From the CABE site:

We work directly with architects, planners, designers, developers and clients, offering them guidance on projects that will shape lives. And parks and open spaces are as important to us as bricks and mortar.

As the government's advisor, CABE provides expert, practical advice.

More after the jump...

CABE encourages policy makers to create places that are safe, beautiful and efficient to run. Our activity includes:
  • advising clients, contractors, architects and planners - design review of significant proposals for buildings and public spaces
  • helping public agencies with good design - providing free enabling advice direct to public agencies which are commissioning new buildings, masterplans, urban frameworks or green space strategies
  • supporting public agencies in boosting their in-house design expertise
  • promoting better education, skills and careers for the built environment
  • conducting research and running campaigns on architecture, design and public spaces and encouraging the public to demand higher standards in buildings and spaces.

One of CABE's key projects is to prepare educational materials and curricula for UK schools. The program "invites pupils to approach the places and spaces they inhabit from different perspectives, encouraging long-term engagement and a realisation that, as young people, they have a valid contribution to make to the development of their local area."

CABE leads the outstanding How Places Work -a program of facilitated visits to buildings and spaces for secondary schools designed to inspire young people to learn about the built environment through first hand experience. (Download the Teacher's Guide here. -pdf 1mb)

I used to teach in a local private high school and I remember the students would go on immersion programs that introduced them to the issues of the urban or rural poor. What strikes me now is how the conversations about the plight of the poor were totally disconnected to the conditions of their physical environment. Economics is not the only determinant of poverty in our megacities, it is also determined by physical and locational factors. The conditions of our slums has its roots in our shared (but largely unconscious) paradigm of "the good city" and our understanding of the dynamics that shape it.

The United Architects of the Philippines (UAP) ("awardee of the Professional Regulation Commission's Most Outstanding Accredited Professional Organization of the Year 2002" -so they trumpet) could do well to put "educating the nation about the role of the built environment" in their otherwise bellygazing organization objectives.

And while we're asking about where the architects are -or what they should be doing -I also have to ask, where are the Filipino urban planners?

(Up Next: IDEA 2 -They can be advocates.)

Image credit: Extract from How Places Work, Teacher's Guide.
Published by CABE.

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