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)

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