a little bit better

Jan Gehl, one of the most effective urban planners and urban theorists alive, has this advice about dealing with the seemingly overwhelming challenge of changing our cities:

Take it one step at a time.

Check the video above (a segment from Contested Streets) about the success of Copenhagen. Says Gehl:

It's really wonderful to live in a city where everyday, when you wake up in the morning, you realize that today the city is a little bit better than yesterday.


What they've done in this city is they taken little steps every year for forty years and (now) there is a fantastic difference between what it was then and what it is now.

One day at a time. Little steps over decades.

It would be impossible to "solve" Metro Manila overnight. But we can do it over time.


lupang hinirang*

This, before we talk about how to change a city:

Caring About Places: Thresholds

Good places need to be excellent in many dimensions

They need to be structured so we can remember them,
They need to remind us of important things about our lives,
The need to suggest our positions in a sequence of time; not obsessively
marking the moment, but tracing the strands of decision over time

Good places need to be stimulating, to be forgiving, to be approachable,
to be more than we first think they are.
Good places need to sustain attention,
to invite and reward the interest we show in them,
to capture the curiousity and affections of many,
to draw their energy from diverse sources,
to garner and accept continuing investment.

Good places embody imagination,
Good places result from successive generations of care,
Good places engage the landscape, are inscribed with detail,
Good places take advantage of the capabilities of their time; appropriately and with discretion.
Good places confirm as well as challenge; challenge as well as confirm.

Good places set in motion patterns of social encounter that are constructive;
they are not hermetic
they are not threatening
they allow choices of path and association.

Good places let us see how we could be a part of them;
they have parts that are measurable in human terms --
niches of intimacy, rooms of purpose, spaces of assembly, fields of connection
they register human movement, mask and reveal activity, provide options,
evoke conversation, offer repose.

Good places must be considered at various scales;
they play an evident and welcome part in a larger community, landscape and region
they have elements that help us to place them in memory
they bear traces of the acts of building, gardening, tending, gathering
they are furnished and give comfort
they are a semblance of thought...the most precious of resources

Good places enrich our lives; they are thresholds between what has been
what might be.

The last line bears repeating:

Good places enrich our lives;
they are thresholds between what has been
what might be.

*lupang hinirang -tag., literally "land beloved"
Image credit: esquinita by Ouij


hope for the city

I've been on an unintended hiatus from blogging for almost two months. I've moved to a new company and job and a new city and the settling-in has taken time.

Despite my absence from these pages, Manila hasn't been far from my thoughts. Mostly I've been thinking about the comments on this post from Carlos Celdran. Carlos posted a 1938 Andre de la Varre feature on Manila. The video is a must-watch for anyone interested in our city's history.

The camera pans across scenes of Intramuros and Binondo, of Ermita and Quiapo, and captures life in our city at a time of great change -when cars where beginning to take over the streets. Tranvias, calesas, automobiles, horse drawn buses and carabao drawn carts jostle with pedestians for the road. It shows congestion beginning in the streets, bustling commerce, churchgoers and promenaders.

Carlos' title for the post? "Sigh, sigh, sigh" as the film makes it easy to get nostalgic about the Manila we have lost. The comments echo his melancholia.

Kat says:

We've lost so, so much. :-( One hopes that we can rebuild, but it's been 70 years since that video, and over 60 years since the war, yet the deterioration continues. Sigh, again.
Alvin agrees:
"Sigh" indeed. Sad as I am that we may never be able to recapture how Manila looked like then, I'm thankful that these videos that you kindly shared with us give us a clearer portrait of a more genteel, comparatively classier Manila.
Most of the comments expressed a courageous love for the city -but all in the chord of "Our city is terrible now, and it's probably too far gone, but we love it anyway." -Which I admire but it bothers me nonetheless.

The love, heroic and seemingly unrequited, is principal. We must love the ground that raised us if our identity is to be grounded and if we are to grow deep roots.

The pessimistic melancholia, rose-colored glasses about a "genteel" past that may never really have been, and a clouded but determined commitment to hold the city dear despite its corruption, is ultimately self-defeating.

Do we still have hope for our city? Do you think we can still do anything about Manila and our megacity?

My fear is that, even those who profess to love the city, will say no. It is, after all, easy to be pessimistic, there is little that brings hope -and our city's problems seem too complex to find solutions.

But cities are never static. Cities are in constant flux. Buildings go up, and come down. Streets change shape and are rerouted. Properties are abandoned then reclaimed. Mores and fashions change with the generations

Cities change. Understanding how cities change will help us to shape that change. To set a path to sustainability and livability and mitigate the decay.

If you love the city of your birth and life but feel little hope for its future, then I offer the next few posts to you. Cities can change and cities can turn around. There are lessons we can learn from others and I hope to write about them, to teach and more importantly, to inspire.

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