Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Burnham, open spaces and Open Space

I haven’t really had the chance to catch my breath since the year started. Just when a particular project’s about to end, another one begins. And out of all the ones that have either been done or begun, there are three that have sparked inspiration not just in me but in the people I work in collaboration with.

First, I’d like to talk about the recently opened exhibit at the Atrium of SM City Baguio – “City Beautiful?” The exhibit showcases Daniel Burnham’s vision for Manila at the turn of the century, and the question mark at the end of the exhibit title underscores the way the capital turned out a century since the renowned architect envisioned it as a city that will “promote a well-balanced social order that would increase the quality of life of its citizens.” Take a walk along the streets of Manila today and you’ll understand that question mark better. Our group, Open Space, was fortunate enough to be invited to be part of the opening ceremony for the exhibit. We performed excerpts from the musical, “Kafagway: Sa Saliw ng mga Gangsa” and showed the documentary on the history of Baguio, “Portrait of a Hill Station.” When we received word that we were going to be tapped to handle the event, we decided to do something that would remind the audience that Baguio is not far from having that question mark too if we don’t act now. Sure, we’re not there yet, but we’re getting closer and closer as we farther and farther from Burnham’s original vision for the city.

Which brings me to two other projects that somehow relates to the one above – the series of performances that we have been doing at the Art Park of Camp John Hay and the planned music festival in the city in the coming weeks. After performing mostly in enclosed performance spaces, being out in the open surely sparked something in us that made us decide on our advocacy for the year – the preservation of Baguio remaining open spaces. In case you didn’t know, among Burnham’s top priorities when he came up with the “Plan of Baguio” was to create and preserve open spaces for the benefit of the future citizens of Baguio. Minac, or what we now know as Melvin Jones field, was the largest piece of flat land in what was then Kafagway. Imagine if our current administrators were the ones who were tasked to design Baguio a hundred years ago – perhaps Minac would have been their first choice to turn into a commercial hub. But no, Burnham reserved that space for a huge public park – and thanks to him, we still enjoy the benefits of that decision to this day.

So through stories, images and music, we shall go out there, out in the open, in the coming weeks, months, and for as long as there are people willing to hear us out – let us preserve our city’s remaining open spaces. So that amidst the hustle and bustle of rapid urbanization, in these open spaces, the city, and all of us along with it, will continue to be able to heave a sigh every now and then.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Here we are today

I’ll leave New Year’s resolutions, inspiring messages, you know - the niceties, to the others, there’ll be lots of that from other columnists in the first days of the New Year.

So this is how it’s going down, it seems – get elected, mess up some, get re-elected, mess up some more, get replaced by an overwhelming majority, then whine about how the new guy seems to be taking forever to clean up the mess, then get re-elected – in the US of A, that is. Alas, poor Barrack, he’s just  not a miracle worker. Never mind that it took two Bush terms to create the mess, the whole world expects him to win the war against terror; restore order in Afghanistan and Iraq; lead the country (and the world with it) towards a 360-degree economic U-turn all in one term. Or he’s out. Miss Palin is already salivating, and if she does end up as the next White House resident, let’s not be surprised if she places all blame for the mess in Afghanistan, Iraq, the economy, etc. on Obama. So unless he any of the Herculean tasks above done, that’s probably how things will play out next year Stateside.

Well, that’s how it already played out in this tiny little overly-populated highly-urbanized city. The Centennial mayor assumed office with a looming garbage crisis. The deadline for an acceptable garbage management system was fast approaching, thanks to the inaction during the past several years before that, and the garbage did hit the fan soon after. None of the things he did or did not do mattered anymore since then – fact was, the streets of Baguio had piles of stinking, rotting uncollected garbage. He was not able to clean up the mess in his three years as chief executive, and so he was booted out. A new set of officials were elected. Let me correct that – an old set of officials were re-elected. The same people whom we quite overwhelmingly said no to just six years ago because, let me refresh your memory here: allegations of widespread corruption, lack of vision, for trying to ram a casino down our throats, and selling out to a on-street pay parking company, among others.

And here we are today. We still don’t have a solid waste management system in place and so stinking, rotting uncollected garbage still litter our streets, despite the promise to solve that problem in a mere couple of months. Perhaps last year’s election season exhausted the pundits, the media, the bloggers, and the online rabble-rousers that this thing’s going unnoticed these days. But seriously, we can’t really blame the “present administration” alone for this, in fairness to the present City Hall occupant, it just can’t be done overnight – and even if it can, things done overnight often turn out to be duds.  I put “present administration” in quotation marks, yes, and also the word “alone” after that, for “the present administration” is not the only one to blame for the crisis, but also the past ones. That crisis started in 2001 when the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act was passed in congress, and hardly anything concrete was done except for concrete flyovers and pine trees. Sure the Centennial Mayor should have probably focused more on that problem, so ok, let’s put him in the loop too.

Oh wait, before I get the flak for focusing on who’s to blame instead of on finding a solution, allow me to say that perhaps the best way to find that solution is to look at the root of it all. Besides, that’s why the people elected the present officials into office – because all of the city’s current woes were blamed on the previous administration. The people bought it, some of them were bought, and now…

…well, as I said, here we are today.