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.

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