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Designing the present and future Baguio
by Sheree Nolasco

Sharing high hopes and dreaming big for Baguio City seems like a formidable task, unless we mine the wisdom and knowledge of our living apos, aunties, and uncles then combine it with the fresh ideas of our youth and visionaries, minus the titles to our names and the labels and brands we carry.

Unity and purpose are severed when we cling to the nostalgia that Arch. Daniel Burnham was heaven sent, holding the formula to elevating Baguio again to its past glory. Instead, we stir our apos from their graves each time we go against their traditions and stagnate as a result of that. It is time to move on. If we are to understand where Burnham’s vision as a planner was coming from, what inspired his greatness, we would perhaps be able to do justice to his noble contributions. Understanding him would perhaps unite us to continue where he left off. So let us sit down as equal peers to recapture the true meaning of a meeting in dap-ayans even absent the fire.

Burnham was born in the late 19th century, an era where urban sprawl was becoming a major disorder in the cities of America. His powerful vision to look years beyond his time allowed him to create a continued lifestyle for civilized American cities despite the spoils of urban development and the complex problems that come with it. He understood that along with development is a growing population. This challenged him and Frederick Law Olmsted to build in 1893 the first skyscraper in the world, the World’s Columbian Exposition. The building’s height allowed parks and open spaces to remain untouched.

The “City Beautiful Movement” was created and became Burnham’s urban design signature in all his works. His creative urban designs were initiated for Washington D.C., Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco, and yes, Manila and the rest and recreation haven called Baguio long before the concept and term “urban planning” became institutionalized.

His school of thought on organizing urban spaces was how to reconcile opposing thoughts like practical and ideal, art and business, and democracy and capitalism, then integrating all of that in the midst of an urban community.

“Make No Little Plans” became America’s city planning byline at the turn of the century, making Burnham one of the more celebrated green planners of America.

Burnham was an advocate for parks and open spaces forming an integral part of fostering a deep sense of community, making him one of a handful of icons referred to as an urban visionary. But he was criticized for his “monumentality” and absence of social concerns such as better housing plans; was described as being a “pragmatist and a dreamer;” and a “complex man both efficient and indulgent.” Well, at that time, why not? In the early 1900s, land was vast.

Incorporating his philosophy with the problems that Baguio faces today, would he now recommend high-rise buildings as possible solution to allow parks and open spaces, history and culture, and you and I to co-exist in a community?

Burnham was immortalized with pocket parks, outdoor paths, and bike lanes in the cities he designed. What better way to remember history as one drives through or walks by from home to school or work each day, knowing that your community was designed by a world renowned urban planner. This is contrary to the controversial rotunda atop Session Road which would have served the public better with Burnham’s bust perhaps, instead of the metal looking telecommunication relay of a structure that seemed to have rolled down from Mt. Sto. Tomas and publicly declared a tree. The rock installation then was Zen compared to the monstrous metal disaster that generates negative vibes to almost everybody who goes by. I will not be surprised if people sat around it one sunny day, hoping it strengthens SM’s free Wi-Fi. With the jolt we get from that rotunda, we are reminded of our state of planning skills each day, and many other similar sporadic enhancement projects that don’t rhyme with reason with the passage of time.

Futuristic design for Baguio

If I were to dream and envision good things for Baguio and its people, how would I see it? I am a firm believer that neither one person nor a handful of thinkers and visionaries can successfully carry as complex a problem as planning an entire city. Greek architect and engineer Constantinos Apostolos Doxiadis, coined the word ekistic for the science of human settlements that requires all professions to complete a comprehensive land use study. Somehow, something needs to spice up urban living other than from an “expert’s” input.

Something natural in man and nature should evolve harmoniously. With the rising cost of energy, we need cutting edge ideas to harness our natural resources and make it work for us. Wouldn’t we want to open our doors and windows each day with as much open space and greenery possible? Wouldn’t we want “sense and sensibility” in every block and corner of our community?

These determined thoughts have brought me to a present-day urban planner who puts nature before man. Why re-invent the wheel, when we can learn much more from what already exists? Carry those thoughts and ideas back home to Baguio and redeem Burnham’s vision of a “beautiful city movement.” To do that, we can combine the wonders of nature into the urban jungle and call it home.

It excites me to share a millennium leap from Burnham’s parks and open spaces to Malaysian ecologist and architect Ken Yeang’s eco-cities. This vibrant and exciting architect, who pursued years of ecological land use studies, is consi-dered to be one of the top 50 people who can “save the world.” It was his studies that provided his passion and drive to develop his biodiversity approach to ecological architecture and master planning. It opened up gray matter that led to his pivotal expression of planning the true essence of environmental balance and understanding the true meaning of biodiversity.

To touch a bit on technicality, Yeang said most of the present generation of architects and engineers approach “green” design and construction by complying with green accreditation systems.

Although relevant, Yeang explains accreditation systems do not constitute green design in an environmentally comprehensive and inclusive way inherent in an ecologically-based approach. “It is easy to be misled or seduced by technology and to think that if we assemble enough eco-gadgetry in the form of solar collectors, photovoltaic cells, biological recycling systems, building-automation systems and double-skin facades in one building, this can automatically be considered ecological architecture,” he said.

Yeang believes ecological design is not just about clean technology, eco-engineering, and carbon neutral systems. All these engineering feats should be integrated and be congruent with existing ecology, climate, and physical conditions of the landscape.

Vertical green urbanism

Let’s make a mental exercise on Yeang’s design concepts and apply it to the terrain of Baguio. The terraced housing concept, simple as it may seem, in my appreciation of this theory actually talks about respect for neighbors to have equal access to nature’s subtle powers. The freeflowing wind drifts, the morning and afternoon rays, and climate changes that affect heating and cooling in houses actually allows each home to capitalize on these free gifts of nature at any level.

Because of high cost of urban land value and the need to accommodate today and in the near future urban growth, medium to high-rise buildings are here to stay. Yeang’s bioclimatic passive-mode designs or “vertical green urbanism” may just be the best alternative solution to urban woes.

Here are a few examples of natural heating and cooling systems that are practical for indoor comforts: second roofs that shade a building’s lower roof terraces, large louvers at an angle to let in the easterly morning sun but keep out the hot mid-day and the western sun, ‘wind wing-walls’ at the south to direct wind into the rooms, pools that not only work as indoor and outdoor landscape designs but also function as an evaporative-cooling devices to cool the predominantly easterly breeze before it enters rooms, solar-oriented facades, stepped-planters, continuous vegetated spiraling ramps, and vertical green eco-infrastructure.

For outdoors, I would like to use the crowded Session Road as an example. Applying Yeang’s multiple upper level skybridges, I envision buildings at Session Road will have a link out of the city. At the uppermost levels would be promontory viewing pod/s that would extend as far as the bus depots between University of the Cordilleras and PLDT and perhaps another one atop Camp Allen, with all structures deriving ecological aesthetics. I imagine Yeang’s ideas for an “urban park-in-the-sky” atop the buildings he calls “vertical linear park.”

Vertical linear parks are solutions for tight and densely populated areas in the city. I imagine elevated pathways above the busy main business district, extending towards schools and universities where students can sit and study on park benches shaded with landscaped ornamental plants and vegetations. Parents huddled in groups on corner parks atop the promenade while they wait for their kids to come out from school, no longer pedestrians alongside heavy traffic at peak hours, dodging cars and crowded streets.

Dream with me of pedestrian walkways or the “vertical linear park” ramps that can extend kilometers each way exiting either to a parking building, commercial establishments, schools, hospitals, and institutions that have vegetated designs that can be a delight to any child or adult who passes the rotunda.

Can we make this happen?

I dream of planning by phase, among those who are stakeholders of that street, armed with the wisdom of the past and the ecological sense and sensibility of the present. A piece of a puzzle can be better understood if we take some time to draft a plan first for ourselves and then for a friend. One day at a time in a gathering perhaps, in a dap-ay somewhere where we will piece our ideas as visualized by Burnham “in a fostering community” with no titles to show off or outdoing the other, because we are ecologists first, before anything else.

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