How Might We Build a City for All?

How does a “City for All” looks like? And how might we get there? Those were the questions this special EngagED Talks session wanted to answer.

Benilde HiFi
Jan 28 · 7 min read

TRAFFIC. We bet that as you read that word, you immediately saw the image of your morning commute in your mind’s eye. The rows and rows of vehicles stalled, sputtering smoke, and you checking your watch every other minute. Isn’t that situation all too familiar with all of us? Traffic, or traffic “jam” (we’re so used to the traffic jams that congested roads seem to have redefined the word itself!) might very well be the thing that unites us all. But kidding aside; as a matter of fact, mobility, or our ability to move people, goods, and everything else is what connects us. The big question now is: are our cities designed to move each one of us safely and with dignity?

Are our cities designed for all?

We were very fortunate that we, through the initiative of the Director of Benilde Center for Inclusive Education, Ms. Nicky Templo Perez, were able to invite respected urban developer Mr. Benjamin dela Peña to come to Benilde and share his thoughts with our community. Mr. dela Peña is the Chief of Strategy of the Seattle Department of Transportation, and the lead of its Lean Transformation. We were psyched that the Environment Studies Cluster of Benilde School of Design and Arts were also on-board. Ar. Choie Funk, the cluster’s Associate Dean, together with architecture faculty Ar. Joel Deocaris, and architecture student Althea Ballesteros shared their vision and plans for the community. And to make the talk hit closer to home, Ar. AJ Javier presented the conceptual plans of the campus mobility plans developed by the Benilde Architecture and Design Consortium.

A framework for strategic thinking

How does a “City for All” looks like? And how might we get there? Those were the questions this special EngagED Talks session wanted to answer.

Mr. dela Peña shared a simple framework to help us think strategically:

Value pertains to the the ideas and beliefs that a community holds dear or deems important. Metrics are the success criteria we create to assess our performance against. Investment is “to which projects and priorities assets are put into”. And lastly, funding is, well, money that is collected, solicited and gathered.

He shared that a people’s values inform what their measure of success (metrics) will be. And to achieve these metrics, investments must be made, and funding must be collected (hello taxes, loans and donations). And based on the many road infrastructure projects being undertaken now the Philippines, what seems to be valued are private vehicles, and that our measure of success is how much of it can we move. What we seem to value now is the mobility of private vehicles, not the mobility of people.

Mr. dela Peña shares that we should begin rethinking what we really value and to fund investments that can deliver on that. In the way we design our cities, which one’s our priority: moving low-volume vehicles that a few privileged use, or high-volume ones that service the masses? As Mr. dela Peña quoted former mayor of Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”

Everywhere we learn

Associate Dean of the Environment Studies Cluster, Ar. Choie Funk also came to share the new initiative of the Benilde Environment Studies Cluster called “Urban Lab.” The Urban Lab is the cluster’s initiative to turn the local area as a learning platform. This makes Benildean education in the fields of architecture, industrial design, interior design, and fashion design and merchandising more immersive, grounded, informed, impactful, and human-centered. She shared some of the unique ideas that the cluster aims to develop like redesign of local sidewalks and pathways, and even our beloved e-jeeps.

Ar. Maria Cynthia “Choie” Ylagan Funk, Associate Dean of the Environment Science Cluster at Benilde School of Design and Art

Ar. Funk was joined by architecture student Althea Ballesteros and faculty Ar. Joel Deocaris, who each shared their learnings and ideas to make the local area better and more inclusive. Ballesteros shared her experience being part of the Global Summer School in Barcelona Spain wherein she developed architectural plans that helped develop flora in the dense urban landscape. Ar. Deocaris further shared his research and plans in developing key pain areas in within the communities surrounding areas of Benilde. One of which conceptual plans is the decongestion and beautification of the local creeks which excited our guests who were the captains and counselors of their barangays.

Envisioning a city for all

Last to speak was Ar. AJ Javier, representing the Benilde Architecture and Design Consortium, which developed the mobility plan aspect of the campus masterplan. He presented conceptual plans which they developed for Benilde. He said, that unlike other campuses like De La Salle University — Manila, and St. Scholastica’s College — Manila, which were “gated” campuses; Benilde is an “open campus.” Benilde currently has three scattered around: the Main Campus at Taft Avenue, School of Design and Arts (SDA) Campus at Ocampo Street, and the Angelo King International Convention Center (AKIC) at Estrada Street. This means that students and associates face different kinds of dangers when traversing building-to-building. But we must remember that it is the community who actually lives in the area; and they face these same dangers as well.

Ar. Alexander Josheph “AJ” Javier

The campus mobility plan Ar. AJ Javier shared envisioned the Benilde “campus,” as a pedestrian and micromobility vehicle-friendly campus where everyone can freely walk on open roads not worrying of oncoming cars and trucks. The roads will also be open to vendors. And because the streets will be closed to vehicles, the campus will be less polluted, better maintained, with better sanitation for the vendors. The plan is a long-term vision for the community and the college; but as Ar. Javier said, “they are willing to wait.”

The community’s vision

After the talks by the speakers, Director of Benilde HiFi, Ms. Abi Mapua — Cabanilla led the open-forum / conversations. A thought-provoking question was raised by one of the female participants: “is it too late?” She was referring to the government’s “Build, Build, Build” program that has been underway, which means to build more roads across the country. With billions pouring into road development, are contrarian talks like A City for All, just missed the deadline? Mr. dela Peña believes not.

Manila now was like London back when River Thames was putrid with pollution, its roads were congested, crowded and polluted. It was London’s century-long effort to clean up and out things in order that helped itself transform to what it is today. Mr. dela Peña is also optimistic about a new brand of young and vibrant urbanism that he is observing all over the world and present as well in the Philippines. He has hope that this style or guerrilla urbanism may spark the championing and drive for a revitalised city... a city for all.

The leaders of the barangays who are part of the Kapitbahayan Program of Benilde also shared their dreams for the community. They look forward to revitalizing the rivers and creeks in the communities as these are hazards to the area. But these same creeks are also opportunities waiting to be developed. They were particularly excited at the thought of clean rivers that can house small businesses that support the communities.

Building a city for all

So, what does it take to actually build a city for all? First, we must actually collectively believe that we value everyone. As puts it: “We are all born equal in dignity.” If we believe and breathe that dignity is a right, and not a privilege, then we will change the way we define success. And using Mr. dela Peña’s framework, a people’s measure of success pretty much dictates where its money will be allocated. Building this dream city also entails comprehensive planning that considers feasibility, viability and more importantly, desirability to people. Involving members of the different stakeholder groups will help us create a plan that everyone can buy into. And lastly, plans cannot happen without people to operate it. So we need the community to actually live the plan, and the learning institutions to help the new generations learn the values that glue the plans together.

Benilde faculty together with Manila’s city planners and our community partners

To view photos of the event on our Facebook page, .

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Benilde HiFi

HiFidelity— Stories of Social Innovation from Benilde and Beyond

Benilde HiFi

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The Peter D. Garrucho Jr. Innovations Institute is a community space and business incubator for social good in Benilde and beyond.

Benilde HiFi

HiFidelity— Stories of Social Innovation from Benilde and Beyond

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