Medellín, Colombia used to be notorious for the dangers of homicide and drugs and used street art as part of its revitalization strategies. Photo © Juancho Torres (Source: theguardian.com)
Citizens are the life of a city. We drive the growth, and we have the right and responsibility to take care of our natural and built-up environments.
We are faced with everyday challenges in our cities, from hours of traffic to parking spaces, lining up for the MRT or the shuttle vans, inhaling all the air pollution, and finding safe places to walk on so we get from one point to another. So how do we improve our situation?
Here are 10 things everyone can do to improve city life.
1. Share public spaces Streets, sidewalks, parks—all of these are public spaces. Cars dominate the space all too often, but since everyone has a right to it, how do we improve equity?
We can use our private cars less, so we don’t usurp someone else’s space. Try one or two less trips with your car, and take the public transport more.
Our terminals may not be so well-connected, but this is the best way to reduce our number of vehicles. Move towards mass transit, and away from inefficient space usage.
Let’s avoid parking on sidewalks, because these spaces are for pedestrians. Respect “slow-down” and other traffic signs that exist to make spaces safer.
Make every public space safe and friendly enough for all of us—women, children, disabled people—by being more open, more visible, and more inclusive.
2. Encourage metropolitan art, fuel creativity Putting art and visuals in a city boosts its overall aesthetics, and contributes to attraction and meaning of a place. Art has helped revitalize some of the most dangerous cities in the world.
Visuals create vibrancy in a place, and usually make citizens feel safer. It also helps put value into an experience when we are stuck in line, waiting for a ride home.
City art can be present in a variety of ways: creation of murals on bland walls, graffiti, painted walls on train stations, decorated façades, and placement of statues and monuments. ADVERTISEMENT
A pocket park, along with other spaces that encourage greener surroundings, helps improve the urban environment. Source: sourcethestation.com
And it’s not only for artists—anyone in the community can help repaint a pedestrian lane, which isn’t limited to parallel white lines either.
Add greens, clean blues, and better hues A simple way to improve the city is to green its surroundings. As the biophilia hypothesis suggests, we tend to connect with the natural environment and other forms of life.
More natural elements, such as plants and clean waterways, have benefits, such as less heat, and more attractive surroundings.
While many of us think that it’s difficult to do, it is possible to integrate green cover with the built-up environment. Urban gardens, biowalls, pocket parks, or simple potted plants or patches of grass help the urban ecosystem.
We can also start with cleaning water bodies to transform their dumpsite state into healthy river systems and bays.
4. Improve your plaza, ask for parks For those of us who still get to treasure a plaza or park, put benches, tables, sports equipment you’re willing to share, or get into food stalls, play music, plant trees, hold zumba classes—anything to draw people into that space and encourage conversation.
Let’s encourage new types of zones, such as family zones and silver zones.
And let’s face it—how satisfied are we with the parks that we have, and the parks we have lost? So many Filipinos do not even know the feeling of using a park anymore, nowadays, because we all get attracted to the malls and commercial areas.
Walk more, bike more You will be surprised at how little you know about your own environment if you keep driving a car or staying inside your home. To know one’s roads and streets takes dedication. One can learn a lot from a personal experience of using a city’s pathways.
If you were asked to sketch your city, would you know where to draw your major roads, your barangays, and your landmarks from memory?
Streets and roads are public spaces that have to be shared and equally utilized. This shows how much we stand to gain by championing public transport, biking, and pedestrianization.
We should walk more, and bike more, to know our cities.
Benefits include the reduction of emissions, addressing sedentary lifestyles, more friends, and sleeping better at night.
Hold your government responsible, accountable Citizens have every right to audit and question their government. Cities and municipalities in the Philippines are required to have an ecological profile, a Comprehensive Land Use Plan, a Comprehensive Development Plan, and a Zoning Ordinance.
These are assessments, plans, and local legislation that make or break our urban and rural management. These are public documents, and are supposed to be easily accessible to citizens.
Check with your local government if you have these documents in place, and take a look at how the plans of your city roll out in the next few years.
Check if plans are sound and updated, and exercise your right to have a say in the urban planning process.
7. Get involved; collaborate The placemaking movement around the world encourages communities to revitalize their public spaces. And there are many ways for us to get involved.
Be more involved in your barangay or neighborhood activities, or join the development councils. Initiate projects such as street lighting that can improve the safety of dark streets.
Collaborate with groups in the church, groups of disability, or tap other people who are passionate about space, design, and transport.
There are more people who care about the city than we realize.
Getting to know fellow citizens in our vicinity builds the strength in spreading impact. Citizens have key roles to play in city development.
8. Champion data Using data, especially official data, is a struggle planners have struggled with in so many cities and municipalities. This can refer to demographic data, which are social statistics; location data, which are used for maps; or economic data, such as income and expenditure.
How do we help with data? Provide feedback. Participate in census surveys.
Join open street mapping activities, where you can validate data for your own villages and barangays. Ask for receipts. Declare your residence details through yearly cedulas.
The Greater Kennedy Plaza in Rhode Island is envisioned to become people-centric, taking away the spotlight on cars and vehicles. Render by Union Studio Architects (Source: www.pps.
All of these contribute to captured data that better profile our cities. Demand that the city government make local data available and accessible—better if downloadable. Planners can use these in projections and in deriving strategies for land use.
9. Travel to other cities and learn Travel teaches us about places, and helps widen our perspective, beyond our usual environment.
We often complain that our own cities should improve, but if we do not know how more developed or smart cities flow, how do we know what steps to take for improvement? How can we benchmark?
Convenient public services, libraries in every building, and state of the art public housing—these all exist in other countries and capital cities. Experiencing them can inspire us to drive change in our own urban setting.
10. Believe change is possible And among all these steps in improving Philippine cities, the most important of all is to believe that change is possible.
The most dreadful hindrance I’ve heard from Filipinos is how they say “asa ka pa,” or “so may pag-asa pa ang Pilipinas?” This defeatist attitude is exactly what keeps our cities in dire states.
Read about Medellin. Nairobi, or Linz. Where there are people who lack hope, then there are less chances of success. If other productive cities are driven and improved by their own communities, we can do the same.
People shape cities, and cities shape the lives of people, in return.
As urbanist Jane Jacobs famously said, “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody.”
The author is an environmental planner in Metro Manila. She advocates for better understanding of cities, urban management, and citizen empowerment in the Philippines. She blogs about her planning experiences at littlemissurbanite.wordpress.com.