By Cha Monforte
The placemaker and the Davao City Square
In many cities in US and Europe, more people are advocating for transformation of their places. The high development of advanced economies in the world has resulted to cities being so oriented to automobiles, skyscrapers and malls that soon neglected the importance of plazas, squares and other public spaces.
A movement called placemaking is reclaiming public spaces as spaces where people have to enjoy, converge, socialize, walk and bike. The robust urbanizations caused by top-down policies and the vertical growth of cities in advanced economies have led to mindless impersonal relations between persons and traffic gridlocks. Sadly, the making of our own cities are going to that direction.
The placemaking movement wants to foster cultural identities and build stronger communities. Placemakers call for community-driven urban designing process that “would free a city from the homogenizing effect of plans imposed from above, allowing it to grow organically, place by place, neighbourhood by neighbourhood.” They want squares and public spaces to scatter and grow like they want Paris not to become a homogeneous global city that erodes its local character.
Placemakers want to shift the paradigm and trend of urban planning, transportation, their policies, systems and priorities. Placemaking is a way to create sustainable cities and preserve the environment especially in this age of climate change. They want people to stroll in the streets, walkways, enjoy sidewalk dry markets, sit in benches viewing rivers and scenes in the city. Or walk or bike around and get the full health benefits of doing it. The plaza is the place that brings people together. There’s a need to have sense of space in planning, rekindle cultural identity, the need to reshape the urban environment, they say. They form pedestrian and bicycle alliances. They call to rightsize downtown streets. And placemakers resist government projects and policies that create barriers to biking, walking and placemaking.
I see that the placemaking movement fears that built urban environment might be so redesigned into so modern environment that it forgets to provide public spaces for people to traditionally converge and talk to each other. Placemakers advocate to make cities become more walkable, bikable and livable. It is becoming a powerful new social movement that reaches Latin American and African countries. It is still be to be heard loud and clear in Asian countries.
Applied in Davao City, placemaking can be given a biggest push if a large square is carved out in its old downtown. Over fifteen years ago I postulated a possibility of carving out a Davao City Square enclosing around the streets of Quirino, Magallanes, Claveria and that road by the Gaisano Mall. In my postulation, the PUJs are barred from entering the square. Only private vehicles and taxis are allowed to enter. Pedestrians would have to walk, bike or take light tramcars to go to places inside the square. Or allow limited aesthetically designed trisikads or tartanillas to ply inside the square. In the scheme, the PUJ-caused traffic is eliminated within the square. It automatically frees and unclogs the city’s oldest central business district of the hundreds of thousands of noisy and air-polluting PUJs, and gives space for a special urban renewal.
Authorities then would further move in for aesthetic, public space- and environment-oriented physical facelifts of available public spaces. Consider the scenario of Davao City Square having a lot of trees growing, more benches, tiled pocket parks to compliment the People’s Park and the park fronting the City Hall, more covered walkways, more spaces for walk and bike lanes. Heritage buildings will rise up to compliment with private towers and condos. It relates with the coastal light train transit thought out before, and possibly with an underground train in so distant future. The northbound and southbound rotundas and dropping points of PUJs will be established, and more concepts to buttress the Davao City Square.
Revolutionary? How’s this now? For Davao City to join with the sustainable global cities it must have a square for walkability, bikability and unique urban renewal. Davao City has no square in the first place and it is contented only to provide a small People’s Park. Making a large walkable square is giving the city’s old heart a breathing space.
Mayor Rody Duterte can easily carve out the Davao City Square by mere mayor’s circular only – to start a tea party for his presidential draft, with environmentalists and placemakers. Then we can immediately enjoy cups of tea or bottles of beers under the many shades of first balled low growing trees in the freed sidewalks and pocket parks while first imagining a stunning view of the squared downtown in the city. The influential and powerful mayor can easily make a public space. He can be the placemaker in the country. The City Council’s ordinance can come in later. (@chamonforte, @ruralurbanews in Twitter)