Culture and the city
If culture is a way of life, and civilization is a refined way of life, we see how our city struggles to mature and make life pleasant for its inhabitants.
Half of all people now live in cities. The magnetism of the , unlimited possibilities that the city offers against the toil and the soil of rural life has been here for ages in all parts.
With the numbers growing in cities, challenges also abound. How to house people, how to transport them from home to work, how to provide utilities and sanitation, how to deal with the volume of pollution and energy use, and how to uplift the life of the urban poor are among the city’s main concerns.
Development activity answers the needs of the growing population. Cities begin to look alike because the same brands appear everywhere. Culture which differentiates groups of people slowly disappears.
One overriding goal
Old structures, landmarks and landscapes are torn down to make way for new economic development. Building design has one overriding goal. Decoration and detailing that showed the finer age-old customs and traditions are bypassed to give way to new uses and trends.
It is heartening that solutions to the city’s problems can be found within the city itself. The more mature and civilized cities have gone through the process of transformation to balance the precious old with contemporary elements using strategic planning.
Tourists flock at old cities in the world to observe how those cities have preserved the beauty and the richness of the past and how they have built new structures within well-conceived landscapes to answer the needs and follow the directions of the present.
A recent trip to Barcelona has opened my eyes to how they have not just expanded the city, but also how they have tried to redistribute land use by rethinking and recovery of old land uses within the city. An example is the transformation of an old industrial section to cater to present needs. They reuse inner city spaces with reference to the value of centrality. They also maintain a good balance between areas of great intense use and open zones.
A successful study of urban density and land occupancy is quite noticeable there. An aging population in Spain is well-acknowledged even by our taxi driver, who compared the city with his native Bolivia. He agreed that children are consumers to their parents only for a limited number of years, and proper education is the key to turn children into producers when they mature. A significantly dropping population is a grim reality there.
Barcelona exhibits successful handling of land-use management, as seen in the diverse city uses with matching diverse means of transportation and accessible housing. This combination secures environmental protection.
I saw mostly medium-rise buildings. Recent urban projects are planned to be conduits of transformation from the past that can adapt to an uncertain future while responding to dynamic present realities.
New mixed developments for residential and commercial use reportedly have a gross buildable ratio of 50:50 for open spaces, and a maximum number of 140 homes per hectare of new development. No wonder life is so pleasant there, as the Filipino breakfast assistant at our hotel claimed.
It was mentioned that another city in Europe uses a public space in the city as a market in the morning, a parking space in the afternoon and a space for civic activities on national holidays.
Rail transit commuters
Taking the high-speed train from Barcelona to Madrid, a distance of 500 kilometers took only two-and-one-half hours on a very fine day.
It was not without pain that I thought of mass rail transit commuters inside our city taking the same amount of time to do a round-trip daily for a distance of some 10 kilometers, including standing in kilometric queues along Edsa, and having to deal with old, unfit trains. Our roads carry triple the number of private vehicles stipulated, and city smog is sadly visible from the Skyway at noontime.
Madrid I said is like an older brother to Barcelona. The city’s grand architecture speaks of its great past. I also noticed mostly medium-rise buildings with many new developments that successfully blend with the old. Open spaces are everywhere and are beautifully maintained. Madrid is a clean and well-lighted city. The metro’s street and walkways are free of litter.
A big percentage of our people are all around the world, working in big cities and helping our economy grow. Hopefully we do not tarry in providing families with structural reforms, good governance and easily-accessible education.
Hopefully we will march into the arena of newly developed countries in Asia while identifying our old values, customs, traditions, landmarks and landscapes with ashared responsibility to keep them well for those who will come after us.
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