Celebrating our cities’ delights, imperfections
We live in a beautiful city. A city with its own share of urban anxieties and immense socioeconomic issues, but nevertheless, a city of vibrant people.
People are slowly getting back on the streets for their daily commutes with workplaces slowly opening up across our metropolis. Still, we are quite far from finding a sense of normalcy in this broken up world of separation and anxiety.
There is a particular set of issues that vex the city dweller. These urban anxieties, further aggravated by the pandemic, hound us as we slog through our days. Whether it’s finding a ride home, getting to our destinations on time, or just knowing that we have our own little place in the city to call home, we all face our own worries about life in this city.
In these troubling times, I find that having something to look forward to is a soothing balm that helps ease my thoughts. I was supposed to write about wabi-sabi, the Japanese philosophy about accepting imperfections, so as I think about our city, I’d like to share some of its imperfections that delight me and celebrate them with everyone—some silver linings that can chase away those awful anxieties.
I found myself looking forward to the sunrise each dawn. It’s a very quiet time in the months of June and July, coming in at 5:30 a.m. when much of the city sleeps. It is a moment when you can hear the softest of sounds that you would normally miss while you see the cityscape come alive in incredibly surrealistic long shadows and pink and orange hues.
Balconies, are amazing. They can be all sorts of different spaces. Changing your balcony space could be an adventure onto itself. It’s a space for a private little urban garden, a coffee corner, or an artist’s studio with perfect lighting. And our skies are always a rich and deep cerulean blue, a blue you can almost drown in at times.
I enjoy the streetscapes of Manila. If you look around your neighborhood, it may be all sorts of things, but it’s never boring. The fragmented city has allowed for a quixotic blend of architecture that forms a patchwork quilt of contrasting forms and structures. We have an organic blend of individual buildings that each express the desires and intents of its builders. This laissez-faire approach to planning and regulation consoles me with the thought that we will never have to worry about a dystopian future of fascist, Bladerunner-esque urbanity.
We will always be near a sari-sari store where you can actually have the most delightful and personal folks hanging around. I could never see the appeal of convenience stores and why we could not have our tiny little sari-sari stores instead. In this pandemic period, the next time you go to one and try to push against that glass door and enter an indoor space of constantly recycled air, think twice and go support your local store.
One thing I hope we’ve all come to know more of is walking around our city. Manila is actually an amazing place to explore on foot. Sure, our sidewalks are just a little bit more hellish than we hope for, but our rambling streets are quite delightful, really. I’ve found myself walking through various little side streets the last couple of months, something I’ve always enjoyed.
I used to walk from Tondo to Binondo growing up. I believe it’s one of the reasons why I took up architecture. I take on the vagaries of our crazy streets and enjoy the reality of its grain and texture. I find delight in manholes and alleys, and particularly enjoy peering into front yards, which come in an absolutely fantastic myriad of uses and colors. I find solace in the presence of so many people just going through their day and in my head, the crazy sidewalks are almost like a skipping game you play as you constantly try to find the best way forward.
The streets that you actually walk on every day take on an incredibly anthropomorphic character. There are happy streets and angry, crowded streets, old dusty roads and unreasonably crazy pathways. You could remember driveways and corners, recognize street signs and irrational posts that always seem to get in your way, and even get to know wobbly canal covers and feel sad for cracked gutters that sooner or later break down. All these delightful streets with the occasional morose and lonely spot that no one seems to pass through become part of your day, and in turn a part of you. There are simply an innumerable far worse things than moving around with your own two feet.
A city lives and breathes and, as with any living thing, it grows and it ages. It does not work without its own history and character. I find that one of the things I now get to do is to find myself time to go see more of our heritage. There is still so much of Manila we can discover. We have one of the most unique cultural sites in Asia with Intramuros, a unique collection of neoclassical architecture, and a profusion of churches that have evolved and are continuously being built over the last 400 years.
The most amazing thing about our city, though, are its people–the energy of a youthful and hopeful people. Even today, you will find our most vulnerable people struggling on but managing to move forward. There is nothing more delightful than seeing a happy kid walking in the middle of the street without a care in the world. There is nothing more delightful than finding our streets being reclaimed by the people.
While we strive to protect and save our architectural and cultural heritage, we should realize that the entirety of this city is our heritage. Today, as you’re reading this, I turn 40. I find myself thinking of the Manila from my childhood and how it has grown and changed. I remember the architecture of my unknowing 20s and more deliberate 30s and I’m excited for what is yet to come.
Let us celebrate the innocent delights that our city has given us and just remember that all we need to do, especially this 2020, is to make sure each and every year we leave our built environment more delightful than the last. Even now.