In his first week in office, Isko Moreno went on a tear in our nation’s capital. The newly-minted Manila mayor wasted no time showing the public he means business. He’s clearing out vendors along Divisoria and Carriedo one minute and smashing video karera machines the next. Before you can keep up, he’s talking about a tourism circuit that connects Intramuros to other historical sites.
More on cleaning up the city:
“Mayor Isko is doing well and doing good,” says urban planner and landscape architect Paulo Alcazaren. “One hopes he does not run out of steam.” We share Mr. Alcazaren’s hope. Particularly because, well, when it comes to Manila, there is just so much left to be done.
In a series of posts on his Facebook account, Alcazaren suggests a few more areas and ideas that Mayor Isko can look into. “These proposals are just the most obvious to urban designers and planners like me. Most of these areas need minimum intervention and can be designed and constructed well within a three-year term of any incumbent,” he says.
While there are other opportunities that can be explored, his suggestions—which he calls Manila Makeovers—can be quick wins for everyone. “Especially a public starving for open spaces and amenities,” he adds.
Mayor Isko, here you go:
Manila Metropolitan Theater
“This one is small, but has high impact. What the Metropolitan Theater lacks is a parvis, a public space in front that enables better appreciation of its wonderful art deco façade,” Alcazaren explains on Facebook. This space can also act as a public plaza, creating a buffer from the busy traffic in front. There would be a layby for public transport, and private theater goers can get down on the side and access the main entrance via the theater arcade. “The space for this plaza is already there,” he says. “This project can be completed in a few weeks’ time.”
Given strict sanitation department regulations, one hot idea according to the urban planner would be food barges. “These can be used to activate the proposed esplanades, or linear riverside parks for Metro Manila. They can travel down segments of the Pasig River to match district events,” he shares. “I want to open one myself—and call it El DeBarge, an 80s reference only us older kids would appreciate.”
Alcazaren says one makeover that can be accomplished quickly is the space at the old Muelle de Banco Nacional in Sta. Cruz. There are no informal settlers to be relocated, and it is accessible by public transport. “The view opposite it is the majestic Post Office. A Pasig River Ferry anchors one end by the Jones Bridge. The Escolta building owner’s association could maintain this after Mayor Isko builds it and also ensure regular events to activate this space. The whole street could be closed and pedestrianized on weekends with pop-up cafes or food trucks,” he suggests.
Estero de la Reina
Located beside the First United Building in the Escolta district, this, along with nearby areas, can become great public spaces once the canals are cleared, says Alacazaren. “This can turn into the Al Fresco de la Reina. Over a hundred years ago, American planner Daniel Burnham declared that Manila, with its bay like Naples, and its canals like Venice would become a great city. This can still happen but we need to have a vision of what it could be,” he writes.
“If this project gets the green light, we could enjoy this next year. This image was taken above the Escolta. The Post Office is on the lower right of the image,” Alcazaren says of the photo he shared in his post. The Arroceros Forest Park is the green area right off center beside the Quezon Bridge, which was just painted in undercoat red when the aerial was taken. “The esplanade could connect several areas on both sides of the Pasig River. We hope the Mayor considers this proposal, which is already a few years old, but was never pursued past the basic concept.”
Green Park and Ride
Alcazaren is also pushing for turning the top of the underutilized Park and Ride building behind the Met into a green field. “This is to yield a futsal field, making use of artificial turf. This can be implemented quickly,” he says.
Plaza del Carmen
This proposal, according to the architect, was first broached in 2015. The plaza used to be an open space in front and beside the San Sebastian Cathedral. “It was paved over in the 1960s and most of this expanse is unutilized concrete. This proposal brings back the plaza and also allows better appreciation of San Sebastian’s architecture. It also allows a much better perspective for selfies,” he hints. According to Alcazaren, the paved area can still accommodate some parking on the perimeter on Sundays, but the rest of it can now become a true public plaza—“one that strengthens the identity of the district and people’s sense of place,” he explains. “With this, the landmark of San Sebastian is given back its true context and value, and hopefully this ensures its conservation from encroaching development.”
Other areas, suggests the urban planner, that Mayor Isko should also look into include Plaza Dilao, the University Belt, Sta. Ana Plaza and the adjoining riverside, United Nations Avenue, Plaza Ferguson, Remedios Circle, Pr5 Area, Plaza Moriones, Ocampo Pagoda, Plaza Cervantes and Moraga, Plaza Sta. Cruz, and Plaza Lorenzo Ruiz.
He says that it’s usually the lack of political will that hinders projects like the ones he mentioned. “The other theory is that since these proposals are relatively inexpensive, officials are not interested. They prefer big ticket projects where they think there’s more to be made,” he surmises.
Ultimately, according to Alcazaren, nothing is stopping us from reclaiming these spaces. “Take a cue from former New York Commissioner of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan. She just used paint and barriers to temporarily and immediately reclaim public space in Times Square and other spots in New York a decade ago. It proved her point that people wanted these and the interventions became permanent.”
Images by Urban Planner Paulo Alcazaren