World Children’s Day: My vision for a #ChildUtopia in a tropical context

On World Children’s Day, Angela Piguing, 16 from Manilla, Philippines, shares her vision for a Child Utopia.

Not all cities are the same. Mass media and even basic education never fails to let its user be aware of the presence of snow in many countries. However, not all places have that—a geographical placement near the equator plays a huge role for countries attaining tropical climate. These countries are also adversely affected by climate change, that these countries are more likely to beat uninhabitable temperatures and heat indexes if unsustainable cities continue to be kept up.

Children today and the future—including me, at least as of writing—carry the burden as the future unfolds the effects of climate change. Nonetheless, a bright future must keep going in full steam ahead. Apart from discussing matters on pollution control, setting up better education for all, and the likes, it is also good to ponder on what drives these all. Transportation moves people and resources to make ends meet.  The environment, in the context of architecture, also goes hand-in-hand. In a nutshell, transport and architecture make up a broad portion of urban planning, which in turn is the discipline that majorly directs how cities should be.

Mobility should be one of the primary goals for sustainability. A well-planned network of railways is an excellent long-term investment for trains that are the way to go in mass transit, and compared to planes they have lesser emissions. There has to be generous funding and planning for various transport modalities, such as bus rapid transit lines and ferry services. Ideally, transport would be free and secure that children may go to and fro to school or to their whereabouts even without adults having to tag along all the time. In turn, this security in transit can be seen notably in Japan, where a sense of community makes for the culture of elders, teaching and allowing their children to take public transit, walk, or bike to and fro.

It is always a need to prioritize safety and accessibility, as different children have unique sets of needs. Accessibility can be provided by placing defined bike lanes, ramps, and wayfinding signs with assistive devices. Through efficient and affordable transportation, one can get around the nation to access and distribute the resources to even out population density issues per se.

The genius loci—this talks about the soul, the sense, or the overall look of the city. How the zones are spaced will always have impact on the flow of mobility. Sidewalks cut in favor of more roads impede pedestrian safety, and more roads eventually invite more vehicles in the long run. Parks provide recreation and instill a healthy lifestyle by providing ample space for physical activity. Even the design of housing, as a defining feature of a community, should be dignified and structurally sound.

A city is always composed of old and new structures. It would be great if existing structures are taken into consideration, before making new changes to the environment such as adding new structures. Aside from beaches, built heritage provides a boost to the economy by means of education and tourism. Losing built heritage by means of demolishing or facadism for instance these would hinder the children from making sense of their surroundings, at least by seeing glimpses of former ways of life.

Older structures are best treated by experts in conservation. Before putting up new structures, considerations should be done for these to blend well with the existing environment. It would be best if indigenous materials are utilized to provide local businesses, and basing on the vernacular must be noted in structures.

For example in the Philippines, we have the bahay na bato that uses wide windows and tall ceilings for proper passive ventilation. The handiwork of laborers were expressed from the intricacies of the grills to the proper placement of vents, among others. We also have the humble bahay kubo; made with local material, this structure gave rise to the bahay na bato. Capiz shells (or windowpane oysters) were used to reduce daylight glare in awning or sliding windows, although the use of these nowadays are overshadowed with lack of sustainable improvements for such. Overall, the vernacular structures bahay kubo and bahay na bato are quite spacious that implies the typical Filipino hospitality.

A sense of identity sums up the perceived social and scientific aspects of a city. Reviewing the history of planning and architecture provides making sense of a place by tracing the evolution of improvements that made how we live our lives today. For today in the digital era, it is easier to learn and make oneself learn of the sense of one’s environment, aside from the ecological perspective where the environment is often associated with.

It is more than “postcolonial hunger and longing” if the identity of one’s surroundings is put into context. Here, the best practices of the old and new are observed. By analyzing pros and cons of things early and contemporary, it will be realized that there is more than what we do at present. To observe patterns from centuries ago can provide insights on how the local ways of living evolved and how it came to be today. Funding and proper education for scientists, both young and experienced, should also be a priority, and scholars should be motivated to study with regard to environmental concerns and needs of a place. Changes in the environment (particularly due to reclamation, logging, and mining) may bring irreplaceable side effects, so regulations must be implemented strictly. It is also best to establish communication with the locals, because they are masters of their lands and harvest.

Perhaps soon, we might be able to have row houses that coexist with rice fields without destroying the arable land in favor of a paved subdivision. I believe it is still quite a long way to achieving what is truly helpful for us and the environment, as “eco-friendly” structures do not end with high blocks stuffed with plants. With sustainable cities, children would more likely live lives and neighborhoods that every child deserves. Sustainability is, after all, a matter of contextualized coexistence with consistency and thorough planning.

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