Moving towards renewable energy takes more than a signature for the Paris Climate Agreement. It is affected by the way our cities shape our life, and how we choose to live.
How do we perceive our use of energy?
As an urban planner, I can talk land use, I can talk green spaces. But energy? The closest I can come to is that I switch on my lights, electric fan, and laptop everyday. I know I’m tired of breathing in car fumes during my ten-minute walk to the office. I read that the Larcen C glacier just cracked—a part of Antarctica, no matter how tiny, is breaking apart.
Environmentalists fuel the climate change fire with the “only one earth” messaging. The sea level rise, the pollution affecting our health, and rising temperatures—all of these are happening because of you, and because of me. And the rest of our human race family.
I would need some engineers to get my calculations on power usage running, and statisticians to correlate that to scientists’ environmental data. So let me talk about energy in the language I understand more: Through cities, and through people who shape them.
When we talk about renewable energy, what scale do we consider? Image Source: Rappler
Imagine how energy is consumed within the 613.9 square kilometres of Metro Manila: All those millions hustling and bustling every single day to offices and back to their homes across city boundaries, burning fuel, hours, and productivity. Only a handful is conscious about how they leave iPhones charging and engines running.
Urban efficiency: How design and mobility affect energy consumption
I mentioned our malls are supersized. So are our skyways, and our ideals. Urban sprawl is eating up our available land faster than we care to notice. One may ask what this has to do with energy.
Using an urban planning perspective, it has everything to do with energy. This is a basic lesson of using up space. The goal is to make space efficient. In putting homes as close as possible to the school, grocery, church, and park, we are able to walk and lessen emissions by cars. Developers are not burdened with the costs of longer streets, while utility providers spend less on shorter water pipelines and power lines.
Concisely, the more efficient our space and environment, the smaller our energy consumption.
The impact of an urban fabric has much to do with our energy demand and supply. Image Sources: (Left) Pinterest and (Right) Urban Design Studies Unit (University of Strathclyde)
This is why the case of Metro Manila has too great a repercussion from urban inefficiency. Our destinations are too far apart. We take longer trips. We keep overscaling our cities, and we build grander spaces as we move towards global standards. The facades of our mega-sized malls and preference for cement over green spaces speak for themselves. Life as it is demands more energy for us to function.
Sourcing for the lifeline
The 2016 Philippine Power Situation Report provides a snapshot of how much energy we use up, and how suppliers cater to these needs. So far, what we know is that the residential and industrial sectors keep causing the continued increase of temperature and the need for more cooling equipment.
This just confirms how our growing number of homes create the demand, and how factories, which naturally co-locate to where we are, add to energy usage. Our food, clothing, basic necessities, and utilities become the very climate killers because we require them to be present.
Power sources in the Philippines. Image Source: 2016 Philippine Power Situation Report
One may think why coal and its family of fossil fuels continue to win, and why we haven’t made that stride towards renewable energy sources. This is despite the Renewable Energy Act of 2008, and our hypocritical signatures on the past how many United Nations Conventions, all of which aimed towards sustainable environments.
The pressing matter is how fast and how effective our baby steps carry us towards our future. It is almost a decade since Philippine legislation brought energy to the table. We have now added the Paris Agreement to our targets, and more importantly, our conscience.
But going back, is there genuine consciousness, especially at the neighbourhood—even household—scale, on our country’s energy situation? We have depended on our electric suppliers to make the move. How many of us have made the effort to harness renewable energy in our own ways? Let alone cut down our energy demand?
Thinking about it, how far down is energy in our personal priority list? With a poverty incidence of more than a quarter of all Filipinos, comprised mostly of farmers, fishermen and citizens belonging to the vulnerable demographic, would the common Filipino citizen be concerned about renewable energy over the food on his table? Would we actually campaign for shorter roads and less car usage when in the first place, we look to the government to solve this for us?
No. Installing solar panels would be the last thing on the minds of families who barely put enough together to eat rice. As life ticks by, the carbon footprint aggregates, mostly unchecked by those who contribute to it. Life becomes business as usual. Providers turn to cheaper energy because they have to cater to millions, and to lessen expenses by using the established means for distribution.
Joining the global response for renewable energy
Our cities, and our very selves—we’re all on a race against a carbon time bomb. Think: It’s not just us, it’s our neck on the line, but all of this? This is on us. The Earth’s pressure is upon every country right now to respond and get to the goal of living below 2 degrees Celsius.
Global neighbours have responded with policy: Norway is banning oil, and is banning petrol and diesel car sales. In the financing world, we have introduced climate budgets. Even the smallest product alternatives are being thrown out there by students and entrepreneurs. Just earlier this week I saw an ad for solar paint, which uses hydrogen fuel instead of fossil fuels.
Global and local initiatives to move towards the use of renewable energy spur innovation, policy, and financing strategies. Image Source: UP Materials Science Society, Hybrid Cars, Union of Concerned Scientists.
Sure, all of this is good, and competitive: Education and awareness, campaigns, slogans, all of these introductions and how-to’s for solar equipment, new charging stations, and the like. These efforts are innovative and commendable.
But we have to be strategic. The challenge is to create changes in energy demand and encourage renewable energy supply. The outcome in mind is to get to the lifestyle change of the 15 million in our metropolitan, and how many more millions in our cities, and billions more around the globe.
The strategy is to create synergies from all the efforts, systems from our disconnected networks, and mobility in everyday life. Change the city’s way of life, and move closer to one another. Through design, we achieve energy efficiency by creating nodes and using neighbourhood models. Through households, we measure our consumption and life impacts. Studies show how four actions create the biggest impact to reduce energy demand and in the bigger picture, lessen the carbon footprint: “eating more plants, avoiding air travel, living car-free, and having smaller families.”
Lifestyle change takes a while, but starting small isn’t so bad. After all, the energy problem clearly reflects how we have already been living in the biggest irony of humanity: We destroy so that we can live. Perhaps the planning lessons of mobility, biophilia, smarter systems, and the fact that people drive the life of a city tell us that nothing is really an externality. Everything we do, no matter how small, is connected with something much bigger than what we see, and what we choose to see.
Let me call on you to look at renewable energy beyond new technologies and beyond the pressure of climate agreements. Moving towards it takes our individual efforts to create substantial impacts, and that meaningful path towards saving the only home we have.
This urban diary shows photos and notes some observations that I had last Aug. 16, 2018, when I made the visit.
The garden is located within the SSS Elementary School Grounds.
SSS Elementary school is bounded by Lilac, Rainbow, Sandalwood, and Sapphire streets. Its surroundings are composed of a church, residential houses, and commercial shops.
The garden inside the school is located on the area with the yellow polygon (approximated).
It’s worth noting how the school was under renovation during my observation visit. Upon talking to the guard on duty, he said that while many of the school’s buildings and surroundings will be demolished / renovated, the administration has directed that the garden be preserved.
This is how part of the campus looks like, with open spaces between buildings.
The garden already has trees, shrubs, and grasses in it, some of which have been efforts of planting projects.
However, most plants seem to be unkempt, and not labeled or arranged, and generally the garden doesn’t seem to be curated or based on a concept yet. Recycled paint buckets and plastic containers are used as pots.
The garden is enclosed by a small fence.
There is also a mini-pond with a bridge inside the enclosure. Some fallen branches were used to rope off the railings.
There are pathways made of tiles, and one leads to a small nipa hut. The pathways are rather disconnected.
There are efforts to arrange the garden, as seen in this big elevated pot, which holds a variety of flora, but trash buckets and containers litter its surroundings.
A more worrisome part of the garden is how dirty water and fallen leaves and twigs litter the pond, making it a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which is a health hazard, especially in an elementary school.
Aside from the notes on the photos above, observations and some top-of-the-head suggestions would include:
The garden could be better conceptualized and curated. Some of the garden types which could work include: Medicinal, edible, pollinator, or native.
The enclosure may have been used to prevent schoolchildren to keep going into the garden, which may defeat the purpose of having such a space, because interaction within green spaces can help increase their appreciation to care for nature and be at ease in a natural environment within a very concrete-filled school.
The nipa hut is a touch to the garden for a children to hang out in, but doesn’t seem very welcoming because of its surroundings.
There is only one chair on the garden, which isn’t really comfortable to use when children have to plant seedlings or care for the garden (mini stools would be better).
Grass patches are mixed with weeds, which may affect the growth of other plants.
The pathway could be better designed around the garden, and crossing with the pond.
There weren’t any on-hand gardening tools, cleaning tools, outdoor furniture or tool storage areas, compost pots or boxes, or proper signage and labels within the garden. All of these could help in getting children to keep the space maintained during class time.
Given that the garden is inside a school, more color would brighten up the space, especially with the pathways and pond railings.
Moving forward from the observation stage would be working with the school administration, faculty, and students (and their families/nearby community) to work on the concept of what type of garden this could be transformed into, recreating the garden, and drawing up a plan on how to maintain this through the school years.
Energy is a big topic that resounds in my head because of sustainability, and cities are magnets and pits of energy rolled into one.
In this article I take a look at how a seemingly simple switchback from fuel standards can become a massive problem for the country, not just because of how it pretends to be a short-term solution, but because there are long-term impacts on the environment. And there are solutions urban leaders can take on, too.
One of Placemade‘s pilot projects is to work on the Elementary School Park and waiting area. This was suggested by the Marikina City Government and supported by Barangay San Roque.
This urban diary will contain my observation notes, photos, and videos of the area, when I visited last Aug. 16, 2018.
The park is located at M.A. Roxas corner N. Roxas, right beside the San Roque Elementary School.
San Roque has a population of 17,945 (2015), and a land area of 115.79 has. (5% of the city’s land area).
The project site is marked with the yellow polygon.
Let’s divide the site into two parts:
(1) Park (the yellow box); and
(2) Parking area (the blue box)
Below is a video that looks into the two areas:
San Roque Elementary School Park - 1 - YouTube
I visited the park on a Thursday, at 4-5PM, went around to take photos, and stayed to observe how people used the space.
View from N. Roxas side.
This view is facing the street corner.
Made a rushed sketch of the park elements just to remember where things are.
There are four fixed, curved benches could seat three to four people per bench.
This was the longest bench, but you could see how students have to stoop because there aren’t any tables, making the experience of reading a book uncomfortable.
Kids just seem to play with whatever infrastructure is available, which includes the fence. Also, cyclists have nowhere to lock their bikes on, and just left the bikes unguarded under the tent.
Beside the tents, right before the tricycle parking area, a covered yellow cart of recyclables is stationed. The area has trash, though there seem to be cleaning efforts based on the dustpan and garbage sacks hanging on the small fence.
San Roque - Use of Park - YouTube
From the video, we can also observe that:
Kids continue to use what they can play with, in this case, jumping to reach tent bars, while other kids continue to watch
Groups of people (youth, particularly) huddle together and dominate a certain bench for their use
There’s a nice, big paw shape at the center of the park
The concrete floor hasn’t been well-maintained, you can see some cracks, while paint on the floor and the benches has also faded
Gravel is used to fill up the paw, which makes walking on most of the park uninviting (and easier for playing kids to get wounds, should they fall on the floor)
Vegetation: There are four trees in the park area, and some shrubs that line the fences and school wall, but there is hardly any grass (wild grass pockets are visible)
There are two entrances to the park, one on N. Roxas, and one coming from the adjacent parking lot / waiting area
The side of the park has two big tents, and to its left (M.A. Roxas side), a tricycle TODA (local operations) desk and parked trikes cover the path to the sidewalk
Other thoughts from the observation, based on usual park activities, include:
If I wanted to eat a snack, I wouldn’t have a table to put my food on
There weren’t any trash cans nearby
The traffic beside the park was terrible, so honking cars and pollution really affect the space
I wouldn’t really stay for more than thirty minutes if I wanted to do some activities in the park (public spaces are supposed to be as comfortable as when you are at home), so chairs with backrests, tables, and play equipment / installations would improve the space
The Parking Area
For lack of a better name, the second space will be called “parking area” for the meantime, given how cars are parked in the space.
View from the corner between the Health Building and the Elementary School
Talk about dreams turned into reality—I’ve always wanted to visit New York City. Of course, Times Square, Central Park, and 5th Avenue are the biggest go-to’s for any tourist, but for urbanists, I guess there would be a natural pull because of the history and the evolution of the city. I mean, you would read about the city from its time as New Amsterdam to the financial might and power that built its pedestal economy—Rockefeller, JP Morgan, and all that—there’s the brilliance of Janette Sadik-Khan, and, well, there’s Jane Jacobs’ influence on the city (particularly her fierce battles on the public arena), and that’s pretty much what iconic really is for me.
I only had roughly two and a half days to go around the city, so I had to choose my destinations and streets well, pray that my legs and feet wouldn’t give way, and that my brain would do its best to become a sponge and absorb everything I could observe. This post will show how I planned my visit to make the touristy experience become more exciting for urban professionals. There are a lot of photos and videos, from Central Park to Jane Jacob’s house at Hudson Street, and my thoughts about the city here and there.
We took the subway from Queens and popped up right at the middle of Time Square–which is the best way to become overwhelmed. And when I say overwhelmed, I mean overwhelmed, like jaw-drop, stare, and pinch yourself type of overwhelmed. The lights and giant billboards, Broadway, the people going in all directions (it’s visited by at least 131 million people a year), and just being in the midst of midtown Manhattan were all ginormous to take in for the first time.
(I’d also naturally talk about “conscious cities” here, because of what they say about cognitive loads being too much for people’s mental health, but that’s for another post.)
You can see the entire Times Square from the Marriott. It’s so fascinating to see how Snøhetta transformed the place, especially the plaza area, to transform it into a people-friendly space. Read more at ny.curbed.com.
That’s me beaming and giggling, and trying to process the experience.
So you would think that one of the busiest cities in the world would have cars honking all the time (and yes, cars are still all over) but there are lovely spaces, such as these transformed streets, which simply used paint, moveable chairs and planter pots as buffers, for people to use.
NY Times Square 1 - YouTube
NY Times Square 2 - YouTube
Walking in NY 2 - YouTube
More than a lot of tourist destinations, I found the streets very fascinating, because you think of so many things while simply walking around–the streets had so much to offer. From murals, to city maps on every block, to Bikeshare, and to so much creativity, you would create a new, unique experience everyday.
I love how inviting many of the urban elements are; it just shows how the city really makes an effort to maximize their public spaces, which works.
Bikeshare is pretty big in New York City, where you just tap your credit card to be able to use a bike. Ride it around the city and park it at another Bikeshare stand when you’re done. Easy.
Here’s a refreshing, colorful mural that we passed, which encourages people to walk and to use the park.
Events on innovation, such as Smart Cities NY are promoted in public spaces (this is a bus stop), bringing awareness to city conversations.
Food stands are practically everywhere, and what’s good is that there are places to sit down, so people can take their time to eat.
Artists sell their creations in public spaces, and it takes just putting up tables and a few metal rods to hang some posters and paintings.
Walking in NY 3 - YouTube
Riding the subway was definitely a highlight, and the New York City Subway is a very big network. We had the opportunity going to and from Central and South Manhattan to Queens.
It was so much fun to follow this transit map! Source: MTA Website
The pictures below show how systematic the big network is, making it really easy to navigate and transfer to other subway lines and platforms. We only experienced getting lost twice (wrong exits, because we weren’t familiar with the streets at all) but no harm done, so the subway is something I recall fondly.
This pops out right to the intersection of 7th Ave/Broadway and Times Square.
I really liked this station. Central Park is featured on the tile wall.