The pandemic has been traumatic for everyone, and we’ve all struggled to cope. There have been some pluses, though, one of which is that many of us have found the time, finally, to wade through our tsundoku pile.
Tsundoku is the Japanese term for the practice of buying books, then allowing these to go unread.
Here’s a list of 10 books I’ve read recently that I recommend for those with an interest in architectural heritage, our urban problems and the quality of our lives in Metro Manila and other cities in this chaotic country of ours:
ByFernando N. Zialcita and Erik Akpedonu, with Victor Venida
This book is the first in a courageous series devoted to documenting Manila’s threatened architectural heritage. This volume covers the central area of Manila with key structures in Intramuros, Binondo, San Nicolas and Tondo.
Zialcita and Akpedonu present civic, private and ecclesiastical buildings of note from historical, architectural, as well as sociological contexts. Venida provides essays on the economics of heritage to give readers additional perspective. Future volumes will cover districts north and south of this central core.
Simbahan: An Illustrated Guide to 50 of the Philippines’ Must-Visit Catholic Churches
Text by Regalado Trota Jose and illustrations by Allan Jay Quesada
This book is a must-have for those who love our ecclesiastical heritage as well as the fine art of watercolor illustration. UST archivist and professor Regalado Trota Jose takes us on an informative and inspirational tour of the country’s most-visited churches.
The churches are mostly from the Spanish colonial period, with some from the mid-20th century, like the Chapel of St. Joseph the Worker in Victorias, Negros, and the Baclaran Church. The illustrations by Allan Jay Quesada, an architect by profession, are luminous. The book is a feast for the eyes and the soul.
Metro Manila: My City, My Home
By Nathaniel Von Eisiedel (2019, Assure Inc.)
This is the story of Metro Manila as told by its head city planner in the two dramatic decades of the ’70s and ’80s.
Nathaniel “Dinky” Einsiedel was Commissioner for Planning of the Metro Manila Commission (the forerunner of today’s MMDA). Dinky was one of the youngest of the “best and the brightest” technocrats drawn to government service. This included Onofre D. Corpuz, Jimmy Laya and Gerry Sicat.
He put together the physical plans and systems necessary to manage a metropolis that had grown to 17 local government units by the 1970s. These plans made sense and were based on data, extensive planning studies and consultation.
Unfortunately, all this preparation was lost post-People Power Revolution. They threw the baby out with the bathwater (with the neutering of the MMC into the MMDA), even though the Aquino administration recognized Einsiedel’s expertise and kept him on till 1990. Many lessons can still be learned from what was planned, although not fully implemented, in that era.
By Jarrett Walker (2011, Island Press)
Traffic is the number-one issue for most Metro Manilans, although the actual problem is our lack of a comprehensive transport system that does not focus only on cars.
Walker makes a clear case for this and provides an overview of public transport planning in language simple enough for ordinary folk to understand, yet thorough enough to satisfy even those (such as myself) in the fields of city planning and urban design.
I wish all government officials would read this book. It gives everyone the same language to use that would, no doubt, lead to more meaningful discussions for policy, as well as actual action.
Manila, City of Islands by Edwin Wise; Sensing Manila by Gary C. Devilles, Making Sense of the City edited by Remmon E. Barbaza, Neoliberalizing Spaces in the Philippines by Arnisson Andre Ortega; A Capital City at the Margins by Ateneo-based history professor Michael D. Pante
I bought the first four books as a bundle from the Ateneo de Manila Press early in the pandemic and read them as a series since they dealt with the same subject—Metro Manila — but from slightly different points of view — sociological, anthropological, critical theory, and geographical.
The first three books are great reads, but a tad on the academic side. I found Pante’s book most appealing since he covered material I delved into when I was in grad school eons ago. He presents Quezon City’s evolution as the country’s capital but not from a traditional point of view. Pante presents the city as defined by its margins, or boundaries, over the seven decades or so of its existence.
Quezon City served as a transition between Manila and what was for about half a decade a peri-urban expanse that only historically recently filled out, but not as originally intended.
I’ve always been of the opinion that Quezon City was an unfinished project and will probably endure as such because of the nature of current urban change.
The Patchwork City: Class, Space, and Politics in Metro Manila
By Marco Z. Garrido, University of Chicago Press
Garrido’s book looks at the geopolitical pattern of Metro Manila’s fragmented reality of enclaves of the rich surrounded by informal settlements. He exposes this as a narrative of class relations and politics. The juxtaposition of rich and poor enclaves creates the tension that defines the metropolis, a situation that needs to be understood if we are to find a way to build more equitable cities in the Philippines.
I only managed to reduce my tsundoku by about two books a month since last March. I blame this on too many Zoom meetings and Netflix. I’ll give another list or two in succeeding articles.