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Good reads for 2022

By PAULO ALCAZAREN, The Philippine STAR Published Jan 17, 2022 5:00 am

Last week, I recommended 10 books for your reading list in 2022. Here’s another ten to add to that list. These are a mix of relatively new publications, as well as some older ones. The subject matter of my reading has always been related to urban design and urban histories, but I include two books of fiction that I found helpful in dealing with the pandemic.

Let’s start with two books closest to what I’ve been writing about in The STAR. These are Cities and Nationhood, and American Colonization and the City Beautiful. Both are written by Ian Morley, a professor of history at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His area of scholarship has been urban planning history in Asia.

Despite being from a commonwealth country and therefore more acquainted with former British colonies like Hong Kong and Singapore, Prof. Morley took an interest in Manila and the Philippines. His two books are a comprehensive planning history of Manila and Philippine urban centers spotlighting the American colonial and Commonwealth periods.

Prof. Morley presents the influence of the City Beautiful movement as a template for the physical development of Philippine towns and cities starting with Daniel Burnham’s master plan for Manila and Baguio. He does highlight the extensive contributions of many Filipinos—like pensionado architects Juan Arellano and Tomas Mapua—in shaping our urban environment.

The two books are a great read even if you are not academically inclined. I went through the two books quite quickly as I had used a lot of the same source material in my own short-lived academic career years ago.

For those who’ve followed my column, some of the material will be familiar, but now set in a much more complete context that, in my opinion, is a great contribution to Philippine planning historiography.

The next two books are related to Morley’s in terms of urban setting and some of its historical framework. These are Carmen Guerrero Nakpil’s Myself, Elsewhere, and Legends and Adventures. These are interwoven with CGN’s colorful life and even more colorful setting of pre- and post-war Manila, specifically the arrabal (suburb) of Ermita.

I grew up on CGN’s essays. She was the first essayist I read as a kid in the 1960s, because of her popular column in the Sunday Times Magazine. Though I did not take to writing till my 40s, I believe her style influenced my own (not that I could hold a candle to her erudite handling of everything under the sun).

One of her pieces on Chicago and Manila’s common planning origins (care of Daniel Burnham) helped put me on the path to my professional career in city planning.

The next recommended book fits into the chronological continuum of the four books above. Arsenio H. Lacson of Manila by Amador F. Brioso Jr. (edited by Krip Yuson) tells the story of the colorful post-war Manila Mayor and his numerous battles on the political front.

Lacson was essentially the sheriff of Wild Wild Manila in the 1950s. He was able, through his confrontational style, to rein in the city and institute reforms as well as build or plan needed infrastructure. He was going to make a run for president before his untimely death in 1962. Current Manila Mayor Yorme appears to have taken several pages from Lacson’s playbook.

From the 1960s we go to the fascinating ’80s and a reprint of a best seller of the era: The History of the Burgis by Mariel N. Francisco and Fe Maria C. Arriola. Published by Gilda Cordero Fernando’s GCF Books in 1987, I ordered this eighth printing edition last year.

The term “burgis” is now being introduced to a generation who never uses it but who nevertheless are part of it. (I asked my 18-year-old and he was familiar with bourgeoisie as a social concept but not burgis.) Although published in the ’80s, the book covers the history of the Burgis from the Spanish Colonial Era, through to the American, Interwar, and post-war years. This is a must-read for all Filipino generations to appreciate how far, or not far, we’ve evolved socially.

The next two books are on planning and transport but written for laymen. Street Fight by Janette Sadik-Khan and Making Transit Fun by Darrin Nordahl are must-reads for anyone wanting to understand how we can fix Metro Manila.

Sadik-Khan was transport head of New York City a decade ago and she is famous for putting in bike lanes and recovering open space for pedestrians. Nordahl explains that we need to de-stigmatize public transport by making the experience more comfortable and user friendly. If I could, I’d send these two books to all the mayors in the country.

My final two books on the list are The Martian and Hail Mary by Andy Weir. They are the only books of fiction that I read last year (95% of my reading is non-fiction).

The Martian was a hit movie a few years back. I’ve re-watched it maybe five times since the pandemic started. It resonated because it shows how you can survive an existential challenge in isolation (and with disco music). I read that many preferred the book and ordered this online. The book is better, especially if you’re a science, space and tech nerd.

My brother gifted me with Wier’s follow-up book Hail Mary, which is as much fun and also involves survival. This time it’s the whole human race in jeopardy from a space-based anomaly involving the sun and climate change.

Both books give one the perspective that we can survive if we focus on the science, data and strategy of fixing one thing at a time, so we can build up our successes and see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Here’s hoping these books will see you through, until that light at the end of the tunnel gets brighter.