Suggestions for a city I love

Giorgio Guglielmino - The Philippine Star

It is not easy and indeed a very delicate issue to try to give suggestions to a city that is not mine in a country that is not mine. The risk is to be told “Who do you think you are?” or “How dare you? What do you know about a reality that is not yours?”

Who do I think I am? Well, I think I am... a person who has a special affection for Manila and precisely because of this feeling of mine, I dare to propose some suggestions to make Manila even more attractive and pleasant. May I?

A few days ago, I went on a day trip to Naples. It was a beautiful and sunny day and I found myself walking in the street of the old part of the city which is commonly known as Spaccanapoli (literally it means splitting Naples), a long pedestrian street in the very heart of the city. The street is full of small shops, stalls, patisseries, cafés. All sorts of merchandise is sold. Walking along such a lively and pleasant street and seeing how many tourists were fascinated by the vitality of that place, I instinctively said to myself, “But why can’t Intramuros become a similar place? A sort of ‘Spaccamanila’?” It would be an area where – maybe with the help of government incentives and low rents – a whole sort of shops and small businesses, spaces for artists, specialty food shops, etc. could find space. Not the big chains, but small artisan and family businesses all concentrated in one street. A sort of even wider Cubao Expo. A meeting place in the city, for locals as well as for tourists, who would love such an amazing space.

As many of you know, art is my passion. In a difficult time to organize fairs (Art Fair Philippines has been postponed for now to May) it might be worth thinking of alternatives to present a large number of works of art on a single occasion. Also because in the world of art – I am not referring to Manila, but in general in the world – a certain tiredness is emerging for the format of the fairs. Traditional fairs, even the most prestigious such as Art Basel and Frieze – show some difficulty in renewing themselves and collectors are no longer so eager to be present at all costs at the pre-previews reserved for mega-buyers.

Last fall, instead of going to Art Basel, which for the occasion had been postponed from June to September, I decided to go to Germany for the Berlin Gallery Weekend.  And it was a very happy choice. What is it about? All the galleries in the city decide to open exhibitions on the same day and they keep the spaces open for the entire days of Saturday and Sunday. Same thing for the main museums. A shuttle service allows you to move easily around the city, passing from one gallery to a museum to another gallery. So next time, instead of an organized fair, why not do a “Manila Gallery Weekend” instead?

Those who had the good fortune to visit New York were certainly struck by the so-called High Line, a pedestrian walkway raised above the ground built on part of the structure of an existing elevated subway no longer in use. More than two kilometers long, the High Line is now a real park suspended over the city where flowers, benches and outdoor sculptures alternate.

What a dream to imagine such a park suspended above Manila! Not on an already existing structure and maybe not that long, but how nice it would be to have a pedestrian elevated road where families could walk quietly. It would be a futuristic project that perhaps would be criticized because it is without a specific direct purpose – that is, it would not decrease traffic – but how nice to be able to walk in Manila almost in the sky!

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Giorgio Guglielmino is a former ambassador of Italy to the Philippines.

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