City Beautiful

By Art Sta Ana


We’ve all heard the clichés about this mountain resort city in the North. It’s the summer capital of the Philippines, The City of Pines, The Strawberry Mine, The Home of the Barrel Man, The Pine Cone Paradise. The city is rich in history, dating back to its American colonial past, and has become a favorite for tourists for its cool weather, fresh fruits, and vegetables cultivated through the mountain’s perfect climate, and architecture that’s regal and colonial in many ways that feels like a whole different country on its own.

Underneath the glitz and glamour of the more touristy attractions, however, is a deep history of creativity, which can even be traced to our pre-colonial past. The proud people of the North has looked to the skies and the ground for the very meaning and essence of life, and this is expressed through centuries of wood carving, weaving, metal craft and tattoo artistry that has an undeniable Benguet flavor. It has always remained steadfast and proud, despite the lack of recognition in the recent decades, unwilling to give up its authenticity to the demands of commercialism. A resurgence is in the horizon for Baguio creativity, however, as it is now proudly designated as a UNESCO Creative City.

A City of the Future

It all started when University of the Philippines -Baguio chancellor Raymundo Rovillos  and the other members of the Baguio Creative Council attended an ASEAN conference on creative cities in May 2017. They were encouraged to apply to become part of the network because of what they saw as a great potential to showcase what the City of Pines can offer to the rest of the creative world. Because of a deadline looming, the team worked fast and submitted a proposal in just a month. And by October, it was made official.

This declaration, though, was not for any immediate funding or for recognition of what has already been done by the city. The premise of being a part of the UNESCO Creative City Network is that a promise can be made that creativity can be a strategic factor in sustainability and poverty alleviation. Cooperation between the member cities is seen by making the arts an important driver of sustainable economic development.

“Baguio has shown that it can make creativity and arts bleed into livability, connecting to the other concerns of urban development like poverty alleviation, traffic, garbage management, and other such issues that plague other rapidly developing cities,” said Chancellor Rovillos. “As a UNESCO Creative City, the first in the Philippines and only the fifth in Southeast Asia, Baguio is seen to be a model city of the future, where sustainability and craft melt into one beautiful urban state.”

Launch of the UNESCO Creative City declaration

The Creative Baguio Hub, an exhibition that ran in February of 2018, served as the first activity of this creative movement and the official launch of the declaration. A result of rigid brainstorming, the hub that was set up inside Malcolm Square at the edge of famed Session Road was done through the brilliance of award winning designer Architect Aristotle Go. Highlighted by a pavilion in the middle surrounded by open-concept booths, the concepts of connectivity and openness were communicated through disparate parts that form a whole. The official Baguio Creative City logo, designed by BenCab himself, was unveiled then, all while representatives of the different creative industries of Baguio occupied the booths to show what Baguio creativity is truly about. Diversity, plurality, and openness to change are, after all, key components of creativity, a central theme that will revolve in future activities of the Baguio Creative City Council, such as the planned revival of the old Baguio Creative Festival and a permanent eco-creative parkinside the Botanical Garden.

“This is only our first step,” said Baguio City Mayor Mauricio Domogan, who was on hand to oversee the ceremonies. “Our ability to have launched this event is a sign of our commitment towards a Creative Baguio City.”

Looking towards activities where capability building, design training, and infrastructure development are priorities, it is quite rhythmical that the past is somehow catching up to this Mountain city. Baguio’s declaration as a UNESCO Creative City is a poetic exclamation point to the “City Beautiful” vision of the city’s original designer Daniel Burnham, one that brings about a much overdue renaissance of Northern Luzon artistry.