Sustainability tours, scenic views: Massachusetts as a classroom

As a throwback to my professional fellowship exactly a year ago, I’m continuing a post about Massachusetts which I drafted in June last year–I just never got to upload it. I wouldn’t want the memories to go unwritten, so here’s the last fellowship diary I made.

Our last two weeks in Northampton were just the right mix of studying about sustainability and taking time off for leisure. Joe took us to the University of Massachusetts, which was a learning tour all by itself. 


UMass-Amherst Sustainability Tour

The South College Building, the Design Building, Permaculture Garden, Climate Science, Geology, and the Beneski Museum of Natural History

We went to the planning office first. I really liked how UMass has a green program for its different departments. Here’s a certification for their progress.


We met the director, who told us about green initiatives, from clean energy smoothie making to the reuse of old dorm furniture and equipment to eliminate waste. 

We also went to the South College, which has a couple of cool sustainable features, listed here. They also have a manual

It’s really awesome how systemized the features of the building are, from waste disposal to lights to air systems. Below is the Interior Atrium of the South College.


We passed by the Old Chapel, below, which is used for student events. While walking down this street, they told us how all the trees within the campus are labeled, each with individual QR codes. 


(Below are some photos under the bridge with solar panels going to the Design Building, but I’ll get to that later.)



Aaand, here’s the Design Building! Almost all (if not all) the features have ecosystem services and multi-use functions, from downspouts recycling water to go into the gardens, to tracking the solar output from the installed panels of the campus, to the many uses of their many rooms.

This is the lobby, which also serves as an events or lecture area (like an amphitheater).



We also went to the roof, where we learned about water retention basins. The collected water keeps the garden green. The pattern on the materials used also help with the management of heat and solar flare, as explained in the video below.



You could see some of the thousands of solar panels installed on campus from the laboratories of the Design Building. 


Here’s where they track the solar panel energy generation and use. A summary of the installed panels are here while the real-time monitoring may be found here. The panels have greatly reduced the CO2 emissions of the university.


This permaculture garden below used to be a parking space. It’s located near the canteen, so herbs that are grown on the patches are harvested and directly thrown into dishes served by the kitchen.


If you zoom closely into the next diagram, you’ll see how UMass made their public spaces utilize a natural ventilation system.


After lunch (at a very enticing canteen), we went to the Beneski Museum of Natural History, to learn more about DINOSAURS. ❤ 


(Yup, we strolled through the museum, which took us 500 million years ago!)


The different cabinets with all the labels and information was pure fascination. These fossils made me reflect how small humanity is in the timeline of natural history, we’ve just been here a few millennia, and the world has been living for millions of years. (Yeah, I know that as a fact, it’s just, seeing all the evidence makes you ponder on your life. That effect.) 


After the dino treat, we visited the Climate System Research Center, then the Geology laboratories. 


Look at the bioluminescence. Just lovely.


If we had forever, I would’ve stayed to read all the labels and compare the different formation and textures. 


The quartz sample was one of my favorites. 



Sugarloaf Mountain and Connecticut River

Joe took us to the most breathtaking views in our entire fellowship journey, and that was all the way up Sugarloaf Mountain to see the majestic Connecticut River. (In the video, that’s just us driving up, and talking about Georgie, Joe’s lovable dog.)

And I thought it only existed in postcards. This is a 360 of the Connecticut River, and everything that surrounded Sugarloaf.


I panned the iPhone too fast, but there’s a small field on the other side of the river where the farmer “draws” on his field, so from the satellite you can see an image. 

That’s the viewing deck at the summit.



Bridge of Flowers at Shelburne Falls

One of the prettiest space transformations Joe showed us was the Bridge of Flowers at Shelburne Falls. It was once a trolley bridge, but is now a garden with all the beautiful blooms. 



Play this video to see the lovely path. =) Fai and I love stopping to take photos of flowers and plants (and Joe makes us taste leaves), so this was pretty much the combo. Haha. (Kidding, we only did that in the woods.)

Aww, our photos really turn up the nostalgia.


This little bloom is called the lady slipper. Can you see why?



Salmon Lake

Salmon Lake is in a trail used by the Native Americans. Such a beautiful landscape. ❤ 



Those are called glacial potholes. They are created because of the force of the whirlpool, which grinds smaller stones around and around, making the potholes. They formed during the glacial age or period. They used to be able to go down and enjoy the surface, but now it’s only for sightseeing.



Chapel Brook

What I miss a lot about the fellowship was getting to visit these hidden wonders on the trails outdoors. This is Chapel Brook, in Ashfield. 




Berkshire Mountain Resort

At the end of our fellowship, Joe brought us to Berkshire, where we went atop another mountain, but this time, with a cable car. 


It’s the end of the fellowship, and in the video below, you can hear Joe telling our host the basics of why Fai and I were in the US. (Over, and over again, for every meeting.) And I was just documenting the slope up, and swinging my legs back and forth. 

The cable car has its recreational skiing functions, but what’s sustainable about their operations is that the resort is powered by a wind turbine, making their energy entirely renewable. We trod up the mountain to check out the turbine and their solar panel installations. 


We saw a white-tailed doe when we came up, but she was too quick! I wasn’t able to take her picture, but she was lovely.


Final Presentation

On our last day, Fai and I presented our fellowship summary to the planning council, and this was aired on the YouTube channel of Northampton, which, I will say, is the way to make council meetings transparent and on record. Something the PH can learn to improve on.

Anyway, Fai and I gave brief country introductions to the PH and TH, summarized our learnings, told them about our community challenges, and how we would use the fellowship upon coming back to our home countries.

Joe brought us apple cider to celebrate the end of the fellowship, and also coffee beans to bring home. (Always so thoughtful ❤ ) We also had a drink with Wayne before we left for the airport the next day. Below is a crest of Northampton they gave us to remember the place by.

Advocating for environmental planning in the PH

The first half of the year has been a whirlwind of work on strengthening environmental planning in the country. Just thought I’d make a diary entry on all the events, which have been very educational and meaningful to me.

The academe

One of my advocacies is getting more and more students to take up urban studies. Through the PIEP’s collaboration with NCCA on ArkiCamp: Architecture and the Allied Arts, which brought the PIEP, UAP, and PIID to different universities, we were able to teach the basics of environmental planning to architecture students.

PIEP National and PIEP – Davao at the University of Mindanao, where EnP Mia Quimpo and I gave the talk on Planning 101. After the talk, we taught students community planning through an afternoon workshop.
We had very competitive students in Davao! Their outputs on public spaces were really good. ❤ See the slideshow below:

After Davao City, I went to Bacolod to join EnP Jocelyn Gongob of the Negros Oriental Chapter and teach at La Consolacion College leg of ArkiCamp.

I noticed how many students perceive planning as something that’s done on a blank slate, making existing cities a problem in how they view urbanization. Some also thought that capital-intensive, masterplanned cities are only for rich localities. A few Q&A points we had are:

  • No, we don’t need blank slates or tabula rasa to do planning. We plan where the people are, in existing cities. 
  • Conversion (from agriculture to other uses) reflects the values of our communities, our government, and our planners. 
  • Planning is not only for cities that are rich. There are simple ways to create innovative solutions. We can undertake placemaking and tap local knowledge for solutions that are more accessible to our citizens.
  • Planning is not just the built-up environment. Again, it’s about how people live, and how we shape our environments, both built-up and natural. The ideal is we integrate.
NCCA, the academic community of La Consolacion, PIEP, and other professional groups.

Outside of ArkiCamp, I also joined ArkiNet of the University of Santo Tomas, as a Pecha Kucha speaker during their Manila Architecture Festival. The archi students were really kind to tour me around their many exhibits. I also got to connect with my friend Brandon Ang, who came to the Pecha Kucha.

Onstage at the grounds, emphasizing how our perception of public spaces leads to how we shape our cities. Watch my presentation here. Start at 00:59:58.
Let me just insert this here. That’s Bran, in white. This was the ReColor Workshop for Yuchengco, Binondo, Manila. Bran organized the placemaking learning session for these high school students.

Closer to home was being a panelist for Mr. Benjamin de la Pena’s talk, the intriguingly titled Ultraelectromagnetic Urbanism: Talking Cities and Transportation. I learned so much about how values are translated into our environment, and how we should tackle transportation and mobility in our cities.

I had to travel fourteen hours by bus from Tuguegarao City to get to SURP for the talk, and it took me two paracetamol tablets to get going, but it was definitely worth the learning experience. It was also fun to reconnect with Julia Nebrija and Jedd Ugay, my co-panelists during the event.

Continuing Professional Education

CPE is required for licensed professionals here in the Philippines, and this year, I was able to deliver my second CPE learning session, thanks to PIEP Negros Oriental. EnP Joy Gongob invited me to their chapter, where I gave a talk on Public Spaces and How We Can Shape Them.

It was my first time to visit Dumaguete City, and their public spaces really amazed me. The Burgos Promenade is a closed street, which helps with pedestrianization, the Quezon Park was a thoroughly used open, green space, and the Rizal Boulevard was just one long stretch to walk or bike on. Walking around the small city prompted me to give a rapid analysis of their public spaces for my CPE session.

Board exam reviews

The reviews, the reviews.

These really took up most of my time these past months because of so much travel requirements, and speaking for a whole day is really tiring. 2019 also marks my fourth year teaching for the boards. But nevertheless, sharing one’s learnings and gathering perspective from aspiring planners give an incomparable feeling–there’s no better way to strengthen the advocacy of capacitation on environmental planning for our many localities.

I’m thankful to the PIEP for inviting me to do the lecture on development history, urban growth theories, urban history, planning concepts, and principles for different chapters. Aside from the fact that it’s my favorite subject, I also pushed for a collaboration between the Northern Luzon Chapter and UP Plano. Here are a few photos of the review series:

UP Plano, Ortigas
Northern Luzon – Baguio City
Despite the exhaustion from travel, this is what keeps me going. Messages like these are for keeps. ❤
Northern Luzon – La Union
With Ar-EnP Jun Rillera, the one-man team and president of the NL Chapter, EnP Cid Jacobo, EnP Rory Caguimbal, and Ar-EnP Ralph Sotoridona, my co-speakers and buddies from UP PLANO
Northern Luzon – Regional Review. I wasn’t able to track everyone who came, but the attendance count was between 100-120, from all these areas (which schooled me on geography): Abra, Apayao, Talugtug, Bangued, Santa Fe, Itogon, Tabuk, Alaminos, Aguinaldo, San Guillermo, Quezon, Tanudan, Baguio, Divilacan, Bontoc, Calintaan, Magalang, Urdaneta, Santa Rosa, Santiago, Bolinao, San Miguel, Burgos, San Fernando, Tagudin, Bayambang, Santiago, Porac, Talugtug, Pantabangan, Magsingal, Hermosa Bataan, San Isidro, Vigan, Nueva Ecija, Kamias, and Diffun Quirino. + Makati + Bulacan + Romblon who came all the way north
PIEP National review, at UAP HQ, Quezon City
PIEP Cebu, for the coaching session. Below are the hardworking, dedicated ladies of the Cebu Chapter, and then there’s the whole review group

Aside from PIEP and PLANO, I also got to teach for URBAN, the review group of EnP Justin Victor dela Cruz. Below was our session at the Asian Institute of Management Conference Center.

URBAN review – AIM, Makati City
This heartwarming message was from last year. I met the sender during our National Conference in Iloilo (unfortunately, I had a severe headache and couldn’t chat more with him), but sir, your e-mail is something I revisit when I need inspiration. 🙂

Planning with women, planning with babies

The lighter part of advocating for better public spaces in cities and planning is when you get to do fun things, like these two events below.

The US Embassy Manila asked select US-PH exchange alumni to contribute to a youth leadership and mentoring video. I teamed up with my pro-fellow batchmate and BFF Yowee Gonzales to talk about women empowerment in urban planning and disaster resilience.

Behind the scenes of the shoot. I talked Jane Jacobs, Yowee talked Michelle Obama. 😉 We love our icons.

And who would imagine I’d relate placemaking with babies? Pampers invited me to talk about public spaces and placemaking for one of their promo events, where I discussed the benefits of galaw-friendly spaces. Yup, that’s mobility right there, women’s roles in cities (as moms), and how you connect urban planning with moms and babies. Some elements women planners should put on the table: Lighting for safety, clean public toilets, lactation stations, wide open spaces for toddlers’ motor skills development, and friendly environments. So much fun doing the research for this event.

Yup, the baby from the Pampers promo materials is real! And he’s too cute. =)


I actually prayed about being the Lord’s instrument and a better steward for the places we live in, so maybe this is how He answers–maybe that’s why I got through all of the work these past months. I’m thankful.

That’s it for now, and let’s see where the next half of the year brings me.

The conflicting nature and tradeoffs of planning: The case of the flooded trail

Walking the streets–or Northampton’s case, its trails–is when a person learns about the environment. We took a pre-lunch walk with Joe along the Smith College Trail, which runs right beside the Mill River.

We were also left with a few lessons on the reality of what planning work entails because of an eroded part of the trail. This is a micro-level example of something that planners have to deal with, but it’s a fascinating case for me all the same, because of the public-private interplay on land. It was also a good case for my buddy Fai, who is an environmental engineer working on phytoremediation. Let’s take a closer look.


About the trail

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The red line shows the entirety of the Smith College trail. (Take note of the terrain elevations.)

Continue reading “The conflicting nature and tradeoffs of planning: The case of the flooded trail”

Living buildings, green infrastructure, and the collective effort for sustainable cities

It’s been a roller coaster of a ride, going to Whately, Amherst, Williamsburg, Hampshire, Holyoke, and all the places where we can learn so much about sustainability, so here’s a rather loaded post on what we’ve learned here in the beautiful area of the Pioneer Valley in the past two weeks.   We got to study and immerse ourselves in places that tackle medicinal meadows to breathing buildings, from fish elevators and carbon-free cities to spiritual environmentalism.

Let’s start with Whately.

Continue reading “Living buildings, green infrastructure, and the collective effort for sustainable cities”

Living with landscapes

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After the Local Solutions Climate Conference in Manchester, I realised how impactful our perspective of landscapes can be. Solutions don’t always have to be about concrete, there are so many ways where we can use nature’s given solution to improve our cities. Here’s a write-up where I shared the learnings: Click to read the full article.

As always, thank you, Philippine Daily Inquirer. And to YSEALI and ICMA for the opportunity to attend the conference.