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A river always runs through it: Waterways as conduits for movement

For this SESH, the guest speaker, Mr Leandro Poco discussed urban heritage through urbanism on a macro scale via the concept of hydraulic cities, specifically waterways and rivers, and how they were and remain to be conduits for movement. He started by giving a brief history using the example of European waterways and through various studies and research, how the same can be said in the Southeast Asian context. These maritime routes not only served as means to expand their empires and colonies but also as very important trade routes. He then gave similar examples of waterways in Southeast Asia, how they remain to be integral to the city, as a means of transportation and hence, conduits for movement.

Using the Philippines as a prime example, particularly the historic Pasig River and the walled city of Intramuros, he further discussed how historical urbanism and its subsequent effects shaped the capital city of Manila today. He shared his research findings on applying the space syntax concept in colonial Manila, how Intramuros and Binondo’s Chinatown which was the first established Chnatown in the world thrived and developed as well as the isolationist policies of the Spaniards towards the Sangleys and the indigenous population from the colonial centre. His findings also showed that during the colonial period in Manila, Binondo was actually the real centre of the city rather than Intramuros as recorded and taught in history. This debunks the usual notion that the educated and elite are what drives cities and civilizations, as his studies proved that the traders and those excluded from society are the real drivers. Using space syntax to unearth more information, his studies proved that waterways were not just conduits for movement but also of commercial activities.

Mr Poco also gave a brief introduction to the concept of Space Syntax, how it cuts through disciplines and how it provides empirical evidence to the “story behind the stories”. He also cited the example of how space syntax was used in Archaeological sites such as Teotihuacan in Mexico and how these cannot be found in history books and its application proved connectivities and natural movement, and how this leads to civilization progress and development.

He then synthesized his presentation by presenting how European development and its subsequent colonization of Asia applied these concepts and thus shaped the development of their colonial empires. But based on historical data using Space Syntax, the fringes proved to be the lifeblood and driver of the economy in these colonial periods and have survived the times, as can be gleaned in the Binondo Chinatown in Manila and how it continues to drive Manila’s economy to this day. Moving forward, how will Manila evolve and cope in maintaining its hydraulic history? Will it continue to be car-centric? Or will it be able to rationalize its infrastructure and thus pave the way for gentrification of spaces?

If you have watched or joined the live broadcast of this SPAFA SESH, please complete the questionnaire (approximately 3 to 5 minutes) to help us improve future SPAFA SESHes: https://bit.ly/EvaluationForm_Ariverrunthroughit

Date: 12 October 2022

Time: 2 p.m. (Bangkok time)

Online Platform: Facebook Live https://www.facebook.com/seameo.spafa/ and on *Zoom. * (https://bit.ly/SPAFA-SESH-Registration-A-river-always-runs-through-it)


Cities and civilizations have always been centered around bodies of water; thus great cities were always built around and along these waterways. Riverside, seaside and beach front properties and communities remain to be valuable land parcels in most major cities. But as the saying goes, there are always exceptions to the rule.

Mr Leandro Poco will speak on urban heritage through the concept of historical urbanism. Using the city of Manila as an example, he will discuss how present-day Manila’s sprawling urban communities have largely strayed away from waterside communities that the city was built upon. He will also touch on the planned infrastructure developments along the historic Pasig River and its implications for the city’s historical roots and consequent future directions and developments.

Guest Speaker: Mr Leandro Poco, Architect and Environmental Planner, completed his MSc Space Syntax: Architecture and Cities degree at University College London’s Bartlett Faculty of the Built Environment. He previously completed his MA in Urban Design at the National University of Singapore in 2008. He is a Philippine registered Architect and Environmental Planner with over 17 years of combined Planning and Architectural practice experience in both Manila and Singapore. He is a Partner with Leonardo A. Poco & Associates, Architects, and has a keen interest in Metro Manila’s historical urbanism. He believes that evidence-based planning and design are key in improving Metro Manila’s dystopia and addressing her residents’ discontents.

Moderator: Ms Michelle Laurice Aguas, SEAMEO SPAFA Programme Officer

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