18 May 2007

A new stab at town and gown partnership

My column for this week's issue of Vox Bikol.

NAGA has seen its own fill of foreign visitors, a good number of which went to City Hall to learn about some of its innovative programs. At the outset, having worked closely with the Naga City Visitors Center in attending to these events, I thought the ongoing Naga City Studio Course will pretty much be an extended version of these previous visits.

How wrong I was! Two days into the course, I now have a clearer idea why this six-unit course under the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning (SCARP) master’s degree program on urban planning is probably the best thing that ever happened to the city planning staff and the academic community in Naga.

Dr. Leonora Angeles, a Bulakenya who is now a full-tenured UBC associate professor, has assembled a 20-person multidisciplinary team of graduate students from Canada, the US, England, China and Mexico who joined to course to see Naga’s participatory governance up close.

In this endeavor, we are also working closely with the Ateneo de Naga University, through its Center for Local Governance (CLG) headed by Dr. Malu Barcillano and her girl Friday, Michelle Ciudadano, who put together a handful of Ateneo graduate and college student volunteers who will serve as local guides for their UBC counterparts.

From the city government’s end, we also have this year’s corps of incumbent city youth officials (CYOs) headed by City Youth Mayor Nhel Russelle Monroy, who will guide the visiting students through Naga’s bureaucratic maze in search of data required for team’s action research.

The logic is simple and compelling.

When Vice Mayor Gabby Bordado and I visited Vancouver in November 2006 and spoke about Naga, we already outlined what we believed are the long-term development challenges of the city. During our courtesy call on Mayor Robredo last Wednesday, the team had to chance to validate and refine them.

Yesterday, under Nora’s hands-on supervision, the team was organized according to the six broad challenges that the mayor outlined -- education, transport planning and land use, social housing, investment promotion, urban agriculture and youth development planning. Each group then translated those development challenges into research questions that will guide their investigation over the next three weeks.

Comprising of the UBC graduate students, Ateneo student volunteers, the CYOs and the city’s own planning staff, each thematic group will have to complete their research by end of May, and refine them by the start of June in preparation for public group presentations towards the end of the first week.

All interested stakeholders -- particularly key informants and the local academia -- will be invited to attend the presentations, together with concerned city officials and staff from both the executive and the legislative.

What do we expect from this unique initiative? One, a fresh take on what can Naga further do to improve its current development programs, strategies and practices. Two, an opportunity to bring different cultures together and continue their dialog, at the group or individual levels, beyond the duration of the course. And three, to jumpstart a stronger town and gown partnership in Naga, starting with but not limited to the Ateneo and UBC, to maximize their respective strengths and institutional capabilities.

Because at the end of the day, Naga’s sustainability can be secured by strong local academic institutions that will not only speak truth to power, but will make sure that truth matters: by working with local authorities in constantly looking for creative solutions to society’s long-standing problems.


Anonymous said...

So what happened to Robredo mayoral? Is Robredo disqualified after all because his grandparents were not Filipinos?

Willy B. Prilles, Jr. said...

The losing Kampi candidates have been mounting legal obstacles to the proclamation since I wrote this.

Team Naga's supporters massed at City Hall this morning to press the canvassing, and I heard their down to the last 16 election returns.

If that is the trend, proclamation might happen tomorrow.