Arts & Culture, Environment

Sustainable Communities: What’s art got to do with it?

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Nina Terol for MUNI
Photo c/o @ninaterol on Instagram

“Sustainability” seems like such a big scientific word, but when I think of sustainable communities I end up thinking of some tangible everyday things, such as being able to walk on sidewalks without: (a) getting hit by a careening bus; (b) falling into a flooded manhole; (c) getting cancer in 10 years; or (d) all of the above. I think of green spaces, of parks and bike lanes, of plants and trees, of play spaces for children and pets (both of which I don’t have, but which some of you may).

I also think of proper garbage collection and waste segregation, of reusing rainwater and harnessing solar energy (or any renewable form of energy), of a pollution-free, flood-free, traffic-less (if not traffic-free) space where people and nature co-exist in orchestral harmony.

Now, what’s art got to do with all that?

I’ve been mulling over this question for some time now, because of what seems to me to be an inextricable link between artists, artisans, designers, and creatives and the sustainable world that they’re working to re-create.

The foremost example that comes to mind is Viva Manila, the urban renewal program in Manila jump-started by thespian-tour guide Carlos Celdran and urban planner Julia  Nebrija, among others. Aside from the popular Intramuros tours, Viva Manila has been introducing neighborhood walks around Malate, the Pasyal Sunday at Intramuros, and it also supports other initiatives such as the Saturday Future Market at Escolta. Through these activities and events, participants get a better appreciation of what it means to be in a walkable city, why it’s important to preserve local arts, culture, and architecture, the role of history in a place’s future, and why it’s important for citizens to ‘co-own’ the communities they live in. Of course, Manila is hardly the ideal city—but that’s also why sustainability issues become even more glaring.

Other communities come to mind, such as Rock Drilon’s ArtBike events, which gathers cycling enthusiasts for a day of cycling around Metro Manila’s museums and galleries. Beyond mixing arts and sports, it introduces the fact that bicycles ARE good alternatives to cars and to Metro Manila’s screwed-up public transportation system.

There’s also Maker’s Market organized by Craft MNL, which—more than a great bazaar with cool finds—is an avenue to support local artisans, creatives, and entrepreneurs. It invites us to pause from our tech-obsessed lives and reconnect with the analog, the handmade, and the homegrown.

There’s also Good Food Community, which brings vegetables from Benguet and Tarlac closer to urbanites through a convenient delivery and pick-up system. It’s not rocket science, but it’s a creative way to get people to eat natural, local veggies while supporting local farmers.

And, of course, there’s MUNI PH, where like-minded folks like us are given creative avenues to incorporate mindful, sustainable choices into our everyday lives through campaigns or projects like MUNI Market DayMUNI Meetups, among other informative, collaborative community events.

Now that sustainability issues are becoming more urgent given the state of our planet, and given the burgeoning support for all forms of creative entrepreneurship, there are some questions that I hope to unlock together with this community:

  • What is the role of arts and culture (and of artists and “culture curators”) in developing sustainable communities?
  • Are there other examples (aside from the ones stated above) we can cite and learn from in Metro Manila and in other parts of the Philippines?
  • What can we—as ordinary citizens—do to build a “critical mass” of such movements and communities that will soon tip the scale over to more sustainable ways of living, doing, and being?

Big questions, but the answers just may be around the corner. 🙂

* * *

Disclosure: I hope to use the discussions here as a jump-off point for my presentation at the International Symposium on Megacities in Kolkata, India in November 2015. Got other ideas? Buzz me on Twitter at @ninaterol or let’s meet at the Muni Meet-Up! 🙂

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Leave a comment with your thoughts, and join the conversation at the MUNI Meetup on August 9.]

Niña Terol (@ninaterol) is a “communicator, connector, idea curator, and changemaker” who traverses the worlds of art, culture, travel, business, policy, social media, journalism, and many others in between. She has been published in CNN Travel and Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia, among many other publications, and is a regular contributor for


  • i read this somewhere quoted ” Artists are the first people who will know if there’s something wrong in their society.” The great thing about all these movements today in Manila is that it gives out an “hey its possible!” attitude both from artists, to non-art practitioner, from enthusiasts and most especially to curious people. Its a gateway that can still be developed to help these curious people push to THINK more and DO more. It has to be something that is not just a hype or instant influx for them. They have to know that they CAN too, that this is something not just for the people who they see on their social media news feeds,that they can create and make too, that they are part of the movement. It’ll be a long haul before we accumulate that critical mass, these curious people preferred food on their plate and to live another day. But if we make movements available and closer to their reach, it’ll be a step to create the critical mass needed.


    • Great comment, Sab! 🙂 I think it really is important to have an avenue to facilitate open discussions with the dreamers and doers in these creative communities. Would love to get the chance to meet you at the upcoming MUNI Meetup! See you there, yeah? 🙂


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