How our cities inspire creative souls

(Alex is a veteran lifestyle journalist who has either worked for or contributed to some of the country’s leading broadsheets. He’s the current features editor of both PeopleAsia and PeopleAsia Enclaves magazines.)

When the casual observer says that the city of Taguig, particularly the area that now makes up Bonifacio Global City (BGC), is fast becoming another Makati —most likely referring to the financial capital’s highly developed Central Business District or CBD — such a general comparison could only mean both good and bad.

Good because, over the years, Makati’s CBD, including the numerous condominiums and gated villages within or around it, has become the country’s benchmark on how a truly global city should be run, from its clean, well-lit avenues and shaded, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks, to its strict zoning laws that require developers to allot enough parking lots and open spaces for parks and various recreational facilities. What took Makati’s CBD decades to do, BGC, whose development started much, much later, is doing within a matter of years.

But, as in all good things, there’s always a flip side to all this development. Like every major city in the world, Makati CBD and its inhabitants aren’t impervious to the ills of modern-day living. Traffic and pollution in BGC has yet to reach Makati levels, but the former, which some now dub as the country’s “second financial capital,” is getting there, no small thanks to the rapid, jaw-dropping pace of its development.

So what draws people to either Makati or BGC/Taguig in the first place? Put another way, what did they see and later on experience in these two places that made them decide to invest their hard-earned money in these cities?

“I moved to Makati straight out of my parents’ home in 1987, a year after graduating from college,” said former model Myrza Sison, now the editorial director of Summit Media. She was barely 19 then but had been entertaining thoughts of living on her own in the “New York of the Philippines” as far back as she could remember.

Summit Publishing editorial director Myrza Sison: “I moved to Makati straight out of my parents’ home in 1987, a year after graduating from college,” says the former model. She was barely 19 then, but had been entertaining thoughts of living on her own in the “New York of the Philippines” as far back as she could remember.

After a few months of working as an entry-level programmer with a monthly salary of P2,200 at SGV & Co., Myrza was able to save enough money to move into a room in a house along J. Victor Street near what was then known as Pasong Tamo Ave.

“I shared a room with a nurse and a secretary,” she continued. “I paid the owner P300 a month and slept on a bunk bed. My mother almost had a heart attack when she saw where I lived. But I was young, independent and living in Makati. I loved every minute of it.”

Back then, Myrza’s hangouts included the then much smaller Glorietta (together with the now defunct Quad), Greenbelt 1 (there were no Greenbelt 2, 3, 4 and 5 yet), The Aviary, North Mall and Park Square.

“How could I not want to be part of it all? The attractions may have changed through the years, but the feeling [I have for them] has not,” she exclaimed.

On a practical note, when she later became a model, and Malate and several Bay Area hotels were the epicenter of Philippine fashion, Myrza found Makati’s central location convenient. Although she has moved eight times within the city in the last 32 years, the thought of moving elsewhere, even after calling Mandaluyong her place of work, never occurred to her.

“The pockets of green in Makati’s urban jungle offer refuge from stress and urban chaos,” she shared. “They also rejuvenate the senses and recharge the brain cells. Running and working out at the Ayala Triangle Gardens and Legazpi Park, something I haven’t done in a long while, used to be part of my morning routine. During weekends when Legazpi and Salcedo Parks become markets, the interesting variety of food and wares sold there, together with the buzz and energy that come from the people they attract can only provide creative stimuli and a trove of ideas and inspiration for my work.”

And for someone who likes to write, think and chat with friends as well as get “emergency energy jolts,” Myrza finds  Makati’s numerous coffee houses such as Local Edition, Toby’s Estate and Curator indispensable. Since cool, new neighborhood restaurants are “mushrooming in every enclave and even back streets,” Myrza and her husband’s dining choices are constantly changing and multiplying.

“Secret bars with creative bartenders like The Blind Pig and EXIT preceded similar ones that opened elsewhere in the city,” she said. “Special mention must go to the Museum Café, where I met the owner and my now-husband Andrej Wisniewski in 2004.”

The restaurant-slash-bar adjacent to the Ayala Museum may no longer be around, but during its 15-year run, it became a second home not only to Myrza, but also to countless others who work and live in the area. Its bright, airy interiors and superb food made it a favorite meeting venue for members of Corporate Makati as well as many a freelancer’s “coffice.”

“I could spend all day long there — eating, working, chatting — and never want to leave. In fact, I once spent eight hours there with my late best friend JR Isaac from brunch to dinner,” Myrza shared.

As a creative person herself, Apples Aberin, veteran model, PR executive for a multinational firm and a lifestyle columnist for this paper, also values “open spaces juxtaposed with a mini concrete jungle.” She also likes the convenience of being near her place of work as well as the range of dining, entertainment and fitness options that are now mostly within walking distance. The former Makati resident has found all this and more six years ago when she moved to BGC.

PR executive and model Apples Aberin: Making the move from Makati to BGC six years ago, Apples says, “It’s the fact that stillness is actually possible in a busy place that gets me recharged and inspired.”

“I like both (cities) for different reasons,” Apples clarified. “BGC feels like a safe, modern hub that provides almost anything you would need on a day-to-day basis. The place is clean and generally green and it feels like there’s room to breathe and just be. Makati is turning out to be more diverse with CBD as its core and places like Poblacion, which is more hip.”

With a commanding view of Makati Golf, her current home has become a font of inspiration for Apples. She also enjoys occasionally meeting up with friends at Manila House and walking around BGC at night, specifically near Shangri-La and Central Square, without being too mindful of her safety.

“It’s the fact that stillness is actually possible in a busy place gets me recharged and inspired,” she concluded.

Legendary lifestyle photographer Jun de Leon has been shooting some of the country’s highest-paid actors and models, the most memorable magazine covers and coffee-table books. A professional through and through — he’s known for leaving a shoot when the subject is late, whether it’s a model or a famous actress or both — Jun was just as strict when he began looking for a new home.

Lifestyle photographer Jun de Leon: The pilates enthusiast and underwater photographer has lived in BGC for the past 15 years. “It has lush gardens, there’s no littering and it’s a no-smoking zone, there’s tight security, theaters with director’s chair and there’s an overflow of art pieces.”

For the past 15 years, Jun and his family have been living in BGC, a place that he finds practical because “everything I need is within walking distance.”

He also loves how clean and green it is. “It has lush gardens, there’s no littering and it’s a no-smoking zone, there’s tight security, theaters with director’s chair and there’s an overflow of art pieces.”

Eating out in BGC is a cinch and he cited some of his favorites out of the “more than 300 restaurants in the city. My favorites include ramen places like Ippudo, Nagi Ramen and Mendokoro. It also has the best schools, a beautiful church, Santi’s deli, the best sourdough bread at Lartizan’s, best tea place TWG, preventive clinic Life Science with affordable hyperbaric chamber, and Kinesis workout, the best Stott’s pilates studio by Mindful Movement of Vivian Zapanta, Celebrity Plaza for my resistance training, best coffee places like % Coffee and Malongo.”

Now also an underwater photographer whose attention to the smallest of details is incomparable, it’s a huge complement to the place when Jun said, “BGC is simply the best in everything.”

Chef, artist, writer and designer Claude Tayag is based in his Bale Dutung home in Angeles City with his wife Mary Ann, but the couple are often in Manila, an average of two nights a week. They have a “halfway house” in BGC, which they purchased in 2004 and have had since 2009, when their son Nico was in his third year at St. Benilde and so he stayed there for close to two years.

Chef, artist and writer Claude Tayag: He and his wife Mary Ann have a “halfway home” at Fairways Tower, which became a permanent home for a year during his wife’s treatment at St. Luke’s. “Buying the unit was providential.”

Their one-bedroom unit at the Fairways Tower came quite serendipitously, according to Claude. “It was still pre-selling then. I was delivering a sculptural table base and a wall sculpture to One McKinley Place; the pieces were commissioned by interior designer Tina Periquet who was going to use them in the lobby. Truth to tell, it was my first time to set foot in the whole of BGC. Upon seeing the condominium, I was quite impressed by its design, its high standard and quality of execution. I learned it was the first real estate venture of Joey Concepcion. And he had another one in the offing, Fairways Tower, whose prospective brochure I received. BGC’s peace and quiet, expansive area and lots of open space and fresh air were also major attractions.”

At the time, Claude had the lifestyle store ABOUT Design in Greenbelt 3. “Mary Ann and I often found ourselves staying in hotels along Arnaiz St. or Makati Avenue. We’d stay when we had to attend social events or some hotel food promotion we had to review for the STAR.”

Claude said he liked that the pre-selling price was more affordable compared to the ones being offered in Makati, plus the size of 52 sqm. for a one-bedroom unit was just right for their family of three.

“Its location was a major plus, too — at the corner of 5th Avenue and McKinley Road. As for the unit itself, I chose one on the ninth floor (being my lucky number as the ninth of 12 children,) and its orientation facing Manila Golf Club.”

Claude added, “And then two years ago the big C struck Mary Ann. Luckily, St. Luke’s Hospital BGC is just five to 10 minutes by car. Our Fairways unit became our home close to a year due to her chemo treatment and radiology. She says, in hindsight, buying the unit was providential. St. Luke’s BGC deserves special mention. It’s probably the only hospital in the world that I look forward going to.”

Claude said that he is inspired by BGC’s “security and tranquility, and the peace and quiet once you’re inside your unit. In the one year we stayed there during Mary Ann’s treatment, I brought with me my laptop and watercolor set, painting on the dining table. On her good days, we’d go up the penthouse for her to catch the morning sun while I’d do my laps in the pool. Or walk in the ‘greenway’ along the Manila Golf fence.”

Jason Buensalido, principal architect at Buensalido+Associates, grew up in the south while his interior designer wife Nikki Boncan Buensalido grew up in Makati. For their first home together, they chose an enclave in Taguig where they have been living for the past seven years.

Architect Jason Buensalido and interior designer-wife Nikki Boncan Buensalido with their daughter Annika: Living in a Taguig enclave, the young family makes BGC their playground. “It’s the creative vibe of BGC that resonates with me,” Jason says. “There is a strong sense of freedom for creativity and expression that is felt in the city.”

Their home is a mere three kilometers from BGC and Jason said that “it’s the creative vibe of BGC that resonates with me. There is a strong sense of freedom for creativity and expression that is felt in the city. One would often see groups of cosplayers walking around in their otherworldly costumes, light-saber fanatics wielding their neon swords in the dark creating a hypnotizing pattern of light, dance groups synchronizing their moves, or as simple as regular netizens posing for a picture for their next post. The city was planned to have generous and strategically located public spaces interspersed throughout the city, encouraging people to spend time outdoors and connect with others.”

With their daughter Annika, the couple enjoys the “influx of independent yet highly artisanal brands that often have a strong sense of meaning and purpose; social and environmental responsibility is a given to these establishments, resonating even more to the xennials, millenials, and gen Zs.”

Jason added, “My wife and I run Buensalido + Architects, an architectural design laboratory whose offices are in Makati. We wanted to be central so that we could easily be accessible to our clients. Taguig is one of the cities that is close to our office. Since we are often involved with the development of the urban environment, I learn a lot from the development of BGC every day.

“Freedom is important in the process of creating, without preconceived notions and judgment. The sense of newness could be translated as opportunity — a blank slate that allows us creatives to think of endless possibilities.”

Jason said that the “unconventialities” in BGC such as creative graffiti on walls, costume-clad groups and experimental art are opportunities for them to teach Annika the importance of the basic fact that people have different backgrounds and have different ways of doing things, and that “we should not judge other people just because their ways are different from the ways of the world or your own ways. Respect and understanding must replace judgment. As long as you’re not breaking any laws, not hurting other people, and honoring God in one’s non-conformity, we teach her that it’s ok. It’s ok to be a little quirky. Idea exchange is central to creativity. Since people feel freer in the atmosphere that BGC provides, real and unadulterated conversations are possible, which often lead to creative excellence and authenticity.”