Bonifacio Global City (BGC): By Leaps and Bounds

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From where I was, I could see that something was on the rise.

Near a clearing just outside a busy commercial area, the bones of an escalating development were jutting over cordons of tarpaulins and caution tapes. Around the area, ventures christened with superlative qualifiers like “the flagship,” “the only” and “the first-of-its-kind” were either being realized or enjoying the virtues of their intuitive realization. And nearly everywhere I turned, there was someone visibly satisfied—a boy on a casterboard swerving into an empty street, a man of measured gait casting a shadow over a spacious sidewalk, and a group of school girls pressing themselves into the frame of a phone steadied by a selfie stick.

I was along the 34th Street of Bonifacio Global City (BGC.) I was standing on a narrow platform soaring about 25 feet from the ground. Like most of the people who come here, I was there for three things: the novel, the thrilling and the gratifying. But while I could see a city capable of providing this, I was in BGC and I was required to do my part to get it. At that moment, this meant jumping off the ledge.

I dunked my hands into a bag of chalk powder, I reached for a bar suspended by heavy cables, arms quivering much to the amusement of the people behind me, and I leaped forward.

“How was that?” said Will Hsu, a man who met me after the fall. “That was crazy, right?”

“Crazy” seemed like a fair description. The sheer force of the initial acceleration practically undid any hope I had of restraining myself from making the slightest sound. It was this moment of powerlessness that I can remember frightening me the most. But fear, in this case, almost felt like the swinging of the bar I was holding on to: weakening to a state that was conquerable.

Soon enough, I began to hear clearly and acknowledge the commands being yelled at me from below: “hook your legs on the bar,” “let go of the bar,” “arc your back,” “reach for the bar” “unhook your legs” “kick forward” “let go.” And the more I forced myself through every move, the more satisfying it became to be up there.

The experience, to sum it up, was as expected: it was novel, it was thrilling, and as it was probably written on my face the moment I landed on a net below, laughing uncontrollably, gratifying. “That looked OK,” said Hsu.

Known as one of the many stakeholders at BGC, Hsu was responsible for spearheading Flying Trapeze Philippines, the first and only flying trapeze school in the country. Sitting on one of the monoblock chairs near his brainchild, he classified the venture as a byproduct of him “being selfish.” “I wanted to keep flying after I moved out here,” he said. “But since I couldn’t find a flying trapeze school anywhere nearby, I decided to put this up.”

Regardless of his reasons, however, the school, thanks partly to its novelty, has been gaining a lot of attention since it opened in July 2014. And for BGC, which now seeks to position itself as one of the top tourist destinations in Metro Manila, this is good news.

“We’ve been getting all kinds of people ever since we started,” he said. “Even 40 to 50 year olds.” He added that even people from Singapore and Hong Kong have come to BGC just to fly, a feat especially since Singapore continues to market itself as the place “to see where the world is headed” and Hong Kong is known for having a surfeit of recreational offerings.

“It’s been great,” he said. “Aside from the rain, I can’t really complain.” That afternoon, I was one of his students. And he imparted upon me quintessential tip to conquering the trapeze: “Just get over that first fall and it’ll be alright.”

In BGC, such a statement sounds familiar. “Walk and you will get there.” “Stray a little and surprise yourself.” “Do your part, and you will enjoy it.” These are just some of the directives I’ve encountered at least once during my visits in the area. And each seemed more than capable of summarizing the BGC experience.

A former military base established during the Philippine-American War in1901, BGC has evolved into an exceptional urbanized district dubbed as the “home of passionate minds.” And even on its slow days, the most immediate substantiation of its passion is enthusiasm. From the Market! Market! mall all the way to the Mind Museum, the district has a surplus of options in dining, retail, accommodations and recreation. It also boasts a plethora of added developments and initiatives that have made it a prime location within the capital region. But make no mistake – BGC, for all its enthusiasm to please all fronts, is not a place that spoils its people. Here, conveniences are no doubt copious, and choices are plentiful. But, more often than not, they can only be availed of by those willing to put in a measure of effort in availing of them.

Around Bonifacio High Street, for instance, the city supports the fitness endeavors of its citizens through parks like Track 30th. This area, flanking the commercial strip, comes with inventive and useful outdoor fixtures designed to inspire an active lifestyle. Of course, it should be of note that among the fitness installations is a line of recycled telephone poles, inclined and stacked together to form a sturdy multipurpose exercise equipment. As for its uses, that depends highly on the creativity of the user. As the plaque hammered onto one of the poles state, “Just let your imagination guide you.”

And then, there are the e-Beeps, environmentally friendly electronic vehicles exclusive to BGC. Since August 11 this year, the district every weekday, from 11:30am to 2:30pm, has used them to offers free rides to and from High Street. But in order for people to take advantage of them, they should learn to live with the strict routes and time frames of the e-Beeps. If it doesn’t stop exactly where they want it to, they’ll have to compensate. And compensation in this situation usually means walking through the remainder of the trip.

“BGC is very good at supporting an active lifestyle,” said Hsu. But, it appears that not everyone is happy about that.

According to Eli Yaneza, the Business Development, Property Planning and Office Leasing Manager for the Fort Bonifacio Development Corporation (FBDC), the entity responsible for the whole city, widespread pedestrianization, by virtue of its sustainability, is one of BGC’s primary goals. “Pedestrianization is sustainable,” she said. “You lessen pollution, you contribute to the health of the people around you and it promotes a healthy lifestyle.”

And the design of the city reflects that. It was built in such a way that the majority of its important developments are all concentrated within an area that can be explored from end to end “in no more than 20 minutes.” These included highly occupied corporate buildings, popular commercial centers, tourist attractions, and St. Luke’s Medical Center.

Meanwhile, the city is also known for having strict parking regulations. In BGC, it is a common sight to see something usually uncommon in many urban destinations in the Philippines: a popular establishment that is not fronted by a parking lot filled to the brim. This, of course, relates to another common sight in the district: people taking to their feet. And tongues have been wagging because of it. “People in the Philippines usually want to be able to park near where they want to go,” said Monica Llamas, the Art Program Manager for the Bonifacio Art Foundation Inc. (BAFI). “And there’s always a complaint about us not having parking.”

A common misconception, she called it. As we talked, Alveo Land went about its construction of the T park development which is expected to have 1,000 parking slots upon completion. This will serve to support the Parkade buildings, which were constructed to alleviate the parking woes around High Street, not to mention the other establishments and lots situated in strategic locations to serve the same purpose.

“There is parking,” said Llamas. “And to be honest, I just want to people to find the proper parking space, park their cars and walk.”

And Llamas, among others, has made it her personal mission to make sure that it ends up being a pleasant walk.

Soul Searching

During one of the nights I spent roaming BGC, I saw a man in a ring of spectators scaling a ladder twice as tall as he is; a mundane sight by most standards had it not been for the fact that the ladder was held upright by sheer balance. Later, I found a woman briskly fanning a hand over her guitar. “Well there’s nothing I can do,” she sang, her mezzo-soprano sailing through every note. “I only wanna be with you.” And at that moment, it seemed as though the crowd around her shared her sentiment. Much later, I ran into another musician, a boy with a guitar. Another song was being sung, and another crowd was forming around it. And by the time his scaled down version of Bob Dylan’s “Hurricane” dissolved into a faint buzz drowned by the engine of a nearby car, I checked the time and realized that it had been no more than 15 minutes since I started walking.

“When you walk, you discover many things,” Llamas told me. And for quite some time, it has been part of her job description to make sure such a statement rings true at least in this city. She is, after all, a quintessential figure in BAFI. And since its foundation back in 1997, the group has made significant strides to ensure that the arts enhance everyday life in BGC.

“When our art program started,” Llamas said, “the major thrust was to put sculptures and monuments around the city.” And now, 14 years since that goal was set, numerous sculptures and monuments anchor various locations in the city, and BGC, according to Llamas, is starting to “run out of spaces for monuments.” This, however, does not change BAFI’s objectives. And, in pursuit of this, it has set its sights more on “temporary to semi-permanent art.”

These include artists performing every night throughout High Street, courtesy of BGC Impromptu, the city’s way of giving free space for performance artists longing for a venue to showcase their craft. Then there are programs like the BGC Art Mart, which sells works by amateurs to independent artists at High Street. And of course, there are the public art works—murals scaling over walls and illustrations coating the city’s trash bins and transformer vaults. BGC may be running out of places for monuments, but it now has a lot of surfaces. And through BAFI, the potential of such surfaces and, by extension, local artists, are realized. “You know how during the ’20s people would flock to areas just to start their craft? Places like New York and Paris? To Filipinos, or at least to those in Manila, I feel like BGC is that kind of place.” The person who told me this was Angel Yulo, who at that time was working as a marketing officer at High Street’s Fully Booked, the largest and arguably most proactive branch of the bookstore in the country.

“In my opinion, BGC is that place you go to start your craft or find yourself,” she said.

This appears to be the recurring story in the city. Here, passion is given room to thrive and, as a result, things tend to give more than what they are initially expected to. Even BAFI goes beyond its initial mandate. After gaining approval from the Securities and Exchange Commission, the art group managed to expand its offering and develop the Mind Museum.

Located along 3rd Avenue, the Mind Museum is a comprehensive, engaging and downright amusing learning facility. On its first floor, the place showcases a collection of interconnected and technologically advanced galleries that touch upon the basics of science. On the second floor, meanwhile, human ingenuity is celebrated with exhibits that showcase science in action. And much like a number of features on the first floor, a great number of them are interactive. From a replica of the Gutenburg printing press, to the theoretical clothes people will be wearing should climate change take full effect, exhibits on the second floor allow scientific study to be more than a discussion of theories. It becomes fleshed-out, unintimidating, and far more attractive.

“Ninety percent of the exhibits that you see here are actually locally conceptualized, designed and fabricated,” said its Marketing Manager Trixie Tacardon. “It’s made by Filipinos for Filipinos.” But that doesn’t stop it from being recognized worldwide.

In April 2014, the place became the first museum in Asia to receive the Thea Award from the Themed Entertainment Association. This recognition is highly regarded as “the Academy Awards” of the themed entertainment industry. This, of course, is more good news for BGC as it seeks to tap a larger foreign market of tourists.

The Global Filipino

“When they developed this city,” said Tacardon, “the thought in mind was to go beyond the creation of a mere commercial and residential center.” It was developed to be a city that showcases the Filipino as global and modern, a liberation from the image that suffered through years of bad publicity and economic struggles.

“Usually, when the Philippines is portrayed abroad, it is usually portrayed as very rural, very crazy or very poor,” said Llamas. “We want to present something else.” And it does.

In the Aracama restaurant, for instance, Filipino food is embraced and refined. Its menu is an effective, though far from forceful introduction to regional Philippine cuisine. The restaurant’s founder, Chef Fernando Aracama, once said that “there’s nothing wrong with Filipino food” and he seeks to prove that with a menu that is inviting, clean, and at times even mildly cheeky. (It has a nacho dish topped with minced pork adobo called “Not Joe’s.” Go figure.)

Meanwhile, there’s Titan, which began in BGC. In the Philippines, basketball is more than just a game; it is a usually traffic causing, archipelago-unifying factor of life. And the local love for the sport is showcased by Titan which situated its flagship store along 30th Avenue. Combining a barbershop with a retail outlet selling some of the most internationally sought-out footwear available in the country, the real offering of Titan is a venue to engage like minds and inevitably rhapsodize about the game.

Speaking of games, traditional Filipino ones like piko and patintero also have a place in BGC. At Terra 28th, for example, sections of the park were designed specifically to host them amid modern playground fixtures and away from moving traffic. As said earlier, BGC does make great strides in support of an active lifestyle. But aside from that, it promotes a healthy one too.

In comes the Wholesome Table. Organic restaurants have been on the rise in the Philippines, and among the newest to join the fray is this aesthetically homey and operationally busy brainchild of former model Bianca Araneta Elizalde. As written on its placemats, the place has made it its mission, to “build a healthy food culture.” And it seeks to do so with an intriguing menu of properly sourced, well-prepared organic food.

“Properly sourced and wellprepared”— no matter how different the top dining establishments of BGC are, all of them seek to espouse these virtues. There are those that even go through great lengths to adhere to them. This includes the Perfect Pint.

As stated by one of its founders, Noel M. Tempongko, many people are not aware that aside from the large industrial beer manufacturers, there are a few local brewers that produce topnotch, “no shortcuts” quality beer. The place, located at the Crossroads Building, along 32nd Street, is the venue for them to showcase their craft. And BGC, according to Tempongko, is the perfect place to house such a venue.

“We listen to our kids,” he said. “BGC is placed right in the middle. It’s not too far out for the people coming from the north or the south.”

To others, it is also a prominent melting pot in Metro Manila. For years, BGC has served as the home of foreign embassies and the local head offices of numerous international companies. Because of this, the city’s regular crowd is a mix-raced throng that locally grown establishments and foreign concepts have sought to tap.

On the dining side of things, there are restaurants like Wolf & Fox Gastropub, Murray’s New Orleans and Va Bene Pasta Deli. Catering to the European nationals frequenting BGC, Wolf & Fox is a dual-sided gastropub that puts classical English dishes side by side with quirky New Age concoctions. Meanwhile, New Orleans brandishes the Big Easy’s hearty and unapologetically flavorful cuisine. As for Va Bene, the venture of Chef Massimo Veronesi, honest and thoroughly made Italian cuisine have allowed it to become one of the most celebrated Italian restaurants in Metro Manila.

On the retail side, meanwhile, BGC offers a host of brands that have made it a popular shopping destination in the capital region. For decorators with a strong inclination towards the warm and earthy Western aesthetics, Pottery Barn has set up shop at the Bonifacio High Street Central. In the same area, the elegantly urbane fashion of Dutch brand G-Star Raw and the luxuriously refined style of British retailer Karen Millen have also been made available. Naturally, BGC also offers some international choices for sporty consumers, and among them is the highly celebrated US brand Under Armour, which is known as “the originator of performance footwear, apparel and accessories.” The company’s BGC branch is Under Armour’s first-ever brand store in Southeast Asia.

En route to the future

“We have a range,” said Llamas. And from the affordable offerings of Market! Market! to the steeply priced choices at Bonifacio High Street Central, that range is sweeping. Speaking as someone who has lived in BGC for the last 10 years, she proudly stated that the city is a far cry from what it once was. And to think that it’s only around 30 percent developed. There is still so much in store.

In the works are establishments like the much-anticipated KidZania, a massive educational theme park franchised from Mexico; once it opens, it will unveil a miniature duplicate of a city that will allow kids to try out simulations of real-life jobs. Then there’s the Maybank Performing Arts Center which, according to Yaneza, will be “an ultra-flexible performing arts theater.” For Hsu, a longtime athlete and circus enthusiast, he hopes that the success of the Flying Trapeze would open doors to a full-fledged circus arts school. And, should that push through, the concept will be yet another novel idea in BGC. But what else is new?

“The great thing about BGC is that it is run by people with good foresight,” he said. The bad news is: those people actually know that there’s still a long way to go. Its current design, for instance, with its numerous open spaces and select parking locations, make it a far more difficult place to explore during the rainy seasons, a problem that the city’s development unit will try to alleviate in the future.

Then there’s the question of BGC’s image. Known throughout the country for its uniquely refined surroundings and its pricey attractions, BGC has developed the unintended image that it is a place only for the “rich and the snooty.” Llamas, Yaneza and Tacardon all hope that economical offerings of the city, like the free public art performances of Impromptu and the discounted rates the Mind Museum gives to public school students, will help in dispelling that misconception.

“People should also take the time to get to know the city before passing judgment,” said Llamas. “We don’t barricade our walls. You don’t need a sticker to get in. There is so much here that’s free for everyone to enjoy.”

Of a broader concern is the future of BGC’s identity. Currently, the city is in between Makati and Taguig and, for years, it has found itself at the center of a territorial dispute between the two cities.

The dispute, according to Rappler, started when both President Corazon Aquino, in 1992, and President Fidel Ramos, in 1993, ordered the development of the former military camp’s portions. In the said orders, certain areas, including the land of BGC, are part of the municipality of Taguig. This came despite the fact that previous presidential proclamations placed these areas under the jurisdiction of Makati. In August 5, 2013, the 6th Division of the Appeals Court favored Makati’s claim. Currently, the case may still be appealed by Taguig. All things considered, however, the managers of BGC remain impartial. “We don’t really mind how it turns out,” said Yaneza. “We have good relations with both Taguig and Makati.”

Right now, an even bigger concern for her is the capacity of the city to open a bikesharing program to improve in-city accessibility. “People are demanding it,” she said, but not without stating that there is still a need to make a program that is systematic with the whole city.

“The reason why we’re delaying it is because we have to make it comprehensive,” she said. “People need to be a little more patient. This is still a developing city. In the next few years, I’m sure that people will begin to really appreciate the master plan.”

Again, people need to do their part for such is the story of BGC. It is a place that offers much. And on the intersection of Rizal Drive, Third Avenue and 26th Street, such abundance is depicted in Ferdinand R. Cacnio’s popular sculpture, “Pasasalamat.” Here, a large net is filled to the brim with fishes, much to the delight and gratitude of the two sculpted fishermen flanking it.

“That is our story,” said Tacardon as we passed by it en route to the Mind Museum. But the full story is, these fishermen were not just being thankful, they were lifting the net themselves, arms stretched to bear the full weight of the blessing. They were doing their part.

And if people are to fully appreciate BGC, they should do theirs as well.

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