Meet Leah Dela Rosa, PhD, Newton Fund Institutional Links Grant awardee.

Research topic: Eco-social surveying: Mapping social assets, urban greenery and the connections between them in rapidly changing cities
Host institution / UK university: University of Reading
Home institution: University of Santo Tomas
February 2020

What is the relevance of your research to the Philippines’ economic development and/or social welfare?

The project focused on mapping freely available eco-social assets (tangible and intangible) and green infrastructure. The term ‘green infrastructure’ has shifted over the years to include a social dimension in recognition of the key role connectivity plays in the social ecosystems of the city (Benedict & McMahon, 2002; Tzoulas et al., 2007). Reading and Santa Rosa are both ‘small cities’ – a neglected area of urban research (Bell & Jayne, 2009). 

Research is needed to document and articulate the impact of change and to support policy makers and other stakeholders to make decisions that favour sustainability and wellbeing. Santa Rosa (2015 population 353,767,) and Reading (2011 population 313,014) are both ‘small cities’ in the process of rapid transformation. This project utilised knowledge exchange across the two institutions to develop planning policy guidance that will preserve and enhance eco-social assets in these two very different contexts. 

We focused on recording and preserving the freely available social assets – meeting places, market places, community halls, playgrounds, public open spaces and urban greenery (planned and unplanned). These have a particularly strong impact on the wellbeing of low-income groups, but can quickly be overrun in situations of rapid urbanisation and change, or be destroyed through extreme weather. We used participatory design techniques to map social assets and urban greenery – eco-social assets – in two small cities, exploring the connections in between. We also assessed and identified particular types of eco-social assets distinctive to the two cities through comparative analyses. Through these, we highlighted the unique qualities of ‘place’ in either environment which is important for identity as cities become more homogenous. 

Our eco-social asset mapping exercises in Reading and Santa Rosa recorded assets for posterity and will form the basis of recommendations for future inclusive placemaking. Participatory design processes, the importance and complexity of which is widely recognised (Mansuri & Rao, 2013), were used to elicit responses to the developing maps from all sectors of society.

The spatial mapping of social assets that consider stakeholder experience will become increasingly important as urban space is increasingly managed through digital models that carry data. If methods are not developed to map social assets, these vitally important aspects of urban experience will be left out of management models for urban space excluding the lived experience of people at the bottom rungs of society.

How will your UK collaboration contribute to your home institution’s research goals?

The mission of the UST Research Center for Culture, Arts and Humanities (RCCAH) is to produce new knowledge in Filipino culture, arts and humanities through emergent research that locates our nation’s identity and consciousness in a transnational imaginary manner and within a burgeoning technology-propelled public sphere.

The RCCAH is working dynamically towards contributing to UST’s efforts to becoming a research university. It addresses local and global concerns for cultural diversity, cultural difference, gender difference, inclusive growth, multiple literacies and changing mindscapes that converge with cyber-technological systems and the contemporary climate for life-processes and thought-formations that they inhabit and/or construct. 

As a classical university, UST adheres to the formation of the human being steeped in Catholic and Thomistic value of faith through reason. This requires grounding in philosophy, literature, religion and the arts. This core value should find application in the research efforts of the faculties in the various disciplines engaged in humanistic education.

Our research collaboration with the University of Reading contributes and helps to realise the mission of UST and the vision of RCCAH. In doing the research, we apply these core values as we engage the community of Santa Rosa, Laguna.

What about the UK influenced your decision to collaborate with your partner institution?

The University of Santo Tomas (UST) in the Philippines and the University of Reading (UoR) in the UK, are already linked through a joint PhD programme. This collaboration addresses the Newton Agham priority area of ‘Future Cities’, focusing on Santa Rosa in the Philippines, site of the new UST campus and Reading in the UK. ‘Future Cities’ focuses on finding solutions to the challenges and maximising the opportunities posed by the rapid urbanisation by supporting the development of physical and virtual infrastructure and better understanding of human impact.

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