By any standard the City of Baguio, summer capital of the Philippines, famous as a health resort comparable to Simla and other hill stations in South and East Asia, is one of the best of its kind in the world.
Baguio did not emerge as a product of the earth, although it was hewn from the surrounding hills. No peasant settlement grew up, expanded and involuted into an urban community. The city itself was not a creature of evolution; it was built. It was not the result of gradual growth; it was enacted into existence. It was not organic; it was planned.
It is evident that neither the agrarian theory of a city, which explains the emergence of a polis from an original peasant settlement, nor the cellular theory, which postulates city growth as the product of a mitotic process, nor the Darwinian theory, which rests on the survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence applies to Baguio.
The medieval theories of cities so excellently presented by Lewis Mumford, hardly apply to the City of Pines that is Baguio. No crossroads, road forks, river fords, religious objects of pilgrimage, castles, bridges, and markets existed at the present site of Baguio to attract people to come and live together. Not even the much sought neighboring gold mines contributed to its conception.
The transportation theory offers accessibility as the main cause of city building. Was Baguio a transport hub which forms the crossroads to somewhere? By no means, except for some narrow and precarious Igorot foot trails, Baguio was inaccessible. There were no waterways, no dirt roads for the convenience of travellers.
There are those who see in Baguio a hill station, a counterpart of Simla. Simla, a town in Punjab, India, located at an elevation of 8 to 10 thousand feet, was used as a rest area for wearied troops after the Gurkha War in 1815-1816. For 99 years (1840-1939) the town served as the summer residence of the viceroy and the staff of the Indian and the Punjab governments. After World War II, it became the permanent headquarters of many official establishments.
Baguio is different, it is neither a hill station for troops nor a government center. There were, to be sure, commandancias politico-militar, which were essentially headquarters or vanguards of hispanic penetration into the savage wilderness but they were located elsewhere.
The genesis of Baguio was socially deterministic -- legislated by human design. If "cities arise out of man's social needs," it was, with respect to Baguio, initially to fill the pressing needs of the American colonizers. They needed a place of escape from the heat of the lowlands, especially in the hot season, a haven and refuge for the invalidated.
The Americans searched in vain in the south for a place that looked like a piece of America, for some elevated plateau 10,000 feet from sea level. In the Visayan islands none was found to have a cool atmosphere, and an open and sufficiently elevated table-land or plateau. Mindanao, in spite of the missionaries, the Jesuits especially who made geographical and other studies here, was still terra incognita. Mount Apo was found to be "covered with densest vegetation and, apart from its inaccessibility, wholly unsuited for a health resort."
On the other hand, the province of Benguet, only 177 miles in linear distance from Manila, the Philippines capital, had been explored by Spaniards and was found to have mountain valleys as well as a healthy, invigorating cool climate. Besides, the natives of the province were known to be peaceful and not inclined to warlike disposition. Thus, Benguet was chosen as the site for a future city that was to be Baguio.
It may be recalled that by 1892 Frederick Turner lamented the exhaustion of the American frontier, indicating the end of an era of expansion and social and economic progress for the United States. By 1894, Captain Alfred Mahan of the American navy was preaching the need for American expansion overseas not only to establish the United States as a world power but also to promote and protect the interests of American business and industry. This would mean extraterritoriality, an extension of the American frontier overseas.
When the Yankees planted the American flag on Philippine soil, the latter became part of the American frontier, receiving all the needed improvisations and innovations which were already familiar to the Americans in the "Wild West". When Baguio was being built, William Cameron Forbes, builder of that city, made the following confirmatory statement: "We have an American frontier here."
Baguio was conceived at a time when America was at the height of its "City Beautiful Movement" (1880-1910). It was the age "in which the businessman made his greatest contribution to American culture and the government followed his lead." It was the era in which "architect-planners" dominated. The commission to build and rebuild the city was their reward and their initiative for improvement was supported by business and professional groups.
The greatest rewards went to Daniel H. Burnham, then "the most prominent of all architect-planners" of international repute. His plans for the Chicago World's Fair in 1893 marked the beginning of city planning in America. He was commissioned to make plans for many major American cities among which were Washington and San Francisco, as well as Manila and Baguio in the Philippines. His triumphs arose from his achievement of three desirable conditions - unity of plan, unity of architecture, and magnitude, plus a collaboration among all the arts.
Burnham believed in two kinds of architectural beauty: "first, that of an individual building; and second that of an orderly and fitting arrangement of many buildings". He was convinced that "the relationship of all buildings is more important than anything else."
Burnham's plan, in general, was unusual for its magnitude. He did not restrict his plan to the city confines alone but carried it sweepingly to the region beyond. The highways, parks, playground, railroads, forest, and bathing areas were not overlooked. Finally, he dramatized the architectural effect achievable in skillful planning. "At the center, he wanted low buildings dominated by the high dome of the City Hall; tall buildings would form the outer rim."
It is said that the playground is an American idea. It was born in America and there it developed rapidly. It is further claimed that no other country has utilized the playground as an educational and social force as the Americans have. In the Chicago Plan of Burnham, he "treat(ed) the city as a unit and provid(ed) for generations of growth. Michigan Avenue, along the lake front, forms the basis, while at the intersection of South Halsted and West Congress Streets a civic centre is designed like the Place de la Concorde in Paris ... The parkway will be separated from the mainland by lagoons, to be used for boating, rowing and pleasure craft."
Anyone who knows Chicago should be able to see in Baguio the Burnham magic touch. If he stands on the steps of the city hall building in Baguio today and looks around, periscoping the landscape, he will be reminded of BUrnham's magnificent plan of the "City Beautiful".