Malambot na lungsod

For most of 2015 I lived in the Philippines. For the final 5 months of that time I lived in Quezon City, Manila. Manila is a complex place and I don’t even know where to begin with analysing the urban planning history there.

I was having a cursory search and read this piece: What Is Wrong with Urban Planning in Metro Manila?. I liked how the tone immediately hit me as a familiar kind of pinoy frustration with the historical and current rate of development in the Philippines. This quote sums it up nicely, especially since it is framed in the the perceived (and very real) lack of political will

If Metro Manila’s urban planning were the computer game SimCity, the player—which will be our political leaders, no less—has done (and is doing) an abysmal job. Mass transit stations were built close to exclusive gated communities and huge military camps, the residents of which don’t even take public transport. Roads and parking spaces unable to keep up with the ever-increasing number of vehicles. Infrastructure incapable of handling—let alone mitigating the effects—natural calamities. And an army of low-income residents pushed into the corners of the metropolis, toiling and forever priced out of the housing market.”

The piece continues on to propose urban renewal as the solution, citing New York’s Meatpacking District and Singapore’s Clarke Quay as successful examples. Other than traffic, other issues stated are government focus, car-centred planning, and the lack of resilience of the built environment. All unsurprising complaints, with fairly standard answers given. However, just from my short time living there I know these issues are of a scale not faced in other locations. Manila is a ‘mega city’ (+10 million, for Manila more like 13 million) in a region with huge rates of rural-to-urban migration and an already unacceptably large informal settler population. The figure is wildly estimated across a broad range from source to source, nonetheless remaining large in all cases. I have heard from an NGO which works with informal settlers that around 40% of Manila’s population is living in informal settlements. On the other hand, most mainstream media sources seem to have a figure of around 2.8 million. Either way, the number is large and if some of the pressure from increased urban in-migration isn’t eased through social housing and urban renewable that figure seems likely to rise.

Pinoys are aware of this issue; in 2012 Rappler published a great article on ‘Manila’s biggest challenge‘. Already many (~25%) informal settlers live in danger zones, such as railroad tracks, garbage dumps, canals, rivers and creeks. The effects of climate change only exacerbating the risks associated with living in these areas. Efforts to relocate informal settlers have be mostly unsuccessful in their aims and often damaging to the populations they are supposed to be helping. Many relocations are out of the city, leaving few job opportunities and an unconsidered total lack of services nearby. In these cases informal settlers return to the city to earn enough to survive, or to pay back the crippling debt they have been put into to pay back their new housing.

I’m not normally one for praying, but I can understand it in the face of such an insurmountable wicked urban planning problem.



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