LESS MALLS (SM HYPERMARTS ENOUGH!), LESS CAR PARKS, MORE SIDEWALKS, MORE TRAINS, MORE PLAZAS and PARKS.
Upon reaching home earlier today, I was soaking wet. Extremely wet. Well, of course, anyone would get wet when one is commuting while it’s raining cats and dogs, be it in Quezon City, Hong Kong or Rome. But what makes things more frustrating here in this part of the world is that our stressful Metro Manila is already becoming a difficult city to live in, a virtual time-bomb waiting to explode. Why did I get wet when my commute was a fairly easy and sophisticated one (Walk to LRT Katipunan-LRT-Walk)?
One, there were no sidewalks. Katipunan Avenue is a bane to pedestrians because there are virtually no sidewalks! People who walk along that busy thoroughfare have to risk life and limb because they have to walk ON the avenue, alert for cars speeding through the highway and also cars backing out of parking spaces. In other places, cars are parked parallel sidewalks NOT ON sidewalks!
In fact, that is the first insight we must have when analyzing the metropolis. Metro Manila is becoming home to more and more car owners/users but it has also become a place very much concerned for cars. Since the 80s, the trend was to please the car owner and his/her car — plazas, which used to be places for children to have their first steps, where communities mingled, have been turned into large car parks. The arcades of buildings outside the Araneta Center in Cubao as well as in Avenida Rizal in Manila, which used to be the shaded corridors that connected shops, have become parking spaces. Suddenly, the pedestrian is not the concern for city planners.
And this is the problem with this urban planning paradigm aka the LA urban plan. The metro has placed premium on wide, space-consuming highways/freeways and rising fly-overs that there is a need to use vehicles — cars, taxis, jeeps, buses and those ubiquitous tricycles.
Sadly, this only promotes some form of social injustice and stratification. The relationship between city dwellers become highly differentiated. The relationships range from “private car owner vs commuter”, “car vs jeep”, “car vs bus” and others. But in general, it has facilitated in the socially unequal “me inside my aircon car and you outside walking/jeepney/bus commuter” relationship where one’s social position is strongly reinforced and emphasized daily.
Of course, there are people who commute for convenience. But even people like me who do choose to commute because of avoiding environment-harmful traffic still feel the stress. One actually needs the IMMENSE PATIENCE to stick to commuting in an urban sprawl like Metro Manila.
Our once beautiful Pasig River, that was a major highway, is now in a state of decay, disgraced by years of human pollution and apathy. In other parts of the world, this was an asset of the city, where river cruises, parties and contests are held. When can we ALL help clean our own Pasig?
Likewise, the residences of Manileños are becoming more and more stratified. The rich and the middle class huddle together in gated villages, while the poor are all found in slums. Again, it promotes a “we vs them” culture, a very un-Christian mind set that all the more perpetuates the differences in a deeply divided 3rd world country. In the old days, rich and poor folk rubbed elbows in Manila, either in church or in the Escolta or Avenida Rizal. There was a strong sense of community and appreciation for neighbors in old Manila.
Next, there is the lack of open, PUBLIC spaces. Plazas, which used to be the site of communal sharing, simple moments of joy such as watching a child make friends with other kids, public displays of art (PDA!) such as one-act plays, Passion plays, etc, are now very rare and difficult to enjoy. These spaces have been made into basket ball courts, car park complexes, or left to decay.
The very European culture of plazas we used to have has been replaced with a very American culture: the mall culture. “Public spaces” are now privatized places of mass consumption, made pleasurable by the heavy use of airconditioning. That’s why one complaint of mine in this city of ours is this “Can we do something else???” Why are the best things in Manila found in the malls? Or if ever they’re not, why aren’t they well maintained or stressful to visit? Something must be done.
According to heritage standards, a good city is a walkable city, in all senses. This is where a good train system proves to be of help to a city even if it continually expands. This is what I liked about the best cities in world that I have visited: there train/metro systems are very organized, precise and coordinated.
My favorite was Madrid’s because it was clean, easy and brightly lit. I am also pleased with our own systems, which I have heavily used since high school, going around the metro in a day by just using the three lines. The issues though of sustainability and management have to be addressed.
There must also be PUBLIC sections in Metro Manila that are only for pedestrians. Though there is Bonifacio High Street or Eastwood’s plaza, these are hardly for us to readily use and enjoy. These are privately own, short stretches that are nice but not yet truly genuine hallmarks of urban development.
Why then did I get wet earlier today?
There was no side walk, poor drainage, speeding cars, no shaded arcades or areas to pass by. All I had was Katipunan Avenue and Aurora Boulevard, two treeless highways plied by countless vehicles.
And now as I am finishing this entry, I am just watching the hostage drama wrap up. Sad, sad city. A city in bad need of comprehensive urban planning, a country in dire need of a good international image.
The Metro Manila of today wasn’t the planned Manila of the past but a product of modern, post-War urban, Los Angeles-type view on a city. However, not all is lost. There are many active groups and individuals out there who work passionately and tirelessly to bring Manila to its feet by not only promoting but actually effecting change in the minds, hearts, and actions of Filipinos and foreigners alike.
There is Ma’am Sylvia Lichauco’s Lola Grande Foundation that works for the community-based heritage tourism of gracious Sta. Ana, and of course, Carlos Celdran’s heritage walks, which are affordable, entertaining and inspiring. There are the articles of Architect Augusto Villalon, Doña Rosalinda Orosa and Paulo Alcazaren who bring to light different Philippine cities’ cultural heritage potentials as well as urban development strategies for Philippine cities. We have to thank these people, as well as the countless, nameless citizens who choose to patronize public trains, clean their surroundings and decide to live and maintain their ancestral homes even if their surroundings are already not as ideal as before.
Each and everyone of us has a job to do in making this metropolitan of ours diverse, safe, clean and most of all, culturally unique (in the positive, beautiful sense!).