Detroit bankruptcy under the weight of urban sprawl and poor transport: Metro Manila has a bit to learn

Sad milestone for a once glorious city and a former citadel of American industrial power. Detroit, Michigan — the city itself and its surrounding metropolitan area home to the United States’ “Big Three” car manufacturers, General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler — yesterday filed for bankruptcy following a decades-long decline the sharpest of which was felt over the last year and a half.

detroit_suburbia
[Photo courtesy Mashable.]

Between 2000 and 2010, the city’s population fell by 25%, from the nation’s 10th largest city to 18th. In 2010, the city had a population of 713,777, more than a 60% drop down from a peak population of over 1.8 million at the 1950 census, indicating a serious and long-running decline of Detroit’s economic strength. Commensurate with the shift of population and jobs to its suburbs or other states, the city has had to adjust its role within the larger metropolitan area. Downtown Detroit has seen an increased role as an entertainment hub in the 21st century, with the opening of three casinos, new stadiums, and a riverfront revitalization project. However, many neighborhoods remain distressed. The state governor declared a financial emergency in March 2013, appointing an emergency manager. On July 18, 2013, Detroit filed the largest municipal bankruptcy case in U.S. history.

The initial documents indicate only that the city’s assets as well as its liabilities each exceed $1 billion. But in his letter, Mr. Snyder said the liabilities were $18 billion.

Saddled by junk status from credit-rating firms, Detroit has had its ability to borrow almost completely shut off and reached its statutory limit to tax its residents to raise new revenue, state officials said. Mr. Orr had called the city functionally insolvent, and it recently missed a payment to the city’s pension system of nearly $40 million.

So far, the city has an agreement to pay some secured creditors 75 cents on the dollar on nearly $340 million in debt. In exchange, the city would get back $11 million a month in tax revenue from the city’s three casinos originally used as collateral to back the debt.

But negotiations with unsecured creditors, who were offered about $2 billion to cover $11 billion in debt, remain stalled.

Automobiles being transported by rail from Detroit c.1973 (Source: Wikipedia)
Automobiles being transported by rail from Detroit c.1973 (Source: Wikipedia)
The gradual erosion of the city’s tax base can be traced to its long succumbing to urban sprawl following a misguided development focus on automobile use for its workforce to the detriment of high-density mass public transportation. In 1950, the city held about one-third of the state’s population. Over the last sixty years, the city’s density has gradually decreased and now has less than 10% of the state’s population, and the sprawling metropolitan area which surrounds and includes the city has more than half of Michigan’s population. An extensive freeway system constructed in the 1950s, 60s, 70’s, & 80’s encouraged auto commuting. In 1956, Detroit’s last heavily used electric streetcar line along the length of Woodward Avenue was ripped out and replaced with gas powered buses. It was the last line of what had once been a 534 miles network of electric streetcars. In 1941, a streetcar had once ran on Woodward Avenue every 60 seconds at peak times.

Because of the resulting sprawl, reportedly the worst among America’s major metropolitan areas, many jobs in and around Detroit had progressively become “beyond reach of the poor”.

Combined with an earlier Brookings Institution study on access to public transit, a portrait emerges of a metro area where many jobs are beyond the reach of low-income residents who lack transportation options and often live inside the city.

Besides potentially adding to commute times, a decentralized job market adds to pollution levels.

The Brookings Institution released its new report today showing that only 7.3% of metro Detroit’s roughly 1.4 million jobs lie within three miles of the city’s central business district. Another 15% lie within a 3-to-10-mile band from the downtown core.

The 77% of jobs that are found from 10 miles to 35 miles out are the highest percentage of decentralized jobs in any of the nation’s top 100 metro areas.

Unlike Detroit’s underpopulation problems, the Philippine capital and its vast suburbia collectively known as “Metro Manila” is, of course, suffering from a fundamentally different terminal disease — an explosion in population within a burdensome underclass of illegal settlers (more aptly known as “squatters”) that engulf the city in squalor, dump refuse that clogs waterways and traps flood waters, and complicate much-needed city planning and development further hobbling implementation of systemic solutions to the megalopolis’s horrendous and infuriating traffic mess. To Detroit’s degeneration into a barren wasteland, Manila had become a fetid shithole. And much of the shared causes of both cities’ decline can be traced to misguided approaches to mass transit development. Indeed, my colleague Paul Farol highlighted this in a recent article

Right now, one of the key pressures driving people with low-incomes or informal sources of income to live in slum areas is poor public transportation.

Just assume that the average cost of a two way trip with a total length of 16 kilometers (8 kilometers one way) is anything from 50 to 100 pesos and at its worst, it takes two hours to complete one trip (including waiting time at boarding stations). This means that the average Pinoy has to shell out as much as 1/3 of his daily minimum wage and lose 4 hours of his time in traffic — often arriving at his place of work too frazzled to be effective or arriving home too tired to have any meaningful interaction with their family.

In a way, perhaps, the lousy public transportation we have could be the very reason why Juan is tamad (lazy), cannot attend to his duties as a father, and takes home such a small amount of money (around 250 pesos, assuming he is getting the full minimum wage).

manila_trafficThe key lies in political will — specifically a willingness to consider the obvious solutions. A now-famous photo of buses deliberately clogging a major Manila highway that has for so long been making the rounds across social media resonates strongly in the way it illustrates just how obvious these solutions are. Indeed, it even introduces doubt as to whether congestion really is the fundamental problem that needs to be solved to fix Manila traffic as it points more to opportunities to address design issues around the way roads are laid out, the way public utility vehicles are deployed, and the way traffic rules are enforced across Metro Manila.

Then there is the obvious problem of how squatters are tolerated by the country’s politicians. No rocket science is needed to understand the concepts surrounding this simple issue. From the perspective of vote-salivating politicians, squatter colonies are easy pickin’ sources of winning ballots and bleeding heart rhetoric. One only needs to see this and the problem of Manila traffic from a realiist’s perspective to identify what the real next steps should be.

[NB: Parts of this article and photos used in it were lifted from the Wikipedia.org article “Detroit” in a manner compliant to the terms stipulated in the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License that governs usage of content made available in this site. Photo of buses clogging EDSA courtesy Boylit De Guzman.]

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Post Author: benign0

benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.

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54 Comments on "Detroit bankruptcy under the weight of urban sprawl and poor transport: Metro Manila has a bit to learn"

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Paul Farol (@paulfarol)
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Paul Farol (@paulfarol)
Pleasure to read as always, Benigs! In connection with this, I think it would be a good time to review the need to put EDSA and other routes under the service of just one or two bus companies. Such an arrangement would: 1. Cut down the need for regulation and its attendant problems like corruption. Moreover, since government has to deal with a couple hundred and not thousands of bus operators, you can probably consider paring down the LTFRB — if at all you applied the same scheme to jeeps, auvs, trikes, taxies. 2. Make it feasible for bus companies… Read more »
Ferdinand Marcos
Guest

Sounds like what I did for PAL!

Monopoly FTW!!

Anthony Ilano
Guest
Interesting points. However, may I just toss a few of my cents into the hat: 1. Detroit is valid as an extreme example of what happens when there is a lack public transport systems in place. I say extreme because we should keep in mind that this is the car manufacturing hub of America. Because of this, it was not politically kosher for them to rely on public transport. Their idealistic notion was that Detroit shouldn’t even be seen with mass transport because mass transport is the enemy of the automobile. By contrast, Metro Manila is willing to improve its… Read more »
Curious Bystander
Guest

What made you proud of Metro Manila?

Anthony Ilano
Guest

Oh dear, I was hoping to avoid pinning myself into this corner. So I’ll reply with a safe analogy.

You see a mother with the ugliest baby in the whole world. And yet she happily says that she’s proud of her baby. Why “proud?” She thinks for a while and then says, “I’m proud because it’s a survivor.” And she’ll be willing to fight for it even.

Perhaps pride is too personal an emotion to be fairly and properly explained. I just know that it’s there.

Anthony Ilano
Guest
What makes you say it’s a “common false analogy”? What about sentimental value? What about irrational love for objects which you have grown fond of despite their being decrepit or broken down, and you refuse to let go of it? I’ll take your “bayabas to kamatis” and tell you frankly that you’re too cynical. Maybe because you think it’s fashionable to be cynical and call everything a turd fest. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe you’re just the logical one and I’m the emotional one. Kirk and Spock. Except when you call an entire city a shit hole, that’s being way… Read more »
ChinoF
Member

Pride in Manila simply because you’re born in Manila?

If you’re born in a squatter area, let’s say an area known to be a crime center and is literally dirty and stinky to the core, you’re obliged to be proud of it?

That’s false pride.

Anthony Ilano
Guest
ChinoF, Have you even BEEN to a squatters’ area? I don’t think so. You’re basing your distaste on what you see in the news and what you paint as a stereotype of the slums. I’ve been there. I’ve lived there. Right in the middle. It was a required immersion for us in our trade. And you know what? Believe it or not, it wasn’t stinky. It wasn’t dirty. Yes the peripheries of the slum areas will be stinky and dirty, but that’s because these are the areas that the squatters themselves refuse to “own,” and there is a lack of… Read more »
ChinoF
Member

Yes, I’ve been to a squatter area, been there several times. No need to look for one, there are many near my house. In fact, there are so many, it’s like the whole city has them in every corner. With that description, you can say squatter areas are shitholes. If there are that many, along with the other problems of the city, then wouldn’t the sum effect be, the city has become quite like a shithole?

Paul Farol (@paulfarol)
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Paul Farol (@paulfarol)

I think most people have the wrong concept about pride.

One thing I learned is that if you are proud of something, you won’t allow it to be dirtied up and treated like crap.

Sometimes, when some people say they’re proud of something, they’re really just showing outrage over butthurt.

Curious Bystander
Guest

But you do admit that the baby is ugly regardless of the mother’s pride?

Gerry
Guest
Dude, you can sugar-coat a freshly crapped out turd and call it a donut, if you like. BUT the author of the essay is correct, and you can ask any 1st time visitor to the city…and they will tell you: Metro-Manure is a shit-hole mess. a fuckin Hell-Hole on rambling wreck jeepney wheels. The time for a solution was 20 years ago, now it is more like what is needed is damage control. or a tactical nuclear strike. I wish there was an easy answer, but NO. The corrupt politicians who turn/turned a blind eye to the problems of the… Read more »
Anthony Ilano
Guest
Then you need a better travel agent LOL! Because from where I stand, people who come over to Metro Manila are loving it. Sure there’s traffic. Sure there are stink holes here and there. But perhaps you need to travel more. Because if you compare Metro Manila to the usual tourist haunts like Hong Kong or Bangkok or New Zealand, then yes we have a long way to go. But if you’ve been to Los Angeles, to Jakarta, to (horrors) Mumbai, Sao Paolo, and so much more, you will realize that wow, Metro Manila is in pretty good shape. My… Read more »
sancho alconce
Guest

I would agree with the author that Manila smells like a shithole because everywhere you go, it stinks. I would’nt be surprised if your sense of smell after a lifetime of smelly environment would rank the smell of shit as your preferred scent.

Anthony Ilano
Guest

Sancho, I would suggest you change your haunts then. You’re probably living in the hell holes. Every city has them. Granted Manila has more than many, but you can’t say it’s true everywhere you go in the Metro.

sancho alconce
Guest

I am glad to tell you Mr. Ilano that I am very lucky to live a few hours away from Manila where as Tony Orlando sang in one of his hit songs – “the air is fresh and clean”.

Gerry
Guest
I have travelled the World Sonny. and Metro-Manure is one place I try to avoid. I’ve been to Kingston as well, and it every bit the shit-hole that Metro-Manure is.You , as you know, can have ’em both for all I care. I won’t be going back to either. That is not to say I won’t enjoy living in Romblon/Camiguin/Puerto Pricessa because I will gladly go back to those places when ever it is I feel like it. and BTW, I have been told to go back to where I come from when I have been minding my own business… Read more »
ChinoF
Member

It’s the author’s right to call Metro Manila a “fetid shithole” under the provisions for freedom of speech, since that is his way of highlighting the problems of our capital city.

Anthony Ilano
Guest

And it is my right to express my offense at the term. And to point out that it is a hasty generalization.

I live in Marikina City. It is considered one of the best places to live in *in Asia*. It has won international Healthiest City awards. And yet, last I checked, Marikina is part of Metro Manila.

So let me put this in terms that freedom of speech advocates would undestand:

Stop calling my beautiful city a shit hole, you annoying muthafuckas.

ChinoF
Member

And our freedom of speech for us says, we won’t stop.

Johnny Saint
Guest

Marikina. Whose former mayor is famous for creating the U-turns that have slowed traffic to a crawl on Metro Manila thoroughfares because he was trying an “experiment” in traffic management without any real planning and subjecting commuters to hideous pink fences. A dancing fool who made the flood waters in the metropolis rise faster and run deeper after implementing dubious public works projects. I can see where the delusion comes from. It must be okay to EXPORT problems to other communities as long as Marikina is trouble free.

Johnny Saint
Guest

By the way, with Marikina being so beautiful, it seems everyone should be moving there to live and work. And yet thousands commute daily AWAY FROM Marikina to other parts of Metro Manila for employment. That commuter population is a major source of the traffic congestion on Aurora Boulevard, Marcos Highway and C5. Compounded by your former mayor’s U-turns.

chris
Guest
The only thing that Detroit and Manila have in common are poor planning.The bancruptcy of Detroit is due to many problems, sprawl probably being the least of them. Detroit had all of their eggs in one basket, the auto industry. The failure of the auto industry and related industries, plus “white flight” is what brought detroit down. It is practically abandoned at this point. Detroit is an erie sight to behold. So erie that a company proposed to take a section of the city AS-IS and create a zombie theme park. To replicate the problem, every building in the NCR… Read more »
Simpleton
Guest

Without the Jazz..

Gerry
Guest
Detroit’s problems are severely complicated bt different. the ‘out-sourcing’ of jobs. the raping of the pension fund by Wall Street bankers selling ‘Mortgage backed securities’ that were designed to fail is MAYBE the most hideous act of criminality. Men/Women who worked and gave their lives to the city and won hard fought for labor contracts have been fucked out of their right to not spend their old=age in poverty. the complete lack of forward thinking/vision in both cities is but one reason they are fucked beyond repair. Corruption is another. ‘outsourcing’ another one. The list goes on and whatta fuckin… Read more »
corey
Guest
If you want to some it up the entire country of the Philippines is a tepid shithole sorry to say. I have never met so many selfish, complacent, do nothing, give me a free handout, no love of country people than the common filipino. This could have been a great nation and had macoi stayed in power even as corrupt as he was it might be that today. At least he knew the importance of infastructure But you have a free for all mentality in politics and no one gives a shit its all about how much can I steal.… Read more »
Anthony Ilano
Guest

Corey, I’m sorry to say this but with all due respect, you’re a douchebag. You run a website that tries to pretend that the country is a livable place and then you badmouth the people and call it a toilet. Well excuse me but I will now make it my cause to make your professional life a living hell from here on.

Corey
Guest

Oh that is very nice of you. Anthony I am passionate about this Country and what is happening here drives me crazy and I tend to get emotional. After eight years this is my home. But don’t threaten me as that would be gross negligence especially for a site that encourages free speech. My site is not Pollyanna and I am very clear about that in any of the articles I write. I try and be fair about life in this Country.

corey
Guest

Anthony I am doing a short study on use of the word Stupidity and Filipino in the same sentence to see reaction and you reacted as so many do. Maybe look in the mirror and try and understand why you and your country is the way it is. 300 years of the Church and Spanish rule, then America. Again don’t you threaten me as I will be happy to meet you anytime anyplace for a coffee to work this out LOL

Gerry
Guest
You know that you are right, and I do too. I try not to be as harsh as you just were because the Filipino is as sensitive a human being as has ever existed. I have lived in the country for over five years and ,just like you said, EVERY FUCKIN time I tried to get the simplest of things done? it took weeks and was always a nightmare.charged double licensing fees, registration fees. Immigration has robbed me as well. That said, there are places that are even dumber, more irritating. Try living in Belize/Jamaica.it is actually worse, hard to… Read more »
ChinoF
Member

Wonder if this means the Robocop storyline was prophetic with its portrayal of dystopic Detroit under OCP.

Johnny Saint
Guest

Might as well try corporate rule. Can it get any worse than Hollywood fantasy?

ChinoF
Member

Maybe fetid shithole isn’t the right term after all. How about cesspool of dysfunction, or tralaland of trash? Of course, that doesn’t mean only this city deserves such terms. Any place where the people as a whole allow the dysfunctions to fester deserves them. If you accept the dirty, diseased parts and still remain proud of the city, best accept the negative appellations as well.

Johnny Saint
Guest

I don’t think identifying the problems were ever an issue. You can tune in to an AM station and the talking heads will be chattering on and on about what is wrong with Philippine society today. Same goes for news on television and on the Web. Where we often falter is in first acknowledging there are problems that need to be addressed and in overcoming the institutional inertia that prevents us from solving an endemic, system-wide malaise.

ChinoF
Member

That’s one of the problems with pride, or the wrong kind of it – it breeds unwillingness to accept things that should be accepted.

Johnny Saint
Guest
Precisely. That’s why I can’t bring myself to agree with Mr Anthony Ilano’s position. His premise is that places like Jamaica and Sao Paolo are worse than Metro Manila. Therefore life here in the NCR isn’t so bad after all. Marikina is a healthy place to live; therefore Metro Manila isn’t a “shithole.” That just doesn’t make any sense to me. Does that mean we have to wait until conditions are as deteriorated as Haiti or Zimbabwe before a sense of urgency kicks in? Or perhaps we’ll just set the bar another notch lower and sit back to wait until… Read more »
Hyden Toro
Guest

Businesses fled, because of urban decay and crime. These are the reason, Detroit has no enough income. Plus, corruption also. Manila can become bankrupt, also. With the Jueteng Lord as the Mayor.

JD
Guest
I would go for a mass transit system (like trains and organized and controlled bus system) and lesser private cars. Mas marami pa rin ang private cars kaysa sa PUVs. Although I agree that PUVs are one to blame and we need to cut down their numbers on the street (because the government simply issues franchises to anyone which should not be the case), too much private cars can also clog major roads like what we are seeing now in Beijing. What we need is to fully develop our public mass transport system instead of building new roads and encouraging… Read more »
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