Imagining a truly world-class Metro Manila

The recently-concluded Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Metro Manila proved that to get the best results out of the Philippines’ premiere metropolis, its residents need to be excluded from major events like these. This is quite ironic considering the theme of APEC Manila 2015 was inclusion — getting as many ordinary Filipinos in on the benefits that economic cooperation is supposedly delivering.

Thus, Metro Manila, as host of this affair, should have, itself, embodied this spirit of inclusiveness. Instead, unfortunately, it exhibited the opposite.

What does Manila need to become to transform into a truly inclusive urban community whose residents share every aspect of what their city has to offer? To answer that question, we need to be able to imagine.

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Imagine a city without gates and fences.

We’d be a true urban community where every Manileno is equally entitled to travel any road in their city. At the moment that is not the case. Entire swathes of Metro Manila are fenced in and fortified by armed guards — which means the rest of us are sentenced to using roads that weave around these exclusive enclaves.

Without those gates, perhaps Filipinos both rich and poor will learn more about real respect for community. Rather than reserving our respect for our immediate backyards and clique of friends, we will be compelled to extend this respect to the bigger community — because, as a broadly-open community without gates and fences, our personal stake in ensuring the quality of this community is bigger than any one circle or clique.

Only then can Manilenos feel genuine pride for their city — because we truly become an urban community where each individual has an equal stake in the wellbeing of every square metre of it.

Imagine a city where pedestrians — not motor vehicles — rule.

Most Filipinos, after all, do not own cars. Why then should motorists rule the city? And, in that light, why should the city be subject to foulups in air quality and congestion accounted for mainly by motor vehicles? That leads us to an important question: Why are sidewalks in the city routinely jackhammered to make way for ever-widening roads and parking space?

Perhaps it is time that ordinary Filipinos take their city back. When we say ordinary Filipinos, we are talking about the average commuter — people who truly have skin in the game as far as building a truly great city. Until pedestrians rule Metro Manila, Filipinos cannot claim to be proud of a city that subjects their most ordinary citizens to the worst effects of urban congestion. Pedestrians and commuters bear the brunt of Manila’s worst aspects and private vehicle drivers have no right to complain — because private vehicle owners have a choice to leave their vehicles at home. Commuters and everyday pedestrians, on the other hand, don’t have that same variety of choice.

Imagine a nation’s capital without squatters.

Squatters are illegal residents. Yet they occupy prime locations all over Metro Manila. They account for some of the reason Manilenos build fences around their communities and homes — because they are surrounded by people who do not have as strong a stake in the community as legal tax-paying residents.

Without squatters infesting Metro Manila, city dwellers can accord one another respect as co-community members rather than regard one another with suspicion and revulsion. For as long as a big chunk of our cities’ populations are accounted for by illegal settlers, there will be no true urban communities composed of mutually-respectful members.

* * *

Implementing the right measures to build truly world-class stuff in the Philippines is hard enough. Doing so without an ability to imagine our destination makes the task doubly impossible.

It is, indeed, a journey worth taking. Manila, despite its veneer of modernity, remains a medieval city at heart with its aristocracy still cloistered in walled enclaves while the peasantry toils outside. Our transformation into a true 21st Century community is long overdue. Until then, Metro Manila will be nothing more than the sad national embarrassment that it is today.

[Photo courtesy Bloomberg Business.]

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17 Comments on “Imagining a truly world-class Metro Manila”

  1. i dont think we’ll see the true potential of metro manila as a truly world class city in the near future. the main problem with the cities of metro manila is the population. metro manila is overpopulated.

    Overpopulation causes flood, traffic, harm to natural environment,etc. The only thing/s the benefiting the overpopulation is the businesses like malls. The citizen of metro manila are the main losers of this overpopulation.

    i really dont understand why our gov’t cant solved this problem. or why the gov’t didnt solved this? does our gov’t ignoring this?

    for now, imagining metro manila as a world class city as an absolute fiction for me

  2. Japan 145,925 mi² with 127M population with 6,852 islands
    Philippines 115,831 mi² with 101M population with 7,107 islands
    Both Japan and the Philippines are surrounded by oceans and seas.

    Metro Manila 246.5 mi² 12M population
    Singapore 277.3 mi² 5M population
    Tokyo 845 mi² 13M population
    Tokyo and Singapore belongs to the top safest city in the world.

    Metro Manila is overcrowded with people who get there because of the so-called offer of greater opportunities and better life. Maybe true to some, especially for regular ones becoming celebrities, but others became squatters or lived from hand to mouth. Also, in Japan and Singapore there are organized city plans designating certain responsibilities to every city that support country’s population and operations. Also, their citizens know how to make the most of their resources and protect their natural source of livelihood. They also strive for excellence and live with discipline and honor.

    Our government/political leaders being anything but organized, imaginative and strategic, the ones that will lift this country up are the take charge citizens, modern thinkers who care for their environment, people and country. Like, instead of going to where the game is where everybody is betting their resources and knowledge on, they should be bringing the game to where it can be a pioneer and will be highly regarded and has potential to grow and ease the population’s burden. Metro Manila is a very busy polluted place with more stress to offer than progress. The rest of the country, its rich resources and its strong population are dry and idle waiting for growth and progress. Well, other provinces have the good sense of choosing a leader that will turn their city to world-class caliber (Ilocos, Davao, Batanes and CamSur for instance. Iloilo is on the rise, too). It’s when the electorate made the mistake of choosing an airhead and self-serving leader that everything gets focked up. And note that that group of focked up politicians belongs to a certain political party like a syndicate. Filipinos and their elected leaders should take a new step and get out from the claws of traditional politics. GMA thought of decongesting Metro Manila before but wasn’t pushed through. Presidentables and those running for local positions should have it in mind.

      1. After APEC, the Philippines should now be focusing on boosting its ties to other countries. China is now doing that with European countries and US not only because China is ambitious but because they really have something to offer. They are in the work of turning their economy to global economic superpower. If we can’t be self-sufficient and competitive, how can we be taken seriously? That “our current govt is a pro-commercialism, only focusing on countries economy/ gdp, foreign investment and politics…” what keeps us from progressing has more to say with our leaders other than our people, yes. They’re the ones in power, who have control. “All talk but nothing to show” is that how they want the leaders they just met in APEC to see them? PNoy who? Yellow who? Oh, the incompetent airheads?

  3. Correction, Benign0, Metro Manila (whole country for that matter) is already ruled by pedestrians (and the lesser motorists, i.e. small motorcycles, tricycles, pedicabs, kuligligs…) Have you ever been in a vehicular accident with any of them? Traffic rules simply do not apply to them. You, the simple, innocent motorist is automatically at fault in any accident whatsoever, and have to shoulder the burden for paying for all damages to their properties and injuries sustained… and more as per their own bidding.

    Squatters happen because of the pinoy’s idea of rule of law. There is simply no line dividing right and wrong for the pinoy. Every rule, ordinance, directive, etc. is bound to be twisted in favor of the pinoy, hence the word “medyo”. As in medyo tama and medyo mabuti, etc. The pinoy mind cannot “make up his mind”. Why not kung bawal, talagang bawal? Implement the rules, regulations, ordinances as it is. We do not need ex actors/actresses making more of this laws. We do not need more laws, period.

    How can most of the current crop of politicians have your imagination when they are busy now how to win the up and coming elections so they can line their pockets with our tax money? How can the ordinary citizen imagine good things for the country when the thought of where to get the next meal for his family fills his mind? How can the thinking class imagine good things for the country when all they see is a country mismanaged by imbeciles? How can OFWs imagine good things for the country when all he wants is insulate his family from mismanaged government?

  4. A famous urban planner, I forgot his name, said that to improve the urban, focus on improving the rural. In the case of PHL, that means focusing on agriculture. And that means initially assisting rural families doing gardening in their backyards, and I mean organized assistance. Maybe, this is where the CCT should be redirected instead of just being a pure dole-outs.

    1. Hear, hear!

      I can’t understand why our government doesn’t have this kind of excitement to explore the countries real richness. We have very rich soil and natural resources, a lot of laborers but few brains working. We have in Verde Island Passage the global center of biodiversity. There’s thousands of birds, fishes, tree, fruit and plants species growing. Being a tropical country with only dry and wet season, we’re abounding with solar, wind and hydro energy. Apart from tourism and agriculture, we can ace the tree farm, pearl farm, fish culture. Encourage or open a program for present and future gens to go in the field of sciences and research, bird science, marine biology, forestry, etc. It’s exciting, argh! the government should open their eyes and mind!

    2. Thing I noticed in Pinoy society is a lack of curiosity — which is probably why innovative solutions are hardly ever found and implemented and, worse, the obvious solutions remain unapplied even as they sit under our noses for decades.

      As such, the Philippines can be as physically beautiful or bountiful as it gets but will hardly ever inspire or draw out the highest intellectual faculties of the Filipino. It’s quite simply in Filipinos’ DNAs to routinely ignore opportunity.

    3. Agreed. And if im the president i will also push for federalism (economic/financial) to decongest metro manila. ordinances will be enforced down to barangay level and not just in cities because its the smallest unit of the country and where most people live including squatters. so i need to corner the people. I will leave no room for them to do whatever they want to do which is the problem of most filipinos. It will become the training ground for a common pinoy. In this process the people will get used to the new way of life until it changes them. I will have them also involve in community service in the barangay. After all this is a nation. So, strengthen the foundation first.

  5. Manila World Class ? That is a laugh.

    Even if it were nuked, it would be just as inhospitable as it is now.

    its nice to dream but the place is screwed, BE REAL ! Manila is in a death spiral that will take nothing short of Divine Intervention to just resuscitate it, let alone remodel.

  6. The Rich are afraid of the Poor. The Poor multiplies like Rabbits, and more squatters houses are built everyday. The Rich can only put walls and guards, to stem the tide of the fast multiplying poor.

    This era is the era of the Oligarchs, like Aquino. They pretend there are no poor. Because, they believe in their Statistics…that the country is progressing.

  7. Here in Barcelona, it’s the architects who built the buildings that made the city iconic who are the objects of admiration – not a bunch of half-witted monarchs.

  8. @Sick_Amore: “Also, in Japan and Singapore there are organized city plans designating certain responsibilities to every city that support country’s population and operations. Also, their citizens know how to make the most of their resources and protect their natural source of livelihood. They also strive for excellence and live with discipline and honor.”
    -Doesn’t hurt to have that Confucian work ethic in Japan and Singapore.

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