Who ‘killed’ Metro Manila?
Latest statements regarding the sorrowful situation of Metro Manila only reflects the incapacity of certain public servants to address the gross urban planning problem that has converted the Pearl of the Orient into the Gates of Hell in just a few decades. (READ: Duterte: Manila will be a 'dead city' in 25 years)
Some Filipino friends told me that the reason for this decay was the destruction of Manila during the Second World War, but pictures of the capital in the ’50s and the ’60s are proof that, not so long time ago, Manila was still a very pleasant city to live in.
For Filipino politicians, travelling to well-planned cities would be a good starting point in order to establish a comparative analysis. Which ordinances did those cities implement in order to provide a better standard of life to the citizens? It would not be a bad idea to force Filipino mayors to take a mandatory course on the basics of urban planning – an important task where they tend to show the utmost lack of understanding, given the sorrowful state of most Filipino cities.
The problem of the liveability of Metro Manila is a big one and the causes of the dysfunctionality are relatively easy to point out. The real challenge is to face the economic forces and the lack of certain incentives among citizens that have pushed the city into the current situation.
Corruption might be one of the causes. I cannot honestly imagine a Filipino mayor denying the permit for the construction of a condo tower or a big mall in an already congested area when offered by a wealthy developer. Citizens only react when a well-known landmark is threatened, as it happened with Torre de Manila (a project that was in the end approved) and a mall planned in Rizal Stadium (it has been saved by the historical commission).
Traversing EDSA recently from Magallanes to Cubao, I have seen the development of at least 15 big condo projects and some malls. No one of those would be legal in Spain, Italy, or France, where public ordinances mandate that no big project can be developed in an area that is already congested with traffic. A study on the impact (in terms of traffic) of the construction in the area would be mandatory, and no one I guess would pass it.
The total freedom of developers to build whatever they want whenever they want is just one of the reasons. But it is easy to point out a few more. For instance, nobody could imagine Tokyo, Seoul, Paris, or New York being managed by 17 mayors, but this is the case in Metro Manila, resulting in a total lack of coordination in public ordinances and having different rules (like car bans or “walang pasok” statements) that leave citizens disoriented. Big cities in the world assimilated naturally surrounding cities while growing. It did not happen in the Philippines, where even new cities have been created, like Navotas in 2007. The efforts of MMDA and LFRTB are severely made difficult by this administrative mess.
Nobody could imagine any of the aforementioned top cities trying to solve the traffic problem with e-jeepneys, but this is the case in Metro Manila. While it is undeniably true that e-jeepneys are an improvement in terms of reduction of pollution compared to traditional old jeepneys, the mobility problem is still there. Trying to move daily millions of commuters in uncomfortable 16-seater jeepneys that are allowed to load and unload passengers practically anywhere can’t be the long term – nor short term! – system for a city who aspires to be world class, as Filipinos like to mention.
The provincial buses that traverse Manila, many of them with broken doors and windows, horn-blowing mercilessly even at 3 am and driven recklessly, can’t be a system either. It is time for Metro Manila to have a complex network of lines of numbered/colored long buses, implemented according to the real mobility needs of the city, with bus stops and schedules, like in any major city in the world. Comfortable high-quality buses could be in the short term a solution to encourage middle class people to leave the car at home, which are the main cause of traffic, while the idea of building a subway is still developed.
One more thing: you cannot burn fat in your body by getting bigger pants, but this is apparently the solution that has been commonly implemented in Manila. Widening roads at the cost of sidewalks has been so far a preferred solution to traffic congestion, so citizens cannot walk even if they wanted to. I do not think the problem is generally the lack of roads, but the lack of reliable public transportation and the excess of cars. The Bonifacio Global City is an example of this. Unlike in Singapore, where owning a car was made difficult in purpose in order to collect taxes and avoid traffic congestion, easy bank credits in the Philippines has facilitated the purchase of cars to the point that thousands of them are newly added to the roads every year.
In all the mentioned problems there are clear economic winners, and those who are actually in power have all the incentives to not change the status quo and to not contribute to the improvement of the city. The fact that the Philippines has been a nation betrayed by its economic and political elite can be illustrated in the poor urban planning issue. Lack of public spaces, like plazas and parks, is just a reflection of their greed, and it has forced Filipinos to spend their free time in malls.
Saving Metro Manila must be a number one task for all Filipinos, not only because it is the capital of the country, but because it is also – still – its beating soul. – Rappler.com
Jorge Mojarro has lived in the Philippines since 2009. He holds a PhD in Philippine Colonial Literature, teaches Spanish language and culture at the Instituto Cervantes de Manila, and conducts research for the University of Santo Tomas. He is a self-proclaimed lover of Philippine gastronomy.
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