8.08.2005

the (spatial) roots of our discontent

I've often wondered about the roots of the political disconnection among the Philippine middle-class. I know the middle-class was the key swing sector in EDSA I and II, but apart from the involvement in severe convulsions of our body-politic, the middle-class seems to be content to play the role of critical bystander. It does not, raise new political leaders. (Admittedly, I have no data to support that claim.)

Why are electoral contests left to popular/populist media icons and scions of political families. Where are the children who grew up in middle-class homes with middle-class educational pedigrees?

I know the roots are many and obviously overdetermined, but may I offer up one contributing cause?

The political disconnect is mirrored in the spatial disconnect of the enviroment that the middle-class grows up in. Most live in middle-class gated villages. They go to exclusive schools that are usually an hour's drive or more away from where they live. (Paranaque kids who go to Ateneo or Poveda, QC kids who go to La Salle, etc.)

Few of them take public transport to their schools - most ride in cars. --Could it be this insularity (which finds it's roots way back in the segregation of all-spanish Intramuros from the servants' quarter of Binondo and the other arrabales) which keeps the rich and the middle class from involvement in society?

Sure, most private schools have immersion programs in urban poor communities and I do not discount the help they have extended -but as immersion programs, they teach young middle-class students that urban issues are "projects of philantrophy."

You ride a car, you do not hear the noise or smell the garbage - they are problems you pass by on your way to your destination. You study away from where you live and you have no part in community life (apart from your friends from school). You have no idea how your barangay works or where the barangay hall is. You do not even know what the communities outside your village walls look like.

Apart from traffic and pollution, which then become what the middle-class complains about (re: life in the city), you grow up without appreciating the lack of housing, the deterioration of civic monuments, the lack of public open spaces, the absence of sidewalks...

So here's the question: does the spatial organization of our cities weaken our sense of citizenship?

11 comments:

ed said...

Thought-provoking question indeed. I can't wait to read how you and your others readers would reply.

The insularity you have observed is also reflected in a common street sign: "Tapat ko, linis ko." (My turf, my responsibility to clean.) The middle class, by nature, cares only for itself.

So, to turn your original question around, what sort of spatial organization do you think would strengthen our sense of citizenship?

Urbano dela Cruz said...

Less gated communities, for one. It'll also do wonders for traffic.

Making it harder/more expensive to drive/park while vastly improving mass transport (topic i'll take up in my coming post).

Civic spaces (non-malls) that are democratic.

(The ethos of "Tapat ko, linis ko" can cut either way. On crowded streets, it fosters a sense of responsibility for your part of the street.)

Sidney said...

This is not only a Filipino trait but more a human characteristic.

Human nature is completely and exclusively egoistic. People are entirely selfish and devoid of any genuine feelings of sympathy, benevolence, or sociability. They are always thinking of themselves in everything they do.

Ayala Alabang Village is a good example of a modern day oddity. It makes me think of medieval European cities...
Not only is the whole village gated but each individual house is again walled.
A gated unit(house)in a bigger walled environment.
This is the product of a dual society. 90% of people living below the poverty line and 10 % of superrich people.
(I forget the middle class for the moment).
Those 10% are so frightened from the people outside their walls that they get paranoid.

I am far from being a communist but the only solution is to spread the wealth more evenly. (How you do this is another question).

Improve the mass transport system first and then you can penalize car driving.
Give me a fast train/tram/LRT system from Muntinlupa City up to Valenzuela & Quezon City first.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

"Human nature is completely and exclusively egoistic...entirely selfish..devoid of any genuine feelings of sympathy, benevolence, or sociability. ...always thinking of themselves in everything they do"

That's pretty harsh. almost nihilistic. But even given that, perhaps the goal of maturity is transcendence? To learn empathy and involvement?

I agree with you on the need to redistribute wealth - and the econophysicists have some intriguing (but contested) studies that show Pareto optimizing policies are not going to do the trick:

""It suggests that any kind of policy will be very inefficient," says Yakovenko. It would be very difficult to impose a policy to redistribute wealth "short of getting Stalin", says Yakovenko, who will talk in Kolkata next week.

If re-distributing wealth is impossible without herculean/discontinuous change, can we at least begin to re-distribute the amenities of the places we live in?

As to an efficient mass transit vs. car use reduction, it is pretty much a chicken and egg question. But we can't get to a more efficient mass transit if we prioritize flyovers over rehabbing the train system.

--one more point, slightly off tangent: I used to teach in an all-girls hs and I could swear we had more teenage pregnancies from Ayala Alabang than any other area. My guess was the houses were so big, it was pretty easy for the kids to disappear and make-out.

Sidney said...


--one more point, slightly off tangent: I used to teach in an all-girls hs and I could swear we had more teenage pregnancies from Ayala Alabang than any other area. My guess was the houses were so big, it was pretty easy for the kids to disappear and make-out.


Ha, ha... that is a nice theory!
It could also be that the parents were too busy making money instead of taking care of their children !

ed said...

having a big house is a plus, but in the end, not necessary. you do not need a big home to get pregnant.

there are plenty of newly born babies in depressed areas--and from teens too. so guess where the magic happens?

batchmate said...

Amenity redistribution is a tall order especially in enclaves such as Ayala Alabang. Arguably, tougher to implement than agrarian reform:

As an example, I can't imagine Ayala Alabang homeowners throwing their gates wide open to non-subdivision residents that want to play basketball.

On a more optimistic note, Marikina and its public spaces shows what political will can do.

On teenage sex, its like crime: motive (no lack of that) and opportunity - large houses without parents.

I believe a recent U.S. study revealed that teen sex occurs in homes at a far greater rate than all other possible places combined.

Urbano dela Cruz said...

batchmate,

I believe most towns have subdivision regulations that require a percentage be set aside as "public open space" -- but there are no regulating rules on what "public" means.

Marikina is a great example. There's probably little we could do with the existing villages, but we can begin to think about how we can prevent the same kind of double-walled enclaves (as sydney points out) from being developed.

ed,

i'm right there with you (and batchmate) that teenagers will do what they want to do -and there are no class distinctions - spatially though, big houses create more opportunities for privacy.

hmm, isn't that an interesting metaphor? the more private/innacessible places we create (read: congress, senate) the more monkey business we encourage.

i'm probably stretching the metaphor too much.

Ivan ManDy said...

Urbano

"Less gated communities, for one. It'll also do wonders for traffic."

Hmm...this phrase reminds me of Mr. Richard Gordon's statement of 'tearing down the walls that's been clouding our minds". Unfortunately, it's not just our spatial environment which is clouded with insularity but our attitudes as well.

The middle class, if and when the cross the barrier and step up a notch higher in the economic ladder would no doubt opt for a 'gilded' lifestyle which a lot of oligarchs have unconciously fed the masses.

Im not sure about the 400 year Intramuros factor but you see, the colonials kept themselves inside the Walls because of the then hostile environment before them (read: the heathen Chinese and amuck Malay-Indios) so the reason why confined themselves was not really all about exclusivity (maybe just a part of it) but because they deemed themselves the in a very hostile situation. Think the medieval walls of Europe or even the walls of Imperial Beijing. Btw, notice that we didnt have 'exclusive subidvision' during the American period and that earlier on, the economic activity was 'public' -done on the streets of the Escolta or Binondo.

The walls we have today are, for most part, a Post-War reconstruction. A reaction to the haphazard planning that we had when our country was in shambles. The difference between this and Intramuros was that there was a big element of economics here, those who could afford too chose to shield themselves from the masses though 'exclusive subidivisions'. And didnt help that we were also mentally-colonized by the great American dream of owning a house in the suburbs (complete with lawns and trick-or treats every November!)

I shudder at the thought of passing down to the next generation a spatial environment composed of 'Mediterranean-inspired' complexes with exotic names as Citta Italia, Brittany or Swiss Chalet Homes.

Back to your question: yes, I certainly agree with your theory on the spatial roots of our discontent. And may I add, its not in the political arena but also in the core of our identity as a people

Ian said...

A Middle class status is a survival stage. They try to be richer or prevent to be poorer. I have experience either way getting richer and poorer. Its true that the middle class cares mostly for itself as ed said from the first comment. The wall symbolizes a blocking defensive line in football. It tackles the ones that they feel would pass the line of their level. The more negative they feel about it the harder the tackle.

I have used every public transportation in the metro and I would encourage people to take the bus rather than drive but there is nagging fear from the middle or rich class on taking this more uncomfortable way. The rampant crime of holdups, snatching and pickpocketing. Which causes a freak attack to parents and others. This discontinues the trust in public transportation and its security. People want to buy their own car (I wan't to). It is a sense of self pampering and social status plus.

In a rich subdivision full of high walls and gates. Its funny to say that they are at least at the security of their community and yet they show-off instead with other home owners. So they are really freaking about the dangers of the mass public. They wouldn't put those high walls for nothing.(Especially Chinese families)

To that remark of teenagers doing the deed at home. Yes they do it more often and middle class people do it more openly because they have more privacy and the maids can be payed-off not tell to mommy.

Filipinos should go back to their old values. A sense of opening homes to communities doing "bayanihan" in this internet age. (Just lessen the tsismis past time)

jo said...

I've lived in gated communities my whole life, and have studied in exclusive schools as well. So on two accounts, I fit the profile of "middle class" that has been brought up on this thread.

A few notes (I speak for myself and my circle of friends): there is also mass discontent among the "middle class", a lot of expectancy and national potency (untapped or maybe unfocused as of yet, but it's there). Many friends remain idealists and have great dreams for the country--political and economic--and so the disconnect is not as cliched and consistent as assumed.

Exposure in real estate brokering has lent more perspective on why homeowners prefer gated communities (which rest on private property, and receive no funding for development from government): security, sense of community, greater opportunity for personal involvement (and so control over order, community management, etc.). I can vouch for my area (Pasig/Ortigas/Libis) at least, where I grew up with a sense of neighborliness that I didn't necessarily see in the case of friends who lived in non-gated communities.

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