beyond borloloy

Photo of new streetlamps in Pasay City, by Carlos Celdran

So the MMDA is looking for "architects, landscape artists and nonprofessionals" to "turn Metro Manila’s drab landscape from grey to green" (google cached article here -as I failed to catch the release on INQ7) as part of it's P100M facelift of the Metro. ("Non-professionals? Does he mean gardeners? or doodle-artists?)
“They must give their ideas soon … they should submit their proposals hopefully by the first week of December. The Metro is a concrete jungle and we need this to soften up the look of Metro Manila,” said Nacianceno in a phone interview.

The proposal, he added, should be practical, affordable and sustainable.

“Of course we are looking at functionality. The plan should not be too expensive maintenance-wise but still colorful in terms of the kinds of plants they intend to use,” he said."

Good intentions i guess, but the whole plan smacks of ornamentation. My former boss, in response to a florida councilman's questions about the intent of their waterfront plan, once said "we are planning a city, not just decorating it." (And she should know as she, with her late husband, led the groundbreaking urban plans for, among others, Boston's Faneuil Hall, Chicago's Navy Pier, San Francisco's Ghiradelli Square, Baltimore's Harborplace, and New York's South Street Seaport.)

It would be better if they spent a million or two coming up with an actual urban plan for the Metropolis that looked at mobility and livability issues -along with city image. Try for instance something like Austin TX's Great Streets Masterplan where the design guidelines were anchored on the following principles:

  • Sense of History
  • Unique Character
  • Authenticity
  • Safety
  • Diversity
  • Humane Character
  • Density
  • Economic Vitality
  • Civic Art

If the landscape or streetscape plans are not grounded in deeper principles, the deciding factors would be the MMDA's design aesthetics. (More pink?)

(with thanks to Sidney)

more on the OLPC

Andy Carvin posts a video-blog from Tunis on the $100 laptop.

He interviews Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen, CTO of the $100 Laptop Initiative.

Some notables:

  • the keyboard costs $5 - and will be customized for every country.
  • power consumption is at 2 to 3 watts!
  • the tech for the dual-mode screen will be open source (so expect it to show up in a lot more products)


nothing succeeds like success

Speaking of unintended consequences (or at least of infectious success), seems that the Organized Bus Route system is so effective that the MMDA is considering organizing the jeepneys too. The really interesing part: the jeepney operators and drivers are leading the asking.

The group, Pasang Masda, led by Obet Martin, has volunteered to test run the organized jeepney route among their members in Valenzuela and Caloocan City to find out if it will have the same effect.

This seems a better use of organized transport unions - since they seem to be failing at organizing transport strikes.

The other quotable quote:"...the OBR has increased occupancy rate from 11 percent during pre-OBR days to 68-percent capacity. This means, bus operators’ income has also improved."

Image credit: from Love affair with a jeepney by Sonia Krug


ticket to ride

Malacanang is mulling privatizing the ticketing services of MRT and the LRTs.

If all three lines were unified under a single ticket system, it would vastly improve mobility in the city. (That plus closing the MRT-LRT1 loop.) It may cost an extra P2.50 per ticket but if the ticket company is creative, the cost of the actual ticket can be passed on to advertisers. Many other cities use advertising on the tickets. It might also be a relief to be rid of politician's mugs in our wallets.

Cities and municipalities serviced by the MRT/LRT should also respond with policies that encourage the use of mass transit. They can, for instance, allow companies to provide employees with monthly MRT/LRT passes as pre-tax benefits. Labor unions should ask for this benefit.

Cellphone companies can get into the act by allowing re-loading of transit passes via text, etc. Malls along the mass transit lines can also join by providing discounts to monthly pass holders.

A more ambitious program would unify all transport ticketing -or at least MRT/LRT, bus and FX taxis -under one fare system that allows no-charge or discounted transfers. This is not so far fetched. If the OBR succeeds, implenting a single bus-ticketing system won't be impossible. And if the LTO gets its act together, it can apply a similar system on the FX/shared taxis -and from there, it'll be a short throw to uniting all three fare systems.

Aiming for such a program may also provide the impetus/political will to abolish the boundary system.

The single metrowide fare system might provide beneficial (unintended) consequences by necessitating a rational interconnection between the various modes of transport.


21st century pencils

Yes, yes -I'll get back to urban planning issues soon enough. I actually have two draft posts gathering cobwebs. - I just can't let this story go.

from the FAQ

Why is it important for each child to have a computer? What's wrong with community-access centers?

One does not think of community pencils—kids have their own. They are tools to think with, sufficiently inexpensive to be used for work and play, drawing, writing, and mathematics. A computer can be the same, but far more powerful. Furthermore, there are many reasons it is important for a child to "own" something—like a football, doll, or book—not the least of which being that these belongings will be well-maintained through love and care.

From Negroponte's interview in WIRED:

WN: Do you have any thoughts on what the long-term impact of giving all these kids a programming environment and an open-source ethic might be?

Negroponte: Those are two different questions. Giving the kids a programming environment of any sort, whether it's a tool like Squeak or Scratch or Logo to write programs in a childish way -- and I mean that in the most generous sense of the word, that is, playing with and building things -- is one of the best ways to learn. Particularly to learn about thinking and algorithms and problem solving and so forth.

And providing the tools for some people -- it's going to be a very limited subset (who will use them) -- to develop software that will be redistributed and versioned and so forth out into the world is also important. It's part of the whole open-source movement.

WN: You're going to be unleashing a whole new generation of open-source programmers, who otherwise would never, possibly, have gotten their hands on a computer.

Negroponte: I hope so. I hope we unleash half a billion of them.

WN:What, if anything, has been challenging about bringing this idea to national leaders?

Negroponte: Bringing the idea to national leaders has been easy, partly because I know some of them, or they know me.... It's almost easier for me to get in the door than Michael Dell or Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, even though they're more famous, richer or more important. It's easier for me to get in because I'm not selling something.

Once I'm in the door, the idea takes seconds for people to get.... People get it quickly, they sleep on it, very often they wake up the next morning saying, "Oh my god, this is a really big change." The whole idea of harnessing the resources of children themselves to participate in education is a pretty big one. A lot of people don't think about it....

It's a short story. It's also a pretty good story, and there aren't too many good stories in the world right now. There's no angle to it that's bad.... And with the possible exception of the circumstance in which (the government) is so poor that the $100 can't be reached, it really isn't a balancing act here. Why would you not do this?

And Thailand is lining up to buy $1M worth.

hmm... if there was a way to funnel .01% of this year's $10B OFW remittances, we could buy up to 100,000 of these "pencils."

(OK, you have a thousand implementation questions - but let's figure out the solutions to the problems after we commit to an approach.)


closer to reality

Design Continuum's prototype of a $100 laptop with hand crank,
for students in developing countries.

Follow up to my earlier post and I'm still asking why we're not on the list?

The WSJ article points to a 2006-2007 release. Brazil is in the forefront and they also see the benefits of manufacturing the machines:
"Rodrigo Mesquita, a Brazilian entrepreneur and a member of a government working group on the project, says his country believes the laptops could be used both to improve public education and the economy. Brazil is hoping to manufacture three million units, beginning next year, and supply some of them to other countries, he says. He also says money normally spent on textbooks would be used to pay for the laptops for Brazilian schoolchildren. "I'm very optimistic," he says, giving the project a "70 to 80%" chance of being launched in the country."

If the national government is too busy (and it the NGO community is too busy), I hope some local executives get excited with the prospect of using this in city schools and take steps to acquire the technology.

UPDATE: November 17 -see pictures of the OLPC laptop (unveiled by Negroponte in Tunis during the UN Internet summit)


make-up and schizophrenia

Commentary on three news items:

  1. MMDA kicks off P100M "facelift" of Metro Manila "investor corridors". (Also featured in this article from Star and a month ago in this article from INQ7.)
  2. The SC bars MMDA from tearing down billboards along the MRT.
  3. Congress updates the rent control law.

Item 1: Cosmetic changes don't last very long
From the Star article:
"The President defined these corridors as the "routes that investors pass all the time when they are thinking of whether they should invest in the Philippines" and the "routes that creditors pass all the time when they are thinking whether we have the ability to pay our debts."

From the latest INQ7 article:
"The general idea here is not to cover up, but to open the areas for commerce," Fernando said.
One idea is to convert sidewalks into parking areas, he said.

Much as I appreciate any work done to improve the city, P100M could go a long way to making substantial changes in the life of the city. This approach sounds so wholly cosmetic -and caters to investors riding in cars. -- Why not actually improve the livability of the city along the routes?

Change sidewalks to parking!!! Please! Hasn't the President or BF learned anything from their visits to other cities? Streetlife is what makes a city attractive -NOT parking.

Item 2: You want to change the look of the city? Start with the billboards.

What exactly does this scene say? Come invest in our city because we don't care what it looks like as long as you can advertise on it? (Thanks to Carlos' post)

We've got to begin respecting everyone who lives in the city -providing them a city worth living in and not spend our money on make-up trying to whore ourselves to investors -or to advertisers.

Investors are not dumb -they go to where business makes sense -and right now business makes sense where there is available talent -and available talent seems to like settling in very livable cities.

(I'm not against outdoor advertising, as long as it's outdoor advertising that respects the city.)

Item 3: Doing what's popular vs. doing what's right

I know rent control is well-intentioned. It's also very popular. It also prevents redevelopment by not allowing land-owners to earn capital -or by not making it worth investing in improving property.

There are plenty of studies on the market-distorting effects of rent-control. Many show that it actually makes the housing market worse for the those who can afford the least. (See one commentary from Paul Krugman here.)

We need a sensible policy for housing, one that will provide for those who can afford the least, and yet encourage re-investment in our cities.

(OK. So I pontificated on this post. Maybe it's sleep deprivation.)

ADDED: One hour later

Can someone please help me put up the money to bring Enrique Penalosa to Metro Manila for a lecture? He should have a full audience with GMA, BF and all the Metro Manila Mayors.


this land (use) is my land (use)...

(note: make sure you read my last post before reading this one)

Last June, the House Committees on Natural Resources, on Housing and Urban Development, and on Agrarian Reform, in a joint session, approved the text of House Bill 0272, also known as National Land Use Act of the Philippines. (Download full text of of the bill here (pdf 407Kb).

From the explanatory note:
The country has no Land Use Code that will serve as a sustainable growth map for both public and private investors. A Land Use Code is necessary for targeting and delineating areas open to investment in line with the country's development plans. There is need for certain lands to be set aside to establish "agricultural reserves" for food security. The Code is expected, eventually, to help resolve conflicts arising from various economic uses of lands versus the housing needs of the population.

A framework is needed for the allocation, utilization, management and development of the country's land resources. There is a need for a Land Use Code that will allocate land to various competing uses, preserve prime farm lands especially irrigated field for agricultural purposes, and ensure community participation in defining local land use.

The political crisis has probably sidelined the progress of the bill, nevertheless this bill is worth watching and is of crucial importance. As the above chart shows (click on image for larger version) Land Use and Development policies not only shape our cities and countryside but also impact a very wide range of issues - from economic (and political) segregation, to public health, to foreign policy (mainly energy independence).

I will discuss how land use impacts each of these issues over the next few posts.

Chart adapted from a presentation by Chris Leinberger, Urban Land Strategist

and Fellow of the Brookings Institution. (View Chris' original chart.)


in the zone

Mandaluyong's Land Use Plan

I mentioned in a previous post the difficulty of remotely obtaining land use plans for Metro Manila cities. I'm happy to report that at least Mandaluyong has it's land use plan maps and regulations online. (Although I wish they had an option to download either a hi-res version or an a vector file format -even CAD.)
More files available via:
I will be extracting the zones as best as I can (using photoshop) but just a few observations:

  • The zoning is definitively euclidean -so the uses are separated, and it looks like there are no opportunities for intense, mixed-use districts.

  • Mandaluyong sets aside a zone (R-4) for socialized housing - which probably represents blighted areas.

More on this later.

(For a good discussion on Jane Jacob's critique of euclidean zoning, see this article by Jay Wickersham.)

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