mind the gap: understanding urbanization 2

gapminder time series: fertility vs. use of contraceptives (phils. 1965-2005)

gapminder time series: fertility vs. urbanization (phils. 1965-2005)

If you haven't visited Gapminder -and toyed around with the data, your missing a big part of understanding the world we live in. (Find out more about it through Dr. Hans Rosling's lecture at TED Talks.)

It is an unbelievably great resource and a great way to understand the dynamics of the world. The two charts above for instance show the relationship between fertility (number of children per woman) and level of urbanization (percent of the population that lives in urban areas) vs. the former against the use of contraceptives.

It shows there is a stronger relationship between increasing urbanization and lower fertility rates -even more so than fertility vs. the use of contraceptives. (Although it is clear that urbanization also increases the use of contraceptives among women.)


just what we needed

The new high res sat images of Metro Manila on Google Earth has made us crazy. Roby Alampay and I have decided that we need a central repository for all Google Earth data on the Philippines. He's set up a wiki called GoogleEarthPhilippines and uploaded a few kmz files to mark up your Google Earth.

So far we've got all the MRT/LRT stations, a partial of MM landmarks, a partial of UP Diliman (someone put in the dorms please), a partial of schools, etc.

We can't do this on our own so we're inviting everyone to come and upload your own kmz files. Visit the wiki here leave some comments or send us a wishlist of what you want to see marked.


fun with google earth: 3

Location A

Location B

Location C

Location D

So let's do a slightly harder set. Four locations -wider ranging. All still major landmarks.

Click on the pictures for larger versions.

fun with google earth: 2

Click for larger image.

This got me ROTFL. Check out the image above for the units of measurement available on Google Earth.

I believe he's still very much around.

(p.s. -the outlined area is the informal settlers community in the North Triangle of Q.C.)

Great Metro Manila Makeover

You like google earth? Any good at photoshop? Have ideas?

Check out Roby's new blog: Metro Manila Makeover.


fun with google earth

Location A

Location B

Location C

So I've been having great fun with the high res sat imagery of Metro Manila from the latest version of Google Earth.

I've clipped out three spots (Locations A, B and C) - can you guess what they are?


city slickers

BBC asks you to take a quiz to see if you are a country bumpkin, a commuter or a city slicker.

The Bruce Lee statue was a surprise.


a strategic approach to historic preservation

Avenue Theatre before it was demolished. Image from Carlos Celdran's Blog.

I know the wrecking ball has taken down the Avenue theatre, despite the heroic efforts of Carlos Celdran, Ivan Henares and the rest of the blogosphere along with the work of the Heritage Conservation Society and the NCCA. The nearby Galaxy theatre and a few more historic structures are also in danger of being demolished.

As forensic as this post may be, I'd like to contribute some notes on how to take a more strategic approach to historic preservation:

1. It's about economics

The Avenue theatre was reputedly demolished to make way for a parking lot. The owners apparently think that parking fees will give them better returns than whatever was in the existing building.

Apart from being historical artifacts, buildings are utilitarian objects -they were built to be used or to be lived in. Keeping the building in use, keeping it economically productive will insure its preservation more than any regulation or historic designation.

So the building owner's pro-forma is one of the most powerful tools the historic preservationist needs to understand.

Good regulations are built on incentives that keep the building owners pro-forma healthy -i.e., the owner should earn more by maintaining the building than letting it rust or turning it into a parking lot.

Historic Tax Credits -that allow the owner/new developer to offset the cost of maintenance or redevelopment within the first year of the pro-forma (i.e. -even before the building takes in tenants) have been effective in many locales.

Some non-profits and cities even do pro-bono work to help the building owner find development partners (i.e.-new tenants) conditioned of course on redevelopment and preservation rules.

(See my previous post on the role of rent control in historic preservation.)

2. It's about reuse

Many historic buildings become obsolete because the use they were built for has become obsolete. So old warehouse buildings lose their usefulness when the business they used to house has failed or the industry they used to served has lost out to new technology.

In many older downtowns, the old storefronts and theatres lose out their audiences to newer malls with larger capacities, better airconditioning, stage technology or even parking.

The trick is to find an appropriate historic reuse. Incentives for conversions also help, such as expedited building inspections or tax waivers.

3. It's about the district

Historic preservation works best when it considers the district as a whole -not that the whole district needs to be declared a historic site* but that the role of the historic sites -particularly when it comes to reuse -is considered in the context of the economics and demographics of the district.

Successful preservation efforts must consider residents and neighbors. Is there a demand for housing that will justify a conversion into lofts or apartments? Is there need for business incubator space? A school? A civic facility?

For many theatres retrofitted for stage performance, the question is whether there is enough retail in the area to provide a critical mass of possible attendees or viewers. (Apart of course from having a theatre-group that can actually draw an audience). -Whatever it be, the re-use of the historic building must serve the needs of the locals and the local clientele. Preserving buildings as tourists sites (very tempting for many cities) is rarely effective. At best it dolls up the historic building -preserving the facade while letting the rest of the space go to waste. It also removes the building from the life of the community -treating it as a trinket rather than a part of the social fabric.

In the US, one of the most potent weapons of the National Trust for Historic Preservation is its Main Streets program that encourages conservation in the context of reviving old town centers and business districts.

*- (Some cities/states have taken to the historic preservation of whole districts. This has been successful in high demand markets -if it is coupled with sensible redevelopment processes. In many places, the designation of whole districts has tended to stunt the market and continued, rather than reversed decay.)

4. It's about local government

All historic preservation must be tackled at the local level. National recognition or designation programs rarely produce anything more than a historic plaque on the site and maybe a mention on the national historic register. (This approach is more "monumentalism" -emphasizing preservation at the expense of revitalization.)

Historic preservationists have gotten the most traction when they get local government involved in actively encouraging preservation and reuse.

The logic behind this is that the legal authority for construction and demolition permits rests with the local government. So too with zoning and land use.

Enlightened national governments can provide the right policy environment -and economic incentives (Q: Why not give the same tax breaks we give to IT centers to businesses that locate and reuse historic buildings?) but ultimately, the local government has to buy in -and factor historic conservation into their land use and economic development plans.

5. It's about politics

If it's about local governments -then it's about local politics. Unless the historic preservationists are prepared to mount a serious electoral challenge, polemics about the incumbent mayor or city council do more harm to the cause.

Given that our mayors are allowed 3 consecutive terms -and can run again for another 3 terms after a one term hiatus (the "sabbatical" term often taken by the mayor's own patsy), incumbent mayors in the Philippines can realistically hold sway over the city for 30 years or more. Long enough to see real changes -and long enough to sit in opposition to historic preservation until no historic buildings are left.

Historic preservationists can make better headway if they can find a seat at the mayor's power table. In many cities, this is best done by finding allies in business who also double as financial supporters of the mayor. (c.f.- Carlos Slim's role in the redevelopment of Mexico city's historic core.) The mayor and the city council will listen to a businessperson (or businesspersons) with enough investment clout who can speak about preserving heritage while directing resources into the economic development of the other parts of the city.

Historic preservationists then need 3 legs to their campaign if they are to wage a strategic and successful effort: Education (getting people to value heritage), Economics (making preservation and reuse profitable) and Politics (finding a seat on the table). Media is a useful tool, and so are the courts but resorting to sound byte battles will probably save a building or two - while ceding the rest of the war to preserve the historic fabric of the city.

(For further reading, check out the works of Dr. Ismail Serageldin on the role of historic sites and culture in urban development.)


understanding urbanization

BBC's interactive map showing state of urbanization by 2015.

BBC has an interactive feature showing the rapid urbanization that the world has experienced over the last 50 years -and what it will experience in the next decade. By 2015, more than 50% of the world will be living in cities. (See the accompanying article here.)

It is this context of rapid urbanization we must understand to better cope with the issues that face Metro Manila. Understanding how that rapid growth affects our urban conditions - housing, services, schools, water, sewer and the environment - will lead us beyond just griping about the sorry state of our cities to sensible policy, regulations and market-based approaches to improving the quality of life in our cities.

Metro Manila's own rapid growth began in the late 70's when we officially hit megacity status and crossed the 5M population mark. Within 3 decades we doubled that population, essentially adding close to 180,000 people each year to the metropolis.

To have sensibly coped with that influx, we needed to build over 3,300 new housing units every month for the last 30 years. (That's building more than 1 house a day -for over 10,000 days.) Coping with that growth meant our public transportation system needed to accomodate at least 90,000 new passengers each year -requiring 1,500 new buses each year. It is no wonder then that we face such daunting issues now.

And we are set to add another 3 million more to Metro Manila by the middle of the next decade.

The good news is, we are not alone in this problem. There is a wellspring of innovation that we can harvest from the experience of other megacities - from Mexico, to Sao Paolo, to Cairo, to Jakarta. We need to get ahead of the curve -ahead of the growth, by looking at what has worked and what has failed in other cities. Perhaps we can even contribute some of our own innovations to the global discussion.

(I wonder if our cities are sending representatives to the 3rd World Urban Forum next week?)

I hope to explore some of those solutions in this blog.


on a clear day

Detail from Google Earth showing CCP and Roxas Blvd.

Good news! The latest update of Google Earth shows higher resolution satellite imagery for Metro Manila. So far it's a single orthoquadrant that is centered around the port area -and large parts of the scan are obscured by low lying clouds but it does promise better images in the future.

The image above shows the reclaimed area in very good detail. Check out the major traffic jam along the boulevard. Here's one of Quiapo Church.

Also, vectors for the primary highways are also available.


on the waterfront

Map showing inundated sections of Metro Manila if the sea level rises by 10M.

What will the metropolis look like if global climate change models are correct? How much land will we lose? The image above takes the extreme case of a 10M rise in sea levels. (This for a higher contrast version

You can keep this image in mind as you watch Al's film (which I hope will open in Metro Manila soon).

Alex Tingle has developed a googlemap app that shows global sea water rise. You can dial up the sea level from 1m to 20m.

If the models are correct, then Tondo and Binondo will survive as islands. The rest of Manila, large parts of Paranaque, all of Pasay and San Juan will be reclaimed by the Bay.

(On a personal note: it is s00o difficult to get back to the habit of posting - but hopefully, this one will get the juices flowing again.)

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