going mental

They say if you want to understand something - you have to look at that something from a distance. That's why I am so excited about the high res images of Metro Manila and our other city centers in Google Earth. It's not so much the joy of virtual roof surfing but the chance to assemble a better mental image of our city. It is, as Roby Alampay puts it, the chance to connect visualization to action.

I spent my elementary years in a public school, took high school in the premier state university where I also earned my college degree. As good as my education was, I do not ever remember having seen or discussed a map of Metro Manila or any of its component cities during my matriculation.

(The only time I got to take a long hard look at the built fabric of our metropolis was in grad school -as I researched more into the history of the city.)

Why is that? I remember long discussions about national issues - history, sociology, culture -but I never once saw a map of the places I lived in.

I did not have a clear mental picture of the city which, for better or for worse, circumscribed my daily life.

I could navigate it pretty well. I lived in northern QC and worked in Makati and I could easily take the New Panaderos shortcut and cut through Don Antonio to shave 30 to 40 minutes off my daily commute. I could find a path from Intramuros to Reina Regente and Divisoria and then take a northbound route to Monumento. I could take airport road and go through the villages to get to Alabang - so I (as well as the rest of us) had a mental map of the nodes and paths and edges of the metropolis. I did not have a whole picture.

It may seem trivial -this lack of a whole picture - but it points to what Kevin Lynch calls the "imageability" of the city. I saw Metro Manila, as I suspect the general population does, only as disjointed nodes connected by circuitous paths.

Google Earth affords all of us a bird's eye-view - a more complete map of the city, and maps help us see not only distance -paths and nodes and edges -but also relationships and scale. Maps help us to see density -and open space. Maps help us to see layers of history, and economic segration and spatial inequalities. Maps helps us to see the whole picture.

There is a subversive element in seeing the whole picture. It leads us to ask why?

More importantly, it prompts us to ask "Why not?"

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