Help us save Jack

We're helping to raise money for Jack Simbulan, a five year old boy who desperately needs a bone marrow transplant to fight Fanconi Anemia.

We figure we can find at least 200 friends willing to pledge $25 or more to raise $5,000. (This is just a fraction of the $350,000 they need to pay for the operation.)

A pledge of just $25 (or more)

We're using fundable.org to raise the $5K -and are asking for pledges. You can pledge $25 or more via paypal or credit card. You will NOT be charged for your pledge until the total amount of pledges reaches the target amount.

Just 25 days

We have 25 days to raise the amount. When we reach the target amount fundable.org will send a check to Jack's grandmother in California.


Please spread the word

We think this is a very worthy cause -and we hope you can help us help Jack. Could you also help us by linking to this post or to jack's fundable site or emailing this post to your friends.

You would, too.

We know that if we were in Jack's parent's shoes, we would try anything and everything to help our child. We hope you feel the same way, too.

On behalf of Jack and his parents, thank you.

Benjie, Vickie and Teo


creating the quirino walkable district:
an urban planning sketch

(cross posted to Philippines Makeover)

Roby's original intent with the Philippines Makeover blog was to inspire people to use Google Earth and SketchUp to reimagine our cities. I am finally indulging him (and myself) with a sketch study on creating a walkable district using Quirino LRT station as the epicenter -with Quirino Avenue as the axis and the southern Malate district as the study area. I'd like to explore how we can improve this part of the city by making it more walkable -and hopefully, more livable.

Click on the image to the right to see a larger view of the study area. You can also see the area and the markers on Google Maps. If you prefer, you can download the kmz file for viewing on Google Earth.

Why the Quirino Station? I don't know. It seemed as good a choice as any but what appealed to me was its proximity to several urban amenities (the zoo, the bay, the sports center, remedios circle, leveriza children's park, etc.). The stretch of Quirino between Taft Avenue and Roxas Boulevard also presents some very interesting opportunity sites.

I am doing this urban planning sketch...

  1. as a thought experiment, to see what possibilities there are
  2. as a model/instigation to hopefully jumpstart other flights of imagination
  3. as a showcase of physical urban planning -to show what comes into play and into consideration when you plan an area (i.e. -the physical designs, the policy approaches and the community consensus building)
A blogpost is a limited medium when it comes to illustration so I will try to create a pdf version of each post complete with maps and diagrams.

So we start with the walking shed. A normal, healthy person can comfortably cover 1/4 of a mile during a 5 minute walk and 1/2 a mile during 10 minute walk. (The number is awkward when translated into kilometers -but if you want the figures: 5 minutes = 0.402336 km or 400+ meters; 10 minutes = 804672 km or 800+ meters.) That radius has been the basis for the design of neighborhoods since Clarence Stein and Henry Wright proposed the plan for Radburn, New Jersey. (If the Radburn plan looks familiar to you, whip out your Google Earth and navigate to Philamlife Subdivision. Philam as well as most of the QC Projects were patterned after the Radburn/Garden Cities template.)

The following landmarks are within a 10 minute walk radius of the Quirino LRT Station:
  • The bars in malate
  • The Remedios Circle
  • The San Andres Market
  • Malate Church
  • The Manila Zoo
  • The Leveriza Children's Park
  • Ospital ng Maynila
  • Harrison Plaza
  • The Rizal Sports Complex
  • DLSU, Benilde, St. Scho and PCU
and just a little further off:
  • The MET
  • Bangko Sentral
  • The Manila Yacht Club
  • The Army-Navy Club
  • UP Manila
  • PGH
  • NBI
  • The Supreme Court
  • Robinson's Malate
So you see, the walkshed has a lot of promise.

I'd like to fill up this map with as much data as I can and gather as many landmarks as I can place within the walkshed, so if you have the time and GoogleEarth skills, churn out markers on places / landmarks (restaurants, shops, offices, etc.) within the walkshed and send us the kmz files.

Digital copies of barangay maps of this district would also be very helpful.

Next up: opportunity sites within the walkshed.

design of democracy (6)
signal, noise and oligopsonies

At last. This took a while. I struggled with parsing the design ideas but realized that I needed to talk about the system in more theoretical terms (i.e. -signal processing and economics). I struggled with making the concept as succinct and reachable as possible but decided I didn't want to sound condescending nor do I want to patronize my readers (assuming I still have readers). I hope you take this (more esoteric) post in the context of the rest of the series (1, 2, 3, 4 and 5).

In my last post on this topic, I discussed how large electorates basically cause a market failure in the eoconomic-transaction model of democratic elections. The information asymmetry inherent in reaching a large electorate causes a market failure by reversing the transactional role of the candidate and the voter. The candidate becomes the buyer in the equation, the voter is the supplier. The kink in the system is that the buyer buys only in bulk -and the power shifts to the aggregators (middlemen) who can deliver or assemble the required number of votes. (The role of the aggregator can take the relatively "benign" form of the spinmeisters and message shapers or the media. It can also take the more malignant incarnation of the dagdag-bawas comelec mafias.)

The small number of bulk buyers (candidates) relative to the large number of suppliers (voters) characterizes an oligopsony.

The information asymmetry in the system is basically a signal vs. noise problem. The large electorate prevents direct one-to-one communication (symmetrical communication) between candidate and voter. To reach as large an audience as possible (to sway as many voters), the candidate's message must be amplified through various channels. Inherent in any amplification is distortion, noise and filtering. The fidelity of the signal is further compromised by the adversarial nature of elections. Attack ads, dis- and mis- information campaigns increase the noise in the system apart from the cacophony of multiple messages from multiple sources. Again, both the candidate and the voter (moreso the voter) cede power and control of the communication (and subsequent transaction) to the media channels.

(Some may argue that new media (the internet) may correct some of that information asymmetry. The Net does undercut the role of traditional media but current technology only really adds to the noise, requiring even more work for the voter to extract signal from noise.)

How we solve the problem? Well, how does one solve a) oligopsonies and how does one b) reduce noise in the system?

  1. You can try to regulate an oligopsony so as to cut the power of the buyers and aggregators.
  2. Or you can act break up the market. In an oligopsony, the suppliers (voters) have less power because very large majorities (or pluralities) are required to win elections. (Each vote is further diluted by the number of posts a voter must fill up on the ballot.) Breaking the market almost always means atomizing the market. Breaking it up into smaller pieces so there are smaller markets with less candidates vying for the vote of a smaller electorates. (And no, this is not an argument for federalism. I am talking about the size of the markets, not the form of the governance.)
We've tried the first option -regulation -as evinced by the myriad rules governing our electoral campaigns. Regulation requires enforcement and apart from our weak enforcement, it is also true (I think I've said before) that any system that requires external enforcement to work is essentially an ineffectively designed system.

  1. You can reduce the noise in the system by increasing the signal and reducing the noise in the signal-to-noise ratio. You can try to do that by brute (technical) force by designing a system that checks for fidelity and corrects for deviations from the signal at multiple points. Systems that do this require more energy and more complexity. (The more complex a system, the higher the potential for failure.) Also, the stronger the amplification (i.e. -media to reach 50M voters) the more energy you need to ensure the fidelity of the signal.
  2. You can also spend energy to make a more sophisticated receptor that can internally filter noise from the signal.
  3. Or, you can cut the distance between the signal emitter and the receptor, reducing the need for amplification and lowering the incidence of noise.
Again, in this case, we've tried the first two options - hoping independent media can insure the fidelity of the signal - or educating voters hoping to turn them into more sophisticated receptors.

What we haven't tried to do is option 2 in both cases: breaking up the market and cutting the distance between the emitter and receptor.

And this is where I make the case for smaller electorates - and ultimately the design proposal. That's up next in what is hopefully the last installment of this series.


bad idea

One of the last episodes on MLQ III's The Explainer's was on Capital Planning (with Paulo Alcazaren). I don't get ANC where I live so I cannot judge the contents of the show -I can only go by the shownotes that MLQ III posted on the-explainer.com. I think Mr. Alcazaren is an excellent resource person for the history of urban planning in Manila and I'm sure his discussion of the Burham and the NCPC plans would have been very enlightening.

I do have problems with Manolo's closing statement:

"With talk of a concerted, if unofficial, move to transform either Subic or Clark into the administrative capital of the Philippines, our officials and the public would do well to look at grand -and failed- attempts at capital-building in the Philippines.

"Neither Manila nor Quezon City, the once and present capitals of the country, has ever had its thorough plans end up as concrete reality, which leaves our country almost uniquely bereft of a rationally-planned and executed capital city among the countries of the region and even the world. The truth is that both Quezon and Manila Cities, for national capital purposes, are both dead, and that the time may indeed have come for a new plan for a new capital in a new place.

"A new national capital is always a great means for spurring economic growth and decongesting an existing metropolis; it is also an act of faith in the future and a way of resolving the past. We’ve been independent for sixty years, but still lack a national capital. This says much about our lingering incapacity to manage our own destiny."

I think a new national capital is a BAD idea. It's not so much the cost that bothers me -or even the prospect of repeating history (i.e.-failing to implement the plan). What bothers me is that new, purpose built capital cities have largely fallen short of their promise.

Starting over with a new national capital had its heyday in the early and middle 20th century -with projects such as Niemeyer's Brasilia, or Nowicki and Mayer's (and Le Corbusier's) Chandigarh, or Griffin's Canberra. These projects were driven by utopian views of urban planning. (See also this.) Most were also built as compromise locations supposedly to balance between the might of competing cities. (Brasillia is equidistant from Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro; Chandigarh is a compromise and shared capital between the states of Haryana and Punjab; Canberra is a compromise between Melbourne and Sydney.)

As beautiful as these cities are, they share a similar burden/failure. Apparently, purpose building a city to house only governmental functions creates a semi-dead city. Since the local economy is driven only by one employer (government), purpose built capital cities lack the vibrancy of most cities. Canberra is pretty much dead after work hours while Brasilia's planned core is ringed by slums (new unplanned cities rose out of construction workers settlements).

Cities, after all are economic agglomerations and the most successful (-and by that I mean successful in agglomeration) cities are characterized by a full spectrum of economic activities. So New York's 24-hour city or the liveliness of Shanghai, HK or Tokyo. (One can argue the benefit of aseptic cities...)

Much of urban planning has left the utopian paradigms that started those ambitious new city building projects - and are now more concerned with the real politik of improving existing cities. (In fact, only South Korea has/is attempting to create a new city. They are building a city to house half a million government employees in the Yeongi-Gongju region. They originally intended the new city to become the new national capital replacing Seoul but have now scaled back the plans to just creating an "administrative" capital.)

Segregating government into a separate district also tends to put it out of reach of local citizens -and makes it the domain of lobbyists, vested interests and influence peddlers. (Having an inaccessible Senate in the reclamation area and an even more remote House in litex/fairview is bad enough, imagine how things will go in a city totally built only for government!)

The tab for Korea's new city will top $45B. A new national capital for the Philippines would cost nearly half as much. That money would be better spent on making serious improvements to Metro Manila (like a full network of bus rapid transits ala Bogota's trans-milenio or serious street redesigns), solving our housing backlogs, or funding planning in our smaller cities.

Further to Manolo's closing notes, the fact is no new capital has ever decongested an existing primate city. The city is an economic entity, it grows because it attracts people who make money and find a living in its streets. -If anything, it tends a new capital tends to create new congestion when the plans for the areas around the city are not fully conceptualized (ala Brasilia).

That money would be better spent coming up with a National Urban Development Strategy that ties in our infrastructure investments (road, rail, etc.) to our land use plans.

I also don't agree that Manila or Quezon City is dead "for national capital purposes" - many living, existing cities have re-imagined and rebuilt themselves while the city continued its business -like Hausmann's Paris or Penalosa's Bogota (or see WRT's Designing Omaha -All of it! pdf2.1mb). Stepping away from the complex problems of Metro Manila (by investing our energies in a city built from the ground up) would be akin to burying our heads in the sand and consigning the 11M inhabitants of the metropolis to an unlivable existence.

I do agree with Manolo that we need a project that gives us a perspective of our past and a vision for our future. Massive projects (such as the pyramids, the Eiffel tower, and the urban plan of Paris) have always had the effect of encouraging long view thinking in their home cities and the home civilization. (We are so direly in need of long view thinking.) I would suggest that a serious re-imagining of our primate city - starting perhaps with a redevelopment plan for Intramuros and the environs or a full rehabilitation of the Pasig River watershed -may serve the same purpose.

I hope that, beyond looking at a national capital city project, this particular episode of The Explainer will be the start of a much needed national conversation on the state of our cities.

(For inspiration, download the Enrique Penalosa's speech and podcast on the importance of creating public spaces to make great cities.)

Image credit: Quezon Monument by Vernes Go. (CC)

why naga matters

In this blog, i've focused pretty much on Metro Manila and its issues (with some forays into Subic). As a megacity, Metro Manila shares the same challenges as Lagos, or Sao Paolo or Mumbai. The world is rapidly urbanizing and the megacities are the poster children of the human condition.

That being said, urban agglomerations of 10M or more will account for little over 5% of the world's total urban population by 2015. Meanwhile, one out of every four (and by 2015, one out of every five) city dwellers will be living in a city with less than half a million inhabitants.

This is why Naga is important (...and San Fernando...and Bacolod...and San Miguel, etc.) -because our small cities offer a chance at better models of urbanization. A chance to get ahead of the curve and work on making livable cities rather than just struggling with the megacity hydras of moving, housing and cleaning up after (not to mention governing) 10M+ people.

The challenge is to get the small cities to seriously consider their future -and to find other models (to be un-Manilas) of growth. (See also this, and this.) The hope is in enlightened mayors such as Jesse Robredo and in enlightened city staff who are ready to tap internal and external resources to help guide the growth of their cities.

The information economy -where location takes a backseat to (cyber) connectivity -will offer hundreds of new opportunities for small cities.

P.S. If I had my druthers, I'd start a small city consultancy to offer help (particularly in strategic urban planning) for our under .5M cities back home. (As it is, I already work with small cities. Maybe in a few years...)

Image credit: Extract from Joel Chamie's ppt on Urbanization and Migration: A Global Perspective. (From an excellent conversation on urbanization between Joel Chamie and Stewart Brand at the Global Business Network. PDF copies of their powerpoint slides are available for download.)


lessons to learn, mumbai redux:
new housing policy

BBC reports that Mumbai is enacting a new housing policy to "...make housing available and affordable for all, especially the lower and middle-income groups."

The city is already one of the most expensive places to live in India -but the population of the megalopolis, 16.M in 2000 (fifth largest in the world), is slated to climb t0 22.6M by 2015 (by then, second only to Tokyo and outstripping Delhi and Mexico City).* That's a growth rate of over 430,000 each year!

Metro Manila's growth rate is somewhere near 185,000/year (good enough to pull us to 16th largest metropolis by 2015), but our housing shortfall is just as bad. As of last year, the housing shortfall for NCR alone was over 1M (HUDCC figures).

From the BBC article:

Chairman of Knight Frank property consultants in India, Pranay Vakil, says the reason for such astronomical rates is because the supply is limited.

"The requirement for Mumbai is 84,000 houses a year, while the government and private players combined can offer only 55,000.

"So with a shortfall as big as that, is it any surprise that the prices have sky-rocketed and informal housing has grown beyond control?" he asks.

Informal housing is estate agents' parlance for slums, in which more than 60% of the city's 18 million people live.
Note one of the reasons why Mumbai got into this trouble:
Lack of organised renting and archaic rental laws further compound the problem and have pushed up property prices.

"There is not a single company or developer constructing only rental apartments and buildings like the kind you find in Europe and the United States," he said.

A 1947 law regulating tenancy and rent is another problem.

It has frozen rents at the 1947 levels, and protects tenants against eviction. (Note: Sounds familiar?)

This has delayed the freeing up of a large number of flats that continue to be occupied by people who pay unrealistically low rents.
The policy intends to:
...(promote) rental housing and new construction, redevelopment of slums and old buildings and boosting foreign investment in the housing sector.

The policy also promotes special township schemes just outside the municipal limits of Mumbai so that people working in the city can find homes to suit their budgets.
I have my own thoughts on how we can harness market forces to cover our own shortfall (leveraging infra investments by location efficient property taxes, location efficient mortgages, inclusionary zoning, etc. -will write about these soon) but for now we can study Mumbai's new policy -to see if it would be a model we can adapt.

*Source: UN Population Division, World Urbanization Prospects. The 2003 Revision.
Image credit: BBC News.



"The many rules strip us of the most important thing: the ability to be considerate. We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behavior," says Dutch traffic guru Hans Monderman, one of the project's co-founders. "The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles."

Some European cities are taking a wholly different approach to managing traffic: they are taking away traffic signs.

"A project implemented by the European Union is currently seeing seven cities and regions clear-cutting their forest of traffic signs. Ejby, in Denmark, is participating in the experiment, as are Ipswich in England and the Belgian town of Ostende.

The utopia has already become a reality in Makkinga, in the Dutch province of Western Frisia. A sign by the entrance to the small town (population 1,000) reads "Verkeersbordvrij" -- "free of traffic signs." Cars bumble unhurriedly over precision-trimmed granite cobblestones. Stop signs and direction signs are nowhere to be seen. There are neither parking meters nor stopping restrictions. There aren't even any lines painted on the streets."


It may sound like chaos, but it's only the lesson drawn from one of the insights of traffic psychology: Drivers will force the accelerator down ruthlessly only in situations where everything has been fully regulated. Where the situation is unclear, they're forced to drive more carefully and cautiously.

Indeed, "Unsafe is safe" was the motto of a conference where proponents of the new roadside philosophy met in Frankfurt in mid-October.

"Strange as it may seem, the number of accidents has declined dramatically. Experts from Argentina and the United States have visited Drachten. Even London has expressed an interest in this new example of automobile anarchy. And the model is being tested in the British capital's Kensington neighborhood."

Will this work in Metro Manila? Probably not on the major highways, but why not in the inner city streets? Our streets are chaotic enough as it is, but could this approach work back home? Your thoughts?

Read the full article here.

Image credit: Ben Behnke for Spiegel Online.


if I dug a hole behind Pepe...

Forget digging for Yamashita's treasure, dig to the other side of the world instead!

Here's another weird googlemaps mashup (by Luis Felipe of Brazil) that tells you where you would wind up if you do manage to dig a hole deep enough.
Apparently, digging anywhere in Rizal Park will lead you somewhere north of the border of Brazil and Bolivia.

(P.S. -Big thanks to my dear friend Mayang who is running a 10K for Jack.)


missed connections

Anybody still here? Sorry. Been on the road talking to cities such as this, ,this, and this. Still a lot to do so this will be a quick post.

Paulo Alcazaren had a recent post on Singapore's planned $115 million spaceport (covered by Jo in this post). It's easy to be envious of Singapore but as jaw dropping as that spaceport seems, I would worry about two more earthly projects:

  1. The Trans-Asian Railway (click on the map for a bigger version -and more about it here); and,
  2. The South East Asia-Middle East-West Europe 4 (map of it here).
Neither project connects to the Philippines. We should worry.

(And yes, Design of Democracy 6 will soon be out. I hope.)

P.S. -Read more about Jack Simbulan here.

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