connection, connection, connection

This was my reply to Carlos Celdran's latest post about Manila reopening restaurants in Intramuros as a trade-off to closing down the establishments on the Baywalk:

I'd welcome the re-establishment of restaurants in Intramuros with, as you say, clear building guidelines and oversight.

What is clearly missing though is a convenient physical link between Intramuros and the rest of the city.

Was it Alcazaren or Villalon that proposed a tram line between the bay and the walled city?

The baywalk (and a redeveloped CCP complex) could work well with Intramuros if there was either a BRT stretching from the airport to intramuros, or a slow surface tram between the CCP and the old city.

It would solve your parking problem -people could park somewhere along the route and catch the tram in either direction.

They could watch an event in the CCP or Folk Arts or PICC, catch the tram to intramuros for dinner, then catch it back to bay walk for a promemade.

If there's a strong pedestrian connection between the baywalk, ccp and malate -they could also walk to the bars for after dinner drinks.

There is, though, one thing about the baywalk that new restaurants in intramuros won't replace: democratic access.


This is, of course, one of my repeating themes.

Image credit: The Strasbourg Tram from Wikimedia Commons
photo by by C. Horwitz, 2004

back to the future

Note: I am particularly envious of the discipline and the prolificacy of bloggers like caffeine_sparks, ExpectoRants, village idiot savant and Senor Enrique who seem to have something new and significant to say everyday (Resty seems to have 4 everyday!). I, on the other hand, struggle to keep up with just with the comments -especially when they (That's you Peter. That's also you, Fred.) deserve well written responses.

True, they often deal with very current issues, while I opt to be an opinionated bystander. (I definitely don't fence sit -but most of these issues fall outside the scope of topics for this soapbox.) Still, their ability to sit and churn out interesting blog posts leaves me (self) wanting.

It's not for lack of effort, I must have two-dozen unpublished and unfinished draft post.

Here's one that's almost a year old (updated, of course):

If you've got an hour an twenty minutes to spare, and you're really interested in understanding why our megacity (like other megacities) grows squatter colonies, check out Robert Neurwith's June 2005 lecture at the Long Now Foundation's Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Neurwith is the author of (the highly recommended) "Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, A New Urban World" that chronicles the two years he spent living in squatter colonies in four continents. (He also runs the squattercity blog.)

"The 21st-century Medieval City," Neurwith's SALT lecture encapsulates his experience over the two years. Here's the link to the audio via MP3, or if you prefer, Ogg-Vorbis. (You can also subscribe to the whole seminar series via iTunes.) There's also a video via Google. And the slides are available here.

If you don't have 80 minutes to spare, you can always read Stewart Brand's summary notes from the lecture.

Neurtwith's thesis: squatter colonies are the future of humanity -with three billion people, a third of humanity, living in such cities by the year 2050.

If that sounds depressing to you, consider that most cities began as "warrens of illegal settlements." -They matured, in time, into permanent, organized settlements -which is the reference to medieval cities -most of these also began as settlements around the shadow of feudal fortifications.

(You also have consider that the concept of urban land as "private property" is fairly recent (perhaps since the 1500s) in the history of cities. Land, in most cities, were property of the crown or the potentate. -And this is a can of worms, as it will lead us to a debate about the concept of property.)

Neurwith's point is that we need to embrace and understand the dynamics of these settlements if we are to solve the challenge that will face a third of humanity in the coming decades. In Neurwith's view, squatter settlements are, "a legitimate form of urban development."

Some excerpts (from Brand's notes):
"What brings them from the countryside is the hope of economic activity, and it abounds. Restaurants, beauty shops, bars, health clinics, food markets. No land is owned, but a whole low-cost real estate economy takes shape, managed without lawyers or government approval. (Hernando de Soto is wrong about land ownership being necessary for growth.) People build their house, a wall at a time when they have a bit of money, and then sell their roof space for another family to build a home there, and so on up, story after story. Devoid of legal land title there are prospering department stores and car dealerships in the older squatter towns of Istanbul. Forty percent of Istanbul, a city of 12 million, is squatter built."
Forty percent! What's the number in Metro Manila? 30% of the population, but maybe just 10% to 15% of the land area?

As to criminality, Neurwith had interesting notes on the role of criminal syndicates in the favelas of Rio:
"Rio is a famously dangerous city, for tourists and natives alike, except in the squatter neighborhoods where no police go. There security is provided by drug gangs, who have become surprisingly communitarian, building day care facilities and soccer fields along with providing safety on the “streets”— narrow stairways kinking up the steep mountainside amid overhanging upper stories looking indeed medieval. There are wires and pipes everywhere carrying stolen electricity and water. (Enlightened power companies realized the thieves are potential customers and are making it easy for them to buy into legitimate service.)"
Finally, Neurwith has this insight and proposal:
"Neuwirth pointed out that squatters “do more with less than anybody.” All that the rest of us have to do is meet them halfway for their new cities to thrive."


to r.o.

This is a reply to Baldagyi Hatipoglu's latest Expecto-Rant.

Whew, that was a long one, Resty. Reposting my reply in your comments, here:

(Yes, Resty) Central Business Districts rarely have any soul. Check around any city -and the CBD would be the last place you will find authenticity.

It's in the Village, in Upper West Side, in Soho, in Tribeca that you will find people and a sense of place. Not in Lower Manhattan or Wall Street.

Same goes for London - the City and the Square Mile, even the new Canary Wharf are not where you will find the beat of the city. It will be in Covent Garden or Soho and the West End or even Notting Hill.

In Shanghai, the soul beats in the Bund and the old city -not in Pudong.

CBDs can't be the soul of a city -because CBDs are designed for soul less commerce. It is the sale and mamon that reigns and the spaces are designed accordingly. The green spaces or artwork you'll find will just be baubles and ornamentation to help the commerce make another sale or to help business put on a fancy face.

And yes, workers in CBDs -no matter how tall the offices, how proud the skyscrapers, how squeaky clean the sidewalks -will never feel a sense of pride in the CBD. That is where they work, and unless you work for an innovative, cutting edge, creative workplace (if you do, you probably don't work in the CBD), you're just another cog in the machine.

No. If we are to find our megacity's soul, we will have to find it in the authentic places. In the older restaurants and houses in Malate. In the bars along Espana. In the eateries in the University District. In the offbeat stalls in Quiapo.

(Doesn't Quiapo, with it's layers of grime, feel way more genuine than the shiny streets of the Makati or Ortigas CBDs?)

And CBDs, by their very nature, are not exactly the places to celebrate the individuality of our culture. In the age of global commerce, CBDs are meant to make the visiting businessman as comfortable as possible.

As to the gated communities. Your sense of exclusion is intended. That's why they are gated. And gated communities exist in nearly all cities. The rich would rather not rub elbows with the poor.

It is the task of good urban planning to make democratic cities -where there is inclusion rather than exclusion; where diversity and culture and quirkiness are celebrated.

If you feel like a second class citizen in the CBD, or if you feel like a second class citizen in the city -then you have two choices:

  1. As you said, (why not) relocate and just be a second class citizen in another city in another country in another culture. Or,

  2. You can work to make your city the kind of city where there are NO second class citizens. A city where everyone shares in the amenities. A city that gives you pride of place.

We all have a fundamental choice to make: to be citizens or to be strangers. To accept our alienation or engage the work of community. I hope you choose the latter.


links monday 081307

(Er, tuesday?...two weeks later? Aside: I've noticed that I hit a major snag immediately after I announce a series or an intention to start a series. Laws of the universe? I propose a UDC Theorem: "Your rate of posting on your blog suffers delays the moment you announce a thematic series of posts." Does that hold true for you?)

So here's a roundup of the links:

Icon Magazine's August issue sends a throwback to the age of manifestos. Rem Koolhas, John Maeda, Yves Behar and 47 other design professionals take on the soap boxes and address the issues facing design, architecture and the allied professions.

I've spotlighted #44, Urban Think Tank's call to arms. UTT opens with a clarion to architects to get their hands dirty with the most pressing urban challenge of our age:

Far from being irrelevant to the development of the informal city, architects are much needed. But they will have to be a different kind of architect.
Different kind of architect! Hmm, where have I heard that before?

The Caracas based architecture firm (led by Alfredo Brillembourg and Hubert Klumpner), prescribes ten actions design professionals must take to rise up to the challenge, capping the list with an Rx we could take ourselves:
"It’s time to stop waiting for governments to act and complaining when they don’t. They can’t implement revolutionary change on their own – and they can’t conceive it without the profession.

"It is time for professionals – architects, urban planners, social activists and others – to confront the future by helping to build the common, social spaces of their cities from the bottom up; to interact forcefully but productively with politicians, policy-makers, and community groups; and to participate collaboratively in the construction of more equitable, workable and sustainable cities."

Tim Harford, writing in the Financial Times, asks "What have cities ever done for us?"

A lot, apparently. Writing about government involvement in cities, Harford says,

To the extent that governments get involved at all, they should be defending cities, strengthening their infrastructure and allowing them, within reason, to grow.

Why? His next few paragraphs are gems:
The irony is that cities are good for the planet....Public transport may or may not work well in cities, but will never work in the countryside. And brute economic necessity keeps city dwellers in smaller, greener homes.

Cities are also hubs of commercial and technological innovation. Even the tools used on today’s farms were developed in places such as Chicago and Cambridge. Studies of patent data confirm that patents tend to spur other patents in the same region; studies of commercial innovation confirm that it is highly concentrated in urban areas. The arts, too, largely revolve around creative networks based in the great cities.

But apart from environmental frugality, innovation and the arts, what have cities ever done for us? There is one more thing and it is growing ever more important as global trade demands that our economies become more flexible: cities are resilient. Economies develop by changing; the process of change means that people are always being thrown out of work and always finding new jobs. That experience, never fun, is far less wrenching in a city than in a one-horse town. When a factory or a mine closes in a remote area, it can be an economic blow from which there is no coming back. In a big, diversified city, such closures take place constantly, but fresh jobs are far more likely to be on hand.
Which sheds further light on why our cities are growing so rapidly and why people flock to cities even if they have to live in squatter colonies.

Harford continues.
Every time a person chooses to live in a city rather than a small town or a village, she is preserving the environment for the rest of us, contributing to the concentration of people needed to spur commercial and cultural innovation, and adding to the resilience of the economy that surrounds her. For those of a mind to nudge the economy this way and that through the tax system, that is a case for government to be paying people to move into the cities.
And so we may complain about Imperial Manila, but when every square meter of land in the NCR produces 99 times more than land outside the NCR, shouldn't investment and infrastructure heavily favor our growing metropolises?

(I'd like to see chart that compares tax receipts vs. total infra investment per square kilometer for all areas in the country. )

Michael Tan, my professor in UP Diliman (in the very popular Anthro 187 -"Sex and Culture"), in his Pinoy Kasi blog talks about the appeal and shortcomings of living in our other cities (outside the NCR). Mike writes,
"...my friends warn me about not having good bookstores, no good libraries, no good concerts, no good European films and how they look forward to visiting Manila to get those things. I smile back and explain that even in Manila, I don’t have time to watch the not just good but great films and concerts at UP, where I teach. As far as I’m concerned, I could live even in one of the smaller cities like Tagbilaran and still get a cultural life of sorts, via DVD (again, assuming I have the time to watch) and high-speed Internet (these days you can subscribe to Internet services like High Beam Research and Questia and get access to thousands of books and journals).
He assures us that he doesn't plan to move out of the metro anytime soon but he also calls on us to expand our ideas of what a city should be. (And may I add, allow us to imagine a different future for our smaller but still rapidly growing cities.)
Meanwhile, those of us in Manila should also expose our kids to other urban centers, from Vigan and Tuguegarao up north, down to Zamboanga and General Santos in the south, so they can expand their horizons and their ideas of what a city should be. Hopefully, someday they will have more choices and options of where to live. Even better, they can contribute toward recreating and revitalizing our urban areas."

William Fulton (founder of the California Planning & Development Report and someone I've had the pleasure of working with), writes about "The Big Sort" in Governing Magazine. The big sort being the dividing line between the winners and losers among states and metropolitan areas.

Bill draws insights from Kirk Hamilton's Where Is the Wealth of Nations? Measuring Capital for the 21st Century, who says "There are no sustainable diamond mines, but there are sustainable diamond-mining countries.” According to Bill:
The idea is simple: Exploitation of natural resources can create some wealth, but it can’t create sustainable wealth because sooner or later the mines or the forests will be played out. In today’s economy, the same is true for factories and other footloose businesses that rely on semi-skilled jobs. When the cost of labor gets too high, they’ll move somewhere else — and that means a factory, like a mine, can be “played out.”

The bottom line? Exploitation of natural resources accounts for only 5 percent of the nation’s wealth. Production of goods accounts for another 18 percent. The remaining 77 percent is “intangible” capital — laws, education, ingenuity and so on.

The trick is to capture the wealth when and where it’s created and put it to long-term use locally.
Bill elaborates. The successful players parlay their natural wealth or competitive advantage and invest it back into developing more intangible wealth. The flipside (which Bill labels the "colonial" strategy) is to extract wealth and bring it out of the locale.

At the very least, these ideas question the one-sided approach taken by many states (and many cities) of enticing companies with tax incentives. Most of the these companies are footloose and will follow their noses to the next incentive. Without a clear program reinvestment and capital formation (both financial and intellectual), the growth will not be sustainable.

What's the solution? Bill, says, if there is one, it lies in:
"strengthening the place-based institutions that can’t easily leave. Universities, hospitals and other such organizations are necessarily committed to a geographical area."
So if the 639 square kilometers of Metro Manila are generating a fifth of our national GDP, what are we doing to strengthen the place-based institutions that will assure the sustainability of all that wealth-generation?

Image credit: Choices by Lorrie McClanahan

Quick Links

Notable posts on the metro