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


koikaze said...

Good Morning, Urbano

I've spent more time wondering if I should add my two cents worth than it's taking me to write this comment, and I'm a slow writer. I'm no fan of cities ... and cities are your life. More than that, cities are. Whether or not I like them is meaningless.

Then, why write?

I'm not sure. Perhaps to offer a slightly different point of view. My attitude is certainly closer to that of Professor Tan than that of Mr. Harford.

Mr. Harford extols the virtues of cities, citing innovation and global trade, but I find those things grim reminders of Will Durant's insightful words:

"Slowly the increasing complexity of tools and trades subjected the unskilled or weak to the skilled or strong; every invention was a new weapon in the hands of the strong, and further strengthened them in their mastery and use of the weak ... So in our time that Mississippi of inventions which we call the Industrial Revolution has enormously intensified the natural inequality of men." Will Durant, The Story of Civilization, Volume 1, Our Oriental Heritage, page 20.

My bias undoubtedly flows from my childhood on a farm, with six other households within one mile of my home. During my childhood, we went from horse-drawn implements to tractors. I couldn't wait to drive the tractor. In my excitement, I didn't even think of, much less miss, the companionship of Tom and Jerry who knew me and nuzzled my arm when I harnessed them.

Wasn't that my first step toward the terrible sterility of automated telephone systems and the incessant pounding at my head by people trying to sell me something?

Last week, on a very hot day, I drove down a rural road through a tunnel of trees. The temperature dropped 10 degrees in the leafy shade and the smell reminded me of years gone by. Do you think I'm maudlin? I may be, but I can't get past the question of whether the quality of life has improved during my lifetime ... or disintegrated.

You apply your thoughts and your energy to improving the quality of life in our cities. You work to improve what is, while I bemoan the loss of what was. You are certainly right, and I feel ashamed. I genuinely appreciate what you do. Perhaps, in time, you can bring better life to the living.

Anyway, there's no need for alarm. My breed is dying out.


Urbano dela Cruz said...

Hello Fred,

I can understand where you are coming from. We all, in one way or another, miss the idyllic and long for the pastoral scenes of our childhood.

One of the reasons I am passionate about cities is precisely because I want to preserve the open spaces and the wild places. Our sprawling cities have eaten up too many of our farms and our meadows and our wetlands.

There are now six billion of us on the planet. Where will we all live?

Unless we get our cities to work, we will eat up more land and more meadows, more trees.

Then there will be no more quiet country lanes to enjoy.


peterangliongto said...

If you look at it from another perspective, a lot of the what was is still there. A sizeable portion of the Republic is still not energized nor has any water service. The population which works an hour to the nearest paved road still numbers in the millions! While the country in general has high density and more so in the cities, the maudlin lifestyle so missed is still the more prevalent.

Regarding strengthening of institutions it seems that those which are government run seem to be weakest and that which are private strongest. I wonder what happens when in this current age of more efficient information the neccesary public institutions stagnate but society moves on. As developed countries outsource services here, could we perhaps evolve by outsourcing the functions of government and this by default. The main CBD's have been developed by the private sector. Squatter upliftment by NGO's like GK. Police to private security in gated environments. More importantly the rise of the virtual environment makes it easier for people to keep interaction with public institutions specially those that don't work to a bare minimum. Who knows but we may be at the forefront of a new paradigm for development, the plugged in recreating semblance of working society with a combination of virtual and private services in lieu of poor government run instituions.

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