by the people, for the people

Success in upgrading slums led by the people who live there:

The Baan Mankong Community Upgrading Program was launched by the Thai government in January 2003, as part of its efforts to address the housing problems of the country’s poorest urban citizens. The program channels government funds, in the form of extremely flexible infrastructure subsidies and soft housing and land loans, directly to poor communities, which collectively plan and carry out improvements to their housing, environment, basic services and tenure security, using budgets which they manage themselves. Instead of delivering housing units to individual poor families or bringing in a few standardized infrastructural improvements, the Baan Mankong Program (which means “Secure housing” in Thai) puts Thailand’s slum communities (and their community networks) at the center of a process of developing long-term, comprehensive solutions to problems of land and housing in Thai cities. Under this unconventional program, which is being implemented by the Community Organizations Development Institute (a public organization under the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security), poor communities develop their upgrading plans in close collaboration with their local governments, professionals, universities and NGOs.


Besides new houses and infrastructure in the community, the canal is also getting a face lift and a brand-new, tree-lined, 6-meter lane along its edge, built partly on the swampy edges where houses used to perch, and partly on land reclaimed by the District Authorities in the canal. This new canal-side walkway will provide access to the communities along the canal and enable fire-trucks to enter the slum in an emergency. Though it will be open to motorbikes and cycles, the community people see this walkway as an important pedestrian amenity, providing space for children to play, people to visit and vending carts to sell their food and wares.

Download the pdf (2.5mb) here (via the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights).

The world’s 10 best commutes

photo by AP

Of course Metro Manila is not on the list - but it would be good to look to these cities for inspiration. And, hey, Mumbai, Chennai and Dakkar are on the list. There's hope because "dense cities perform particularly well ."


The speed of transit not only benefits commuters; it contributes to a city's economic competitiveness. Outsourcing capitals like Chennai, which are heavily reliant on attracting informational technology companies, do well on our list due to the city's high investment rate in projects like the IT highway, and its MSRT mass transit rail system.

"Ease of urban mobility is a prerequisite for business to reach supplies and customers," says Maria Krautzberger, permanent secretary of the Berlin Senate Department for Urban Development. "Cities cannot secure their position in global networks otherwise."

Something for our policy makers and business leaders to think about.


on my reading list

Sorry folks. New job, new city and new baby (Luna Emilia -born Oct. 13, 2008) have been very demanding so have not had time to post or to answer comments.

In lieu of more nuanced thinking, I throw at you books and events I have been reading or have attended lately.


An utterly original exploration of the world of human waste that will surprise, outrage—and entertain

Produced behind closed doors, disposed of discreetly, and hidden by euphemism, bodily waste is something common to all and as natural as breathing, yet we prefer not to talk about it. But we should—even those of us who take care of our business in pristine, sanitary conditions. For it’s not only in developing countries that human waste is a major public health threat: population growth is taxing even the most advanced sewage systems, and the disease spread by waste kills more people worldwide every year than any other single cause of death. Even in America, 1.95 million people have no access to an indoor toilet. Yet the subject remains unmentionable.

The Big Necessity takes aim at the taboo, revealing everything that matters about how people do—and don’t—deal with their own waste. Moving from the deep underground sewers of Paris, London, and New York—an infrastructure disaster waiting to happen—to an Indian slum where ten toilets are shared by 60,000 people, Rose George stops along the way to explore the potential saviors: China’s five million biogas digesters, which produce energy from waste; the heroes of third world sanitation movements; the inventor of the humble Car Loo; and the U.S. Army’s personal lasers used by soldiers to zap their feces in the field.

With razor-sharp wit and crusading urgency, mixing levity with gravity, Rose George has turned the subject we like to avoid into a cause with the most serious of consequences.

One in every ten people lived in urban areas a century ago. Now, for the first time ever, most people live in cities. By 2050, the United Nations projects, almost three-quarters of the world's population will call urban areas home. The majority of this growth is centered in struggling, developing countries of the Global South, but cities in developed (or Global North) countries face increasingly complex challenges as well.

Around the world, unplanned urban expansion is multiplying slums, overburdening housing, transportation and infrastructure systems, stifling economic growth, and leaving millions vulnerable to new environmental and health threats.

To help manage and plan for this accelerating urbanization, the Rockefeller Foundation convened an exceptional group of urbanists--leading policy makers and government officials, finance experts, urban researchers, members of civil society organizations, and other innovators--for a Global Urban Summit at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center. This book shares their diverse perspectives, creative approaches, and urgent agenda for harnessing the vast opportunities of urbanization for a better world.

Just as God used words both to create the world and to give us commandments, we too use words for many different purposes. In fact, we use the same language to talk to each other and to talk to God. Can our everyday speech, then, be just as important as the words and prayers we hear from the pulpit? Eugene Peterson unequivocally says "Yes!"

Tell It Slant explores how Jesus used language - he was earthy, not abstract; metaphorical, not dogmatic. His was not a direct language of information or instruction but an indirect, oblique language requiring a participating imagination - "slant" language. In order to witness and teach accurately in Jesus' name, then, it is important for us to use language the way he did.

Peterson's Tell It Slant promises to deepen our understanding of Jesus' words, strengthen our awareness of language as a gift of God, and nurture our efforts to make all of our speech convey a blessing to others.


This ground-breaking symposium has been organized to address the role of urban design in the face of one of the most profound and important challenges facing global society: the need to re-imagine and rethink how cities are designed and organized in a future without the plentiful and abundant oil upon which prosperous urban economies have been built.

The event marks the 50th Anniversary of the 1958 University of Pennsylvania/Rockefeller Foundation “Conference on Urban Design Criticism,” whose participants included Jane Jacobs, Louis Kahn, Kevin Lynch, Ian McHarg, Lewis Mumford, and I.M. Pei. That historic conference helped shape the new field of urban design in the 20th Century. Now, we hope you will participate in this critical exploration of new directions for 21st Century urban design.

The program speaks to the depth and diversity of the challenge with sessions on innovations in the way cities are conceived, adapted, designed, developed, and managed in a post-carbon world. The conference will conclude with a manifesto on educating the next generation of urban designers and how best to equip them for the road ahead.

Rebuilding and Renewing America: Infrastructure Choices in the Great Lakes Megaregion

Freight congestion, aging bridges, insufficient mass transit, brownouts, soaring energy costs, flooding, and polluted waters - all news in recent years, and all partially the results of continued strain on our nation's infrastructure. At the same time, the need for an economic stimulus is greater than ever. The presidential election in November 2008 gives us a fresh opportunity to set a new agenda for infrastructure investment in the Great Lakes megaregion to revive the flagging economy and to compete globally.

Longer letter later.


where I've been
where I'm going

So tell me, are we way past the point in the life-cycle of blogs where the reader, not having seen a new post in weeks, has decided it's not worth visiting the blog anymore?

I hope not. Then again, you're reading this so maybe I have some ground to stand on.

I've been away for quite a while, and have let the messages pile up on my cyber doorstep. I apologize to those who left their thoughts.

I changed jobs in June and moved cities to boot and that has been quite an adjustment. Add to that, the curse of "saying I will start a series" which, invariably, makes me stumble on posting regularly.

Where I've been

I've been working on physical plans at a much smaller, though just as interesting scale. I felt I needed to get back to my design roots and thought a stint in campus planning would satisfy that need.

But the move also shifted me slightly off my focus of livable cities, and though I kept up with the news - I was not as immersed in it which probably is one of the reasons for the dearth in posts.

Well, all that is about to change...

Where I'm going

Then, the Rockefeller Foundation called. We talked.

Here's more about them:
The work of the Rockefeller Foundation for the 21st Century is to enable 'smart globalization.' It attempts to harness the creative forces of globalization to ensure that the tools and technologies that have significantly improved the human condition in many parts of the world during the past half century are accessible today to more people, more fully, in more places.

The foundation focuses its work on five, interlocking issues and one of them is rapid urbanization.

What do they want to accomplish, particularly in my field? They want to address...
...the risks of accelerating urbanization - shaping efforts in planning, finance, infrastructure, and governance to manage a world in which, for the first time in history, more people live in urban communities than rural ones.
I liked the challenge they posed. They liked what they saw in me. They made an offer and I've accepted. I start work with them in November and will be serving as Associate Director for Urban Development and I'll be working on the challenges of urbanization worldwide.

Let me repeat that, to shake my own disbelief at how I've found a home for my passion.

I will be working to find solutions and shape efforts
in planning, finance, infrastructure, and governance
to manage a world in which, for the first time in history,
more people live in urban communities than rural ones

Let me step back and say, "Wow!" Sorry. This is a defining moment for me.

And have I told you how they work?
  • We seek and support work that sparks innovation, fresh approaches to problems and their resolutions.

  • We work across and between disciplines, bridging the public, private, and nonprofit sectors.

  • We bring diverse people and parties together and engage them in meaningful alliances.

  • We search for and work with partners to leverage as many elements as possible to maximize opportunities for success.

  • We work to strengthen individual, institutional, and community capacity — empowering more people in more places to build and maintain better lives and futures.

  • We strive to stay nimble and agile. Almost all of our work is selected because the Foundation sees an opportunity to break a bottleneck, surface a new issue or reframe an old one, take advantage of a current or coming tipping point, or expand a proven solution in concert with others.

  • The Foundation vigorously and regularly measures impact and outcomes. Our initiatives specify clear time frames, identify anticipated results, and require monitoring and evaluation. This does not mean that we expect to solve the world’s thorniest problems overnight. It does mean that Foundation-supported work defines hypotheses, articulates both short- and longer-term objectives, foresees and adapts to changing circumstances, and fully integrates verifiable methods of assessing progress.


As they say in the old time world of Komiks, "Abangan ang susunod na kabanata."


car free streets

Yes, I know. I've been gone for too long.

Hold on. I've got some major news and updates coming up but meanwhile, be inspired by New York and San Francisco's own takes on car free days on major streets.

Tell me why we can't do this in our cities:

from Streetfilms.org


a little bit better

Jan Gehl, one of the most effective urban planners and urban theorists alive, has this advice about dealing with the seemingly overwhelming challenge of changing our cities:

Take it one step at a time.

Check the video above (a segment from Contested Streets) about the success of Copenhagen. Says Gehl:

It's really wonderful to live in a city where everyday, when you wake up in the morning, you realize that today the city is a little bit better than yesterday.


What they've done in this city is they taken little steps every year for forty years and (now) there is a fantastic difference between what it was then and what it is now.

One day at a time. Little steps over decades.

It would be impossible to "solve" Metro Manila overnight. But we can do it over time.


lupang hinirang*

This, before we talk about how to change a city:

Caring About Places: Thresholds

Good places need to be excellent in many dimensions

They need to be structured so we can remember them,
They need to remind us of important things about our lives,
The need to suggest our positions in a sequence of time; not obsessively
marking the moment, but tracing the strands of decision over time

Good places need to be stimulating, to be forgiving, to be approachable,
to be more than we first think they are.
Good places need to sustain attention,
to invite and reward the interest we show in them,
to capture the curiousity and affections of many,
to draw their energy from diverse sources,
to garner and accept continuing investment.

Good places embody imagination,
Good places result from successive generations of care,
Good places engage the landscape, are inscribed with detail,
Good places take advantage of the capabilities of their time; appropriately and with discretion.
Good places confirm as well as challenge; challenge as well as confirm.

Good places set in motion patterns of social encounter that are constructive;
they are not hermetic
they are not threatening
they allow choices of path and association.

Good places let us see how we could be a part of them;
they have parts that are measurable in human terms --
niches of intimacy, rooms of purpose, spaces of assembly, fields of connection
they register human movement, mask and reveal activity, provide options,
evoke conversation, offer repose.

Good places must be considered at various scales;
they play an evident and welcome part in a larger community, landscape and region
they have elements that help us to place them in memory
they bear traces of the acts of building, gardening, tending, gathering
they are furnished and give comfort
they are a semblance of thought...the most precious of resources

Good places enrich our lives; they are thresholds between what has been
what might be.

The last line bears repeating:

Good places enrich our lives;
they are thresholds between what has been
what might be.

*lupang hinirang -tag., literally "land beloved"
Image credit: esquinita by Ouij


hope for the city

I've been on an unintended hiatus from blogging for almost two months. I've moved to a new company and job and a new city and the settling-in has taken time.

Despite my absence from these pages, Manila hasn't been far from my thoughts. Mostly I've been thinking about the comments on this post from Carlos Celdran. Carlos posted a 1938 Andre de la Varre feature on Manila. The video is a must-watch for anyone interested in our city's history.

The camera pans across scenes of Intramuros and Binondo, of Ermita and Quiapo, and captures life in our city at a time of great change -when cars where beginning to take over the streets. Tranvias, calesas, automobiles, horse drawn buses and carabao drawn carts jostle with pedestians for the road. It shows congestion beginning in the streets, bustling commerce, churchgoers and promenaders.

Carlos' title for the post? "Sigh, sigh, sigh" as the film makes it easy to get nostalgic about the Manila we have lost. The comments echo his melancholia.

Kat says:

We've lost so, so much. :-( One hopes that we can rebuild, but it's been 70 years since that video, and over 60 years since the war, yet the deterioration continues. Sigh, again.
Alvin agrees:
"Sigh" indeed. Sad as I am that we may never be able to recapture how Manila looked like then, I'm thankful that these videos that you kindly shared with us give us a clearer portrait of a more genteel, comparatively classier Manila.
Most of the comments expressed a courageous love for the city -but all in the chord of "Our city is terrible now, and it's probably too far gone, but we love it anyway." -Which I admire but it bothers me nonetheless.

The love, heroic and seemingly unrequited, is principal. We must love the ground that raised us if our identity is to be grounded and if we are to grow deep roots.

The pessimistic melancholia, rose-colored glasses about a "genteel" past that may never really have been, and a clouded but determined commitment to hold the city dear despite its corruption, is ultimately self-defeating.

Do we still have hope for our city? Do you think we can still do anything about Manila and our megacity?

My fear is that, even those who profess to love the city, will say no. It is, after all, easy to be pessimistic, there is little that brings hope -and our city's problems seem too complex to find solutions.

But cities are never static. Cities are in constant flux. Buildings go up, and come down. Streets change shape and are rerouted. Properties are abandoned then reclaimed. Mores and fashions change with the generations

Cities change. Understanding how cities change will help us to shape that change. To set a path to sustainability and livability and mitigate the decay.

If you love the city of your birth and life but feel little hope for its future, then I offer the next few posts to you. Cities can change and cities can turn around. There are lessons we can learn from others and I hope to write about them, to teach and more importantly, to inspire.


the net and the metro

Being a mapping and graph geek, I've been thinking about the juxtaposition of cities and their websites. Is there any sort of relationship? Does the complexity of a city's website relate to the complexity or legibility of its built environment? Or do they speak more to the level of participation the city engenders through its online presence?

Here are the webgraphs of four cities, two of ours and two world capitals, you tell me what you think:


New York City

Quezon City

Makati City

(I think webgraphs definitely correlate with the online success of presidential campaigns.)

Whether or not the web and the physical city correlate, I am sure the web will have an impact on our cities. Here's what the inventor of the world wide web had to say about it:

"What's exciting is that people are building new social systems, new systems of review, new systems of governance.

"My hope is that those will produce... new ways of working together effectively and fairly which we can use globally to manage ourselves as a planet."

Sir Tim's comments inspire me and make me think of the possibilities that a networked Metro Manila population can do for the city.

What effect do you think the web will have, or is already having on metro manila?


streets as valuable public spaces

"treat streets as valuable public places,
rather than utilitarian corridors"

So says Janette Sadik-Khan, Commissioner of New York City's Department of Transportation, as she introduced Gotham's new "Sustainable Streets" strategic plan. The plan "lays out a vision for New York City of improved mobility, safer streets and reduced impact on global climate, all resulting in a world class quality of life."

Although the plan has it's failings and critics, it does clearly exhibit how city governments, and their transportation departments in particular, have turned 360-degrees in their paradigms. from roads to streets, and understanding the impact that improving the streetscape -making sure it caters to people first, rather than just vehicles - has on the quality of life in our cities.

It only makes sense, given that road infrastructure takes up at least 30% of a city's total land area. Turning roads into complete streets will do wonders not only for mobility, but also for livability. (c.f. -how children who live in areas with tree-lined streets are less likely to get asthma.)

It's a rethink that we also dearly need for Metro Manila and all Philippine cities.


leon chua and the memristor

So, if you're geeky enough, you would have heard the HP has finally created the missing link in the "family of circuits" -the memristor.

"an entirely new kind of electronic device, which could make chips smaller and far more efficient...a computer built with memristors could allow PCs that start up instantly, laptops that retain sessions after the battery dies, or mobile phones that can last for weeks without needing a charge...

"Memristors were first proposed in 1971 by Professor Leon Chua, a scientist at the University of California, Berkeley.

They are the "fourth" basic building block of circuits, after capacitors, resistors and inductors."
And, as you can tell by the name: Prof. Leon Chua is pinoy -a product of Mapua (1959) -by way of MIT and UI-Urbana-Champaign.

Makes you proud to be pinoy!

Pass this around, please.

(Ok, this has nothing directly to do with cities - but I'm a geek, so live with it.)


long time

It's been nearly a month since my last post. I wonder if anyone is still with me. My apologies to the lack of responses to your comments. Work has gotten far too hectic lately, and it doesn't look like there will be any let up soon. The upside is there are exciting developments on the horizon.

My unintended dormancy made me think of all some of my favorite blogs/bloggers that have gone silent:

  1. Willy Priles/A Nagueño in the Blogosphere -most recent post, January 28, 2008
  2. Dr. Gauden Galea/Only Connect (link is dead blog.slidebay.com)
  3. Uzi|My Everyday Manila - (domain is dead www.everdisturbed.com)
  4. Lorimer/Manila, My Manila - most recent post, November 26, 2007
  5. Edwin Lacierda/San Juan Gossip Mills Outlet - most recent post, November 13, 2007
Do you have any favorite blogs that have gone silent?


Photo credit: Pocket Watches by jekemp


what will the sustainable city of the future look like?

What will the sustainable city of the future look like? from EMBARQ Network on Vimeo.

Nancy Kete's speech at the World Conference on the Development of Cities in Porto Alegre, Brazil on February 16th, 2008.

This is a must, must see video for any would be urbanist and for all environmentalists. Listen closely to her calls for visionary urban leaders and how our cities can save the world.

Military strategists are fond of saying "Amateurs talk of strategy. The Pros talk about logistics."

If we are to succeed, we have to look beyond our immediate problems and begin to envision how we will create sustainable cities that will compete in this century and the next.



And you thought our traffic was bad. CityFix quotes Time Magazine, which recently named Bangkok The Capital of Gridlock.

CityFix says that the author explained just how bad traffic can get in the Thai capital:

“Police don’t consider traffic bad until a car is stationary for at least an hour. Really bad is two hours.”
And they proceed to cite how the article relates traffic to a myriad of problems, including:

The human side: “Traffic in Thailand’s capital snarls with such ferocity that hundreds of women over the past few years have been forced to give birth in cars.” Police are now trained in midwifery, [Hannah Beech] reports.

The economic side: “More than $1 billion in productivity is lost every year to traffic jams.”

The environmental side: In the 1970’s Bangkok cemented over canals to build more streets for the growing number of cars. “…the declining number of canals, which once served as reservoirs for rain, means that substantial portions of the city flood during the five-month-long wet season. The rising water invariably short-circuits traffic lights, turning intersections into free-for-alls.”
So be grateful that things are not that bad in our megacity. But realize we are headed that way if we continue to prioritize cars over people. We really need efficient public transportation.

And if you have some time on your hands and are prepared to get caught up with online tweaking, go learn about traffic patterns and how traffic jams form via this nifty java-based traffic simulator (via WorldChanging).

Try tweaking the speed limits vs. traffic flow, you'll see how slowing down the traffic actually allows the roads to absorb more vehicles and allows traffic to flow smoother.

(Except it doesn't let you control the number of lanes otherwise you can see how adding road capacity doesn't actually lead to smoother traffic.)

Photo by pchweat via TheCityFix


getting better public transit in metro manila (part 4)

Mobilizing the political will
to improve public transit in Metro Manila
Part 3: Divide and Conquer

This is part four of a series on how to improve public transit in Metro Manila.

Reviewing again the previous posts:

Step One is to change the frame. Improving public transit is not about decongesting traffic. It is about social justice.

Step Two is to show an alternative vision. Discussing what is wrong about the status quo will not bring change by itself. We have to show what is possible.

Step Three is to build a winning political coalition. A political coalition that will shepherd the change through the political process, and bring political pressure to bear to convince the policy wonks and sway the elected officials.

"Winning" presumes a political contest - a battle, and so we cannot win unless we win over or defeat the opposition which brings us to:

Step Four, Dividing and Conquering the Opposition.

Sun Tzu exhorts us to "know your enemy," so the first question is, "Who would be opposed to more efficient public transportation in Metro Manila?"

The answer, of course, is no one.

More so if the premise is social justice. What politically-sane person in the Philippines would stand against something that is about efficiency, serves the public and is pro-poor?

But it would be the height of naivete to think that there would be no opposition. There will be, but their opposition will stand on issues NOT diametrically opposed to efficiency and social justice.

We need to know their interests, issues and goals and use the same to gain leverage for our agenda.

There will be two types of opposition: organized and not. And that nomenclature is split further down to groups who are influential or not.

The biggest, most visible threat would be from organized and influential opposition, which in my book will likely be the Operators and Drivers Associations of the present public transport services (BODAs, JODAs and TODAs). They have, after all, recently and successfully flexed their muscles (giving, what R.O./Y.R. calls Manila's Extreme Sport, a day long uptick in degree of difficulty -though Enrique claims he found no real effect). They also have a long history of protest action.

But as organized as the ODAs are, they are in no way monolithic. To succeed in breaking the opposition, we have to look at the internal faultlines and use their interest to win adherents over to our side.

Drivers, above all, want a predictable income. Under the boundary system, fluctuations in fuel prices, uneven fines, capricious law enforcement and traffic and traffic congestion affects their take home income. Any system that smooths out those fluctuations - that gives them steady income would be preferable.

Operators, meanwhile, want to maximize their profits. As businessmen, they will appreciate a system that provides incentives to their investments.

One other note, the current free-wheeling public transport ecosystem provides an entrepreneurial route from driver, to small operator, to large operator (or transport consortium). A better public transit system can win adherents if it answers those concerns.

The Bus Rapid Transit system, as implemented in many cities, offers viable solutions to each of these concerns.

First of, the dedicated-lane, bus priority traffic system automatically eliminates the congestion and capricious law enforcement concerns of the drivers.

Also, unlike capital intensive Light or Heavy Rail systems, BRT systems provide a pathway for participation for existing transport providers. Drivers and smaller operators can be encouraged to form cooperatives to bid for and to run the services of the BRT. Large consortiums can easily transition and also provides services. Take the example of Mexico's MetroBus, where 70% of the service is run by companies and cooperatives from the ranks of the former drivers and operators of the minibus services that the BRT system replaced.

Becoming service providers for the BRT, under a formalized enterprise, will allow drivers to shift into formal salaries , moving them away the insecurity of the boundary system. They will also have the benefits of formal employments, such as health insurance and social security.

We can also mandate employee ownership of the service firms so that the drivers earn more than their salaries, but also partake of the profits. Their livelihoods will also not be tied down to the fare rates, but their extra income (share of the profits) will be linked to the efficiency of the service.

A properly designed BRT policy and investment program will move small operators from single proprietorships into medium sized business enterprises. We can provide the capital and tax incentives -for example, by having the government buy and own the buses and leasing them back to the operators to reduce the operator's asset risks. The system can professionalize the current large consortiums, encouraging better corporate management.

A properly designed BRT policy will break the ranks of the ODAs and will likely appeal to majority of the drivers and will draw quite a few of the entrepreneurs.

Other opposition

The only possible opposition left will be the companies with vested interests in large infrastructure projects along with politicians who earn kickbacks from these major investments.

They will argue that fixed rail systems are more efficient but their influence can be neutralized by questioning their vested interests. So, too, with politicians who would stand on their side.

Imagine a politician who is not only labelled "anti-poor" for standing against the social justice issues of a more efficient public transport system, but that they could also be questioned for supporting large investments - as having vested interests.

The final other possible group would be an organized motorist group, which presently does not exist as a viable political force, but it is foreseeable that they could coalesce into a front that can wield some influence. Their main concern would be the traffic consequences of appropriating a lane for the BRT, but that easily be traded of with the removal of undisciplined PUV behavior and by arguing that more efficient public transit will actually reduce car use -thereby freeing up the road for more devoted motorists.

If we frame the BRT proposition correctly, and wield the right political levers, we can easily neutralize the opposition listed above.

Next up: Making it work, the mechanics

Image credit: Our Direction by B Tal


design of our democracy

I've finally managed to turn this series into a pdf suitable for download (1.1mb).

I've adapted it a bit, rewrote some sections that worked in the medium of a blog but didn't quite translate to paper.

It's a bit of a slog but I hope you find the time to read through it. I hope it prompts some thinking.

I also think its an opportune time to discuss why we seem to be stuck in a cycle of corrupt leaders.

p.s. A friend complained about the colors bleeding her inkjet dry, so here's a black and white version (400kb).


if you want to know more about brt

All About Bus Rapid Transit

This one's for the great folks over at the Philippine Forums of Skyscraper City who are discussing how we put up bus rapid transit in our cities:

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign has a great online resource on Bus Rapid Transit -what it looks like, how it works (in urban and suburban settings). It's a very concise introduction to BRT systems and links to tons of resources.

If it's any comfort, the TSTC is also trying to get BRT implemented and expanded in the New York-New Jersey metropolitan area and are working to build up the political will to improve public transit in their megacity.

With a hat tip to Streetsblog.


getting better public transit in metro manila (part 3)

Mobilizing the political will
to improve public transit in Metro Manila
Part 3: Building a winning coalition

This is part three of a series on how to improve public transit in Metro Manila.

To review where we have been:

Step One is to change the frame. Improving public transit is not about decongesting traffic. It is about social justice.

Step Two is to show an alternative vision. Discussing what is wrong about the status quo will not bring change by itself. We have to show what is possible.
This brings us to:

Step Three: We need to build a winning political coalition

Politics often carries a negative connotation but at its root, politics is about the art and science of influencing and shaping public policy and changing policy is about shepherding the proposed changes through the political and policy formation process. It requires the shaping of public opinion, mobilizing that opinion into a political force and then bringing the appropriate political forces to bear at the right points in the process.

Effecting policy changes are often long slogs with victory going to those who can cobble, stable and effective coalitions. Miracle moments (something I'm afraid we have become addicted to) are rare and when they do occur, it usually just results in changes in leadership rather than substantive changes in policy. The change will rarely be lead by policy wonks or elected officials -rather, organized groups must bring political pressure to bear to get the policy wonks to rethink policy and the elected officials to support the change.

Mobilizing the political will to improve public transit in Metro Manila means building and mobilizing a winning coalition.

Who should be in the coalition?

The following groups should be natural core members of this coalition:

1) URBAN POOR: Ideally there should be a commuters union organized and powered by users of public transport. Since there is none, then the urban poor groups should take their place. The urban poor is the sector most dependent on public transit to function in the city and because improving public transit is a social justice issue, then this should be on top of the agenda of advocates for the poor.

2) THE CHURCH/FAITH-BASED GROUPS: Because it is a social justice issue, then the religious groups should also be in the coalition and should be working actively to address that inequity

3) LABOR UNIONS: Workers should also have a dog in the race if inefficient public transit is a bane to families of laborers.

The following groups should be strongly supportive:

4) EMPLOYERS CONFEDERATION and CHAMBERS OF COMMERCE: as inefficient public transit directly effects worker productivity. It also affects the marketability of the city as an investment destination. - More efficient public transit increases productivity and reduces the stress on workers. (These groups can also line up behind the social justice banner.)

I can think of many more groups that can have a natural affinity to this coalition, but i'll stay with this list for now. I'll take any suggestions you might have.

The operational word, of course, is "winning" and it will not be enough to cobble this coalition. The coalition must also effectively neutralize the opposition. And that will be the topic of my next post:

Part 3: Dividing and conquering the opposition

Image credit: Drivers wanted by davefitch



Supercarlos, defender of Urbanity

Sorry Carlos, but I couldn't resist.* It's such a begging-to-be-photoshopped moment.

I'm sure other readers have better photoshop-foo. So, at the risk of receiving Carlos' ire, I invite you to make your own version of our local (manila loving, tour guide) superhero.

*Just say the word, and I'll take this down -UDC.


green from brown

what the slums can teach us
about green design

We think squatter colonies are just about the least green places on earth. They are often dirty, rank places, that (at least in our imaginations) are rife with diseases. And yet, people who live in squatter colonies have the smallest ecological footprint of any population in our rapidly urbanizing earth.

In the sanitized environment modern technology has given us, we have learned to forget that we actually live in the closed-ecosystem of a single planet. We are separated from our consumption and our effects. We are deluded and we do not realize that what we do, what we consume, what we throw away affects the whole ecosystem and that we use up finite resources or bring toxic waste into the environment.

Though I do not wish to condemn anyone to live in or to continue to live in the squalor of slums, there are a few lessons we could learn from the squatters about the principles of green design:
  1. Keep your s**t - slum areas do not have sewer systems, or septic tanks. In many places, raw sewage flows down the middle of informal streets and gathers in pools so that everyone can benefit from the aroma and partake of the diseases.

    Why? Because most of us live with dotted lines to our ecological system. We flush the toilet and we don't know where our waste goes. (Most likely to septic tanks that leach into our aquifers or to gravity sewer systems that just lead to outfalls into our rivers, lakes or seas.) Our sanitation systems separate us from the damage we do to our environment.

    Green design will take away those dotted lines, give us direct feedback (so we know where our s**t goes) and give us a closed loop system.

  2. Share (meager) resources - slum areas often have communal toilet and bath facilities, and communal water sources where up to 800 families could be sharing a single community faucet or 4-6 public bathrooms and toilets. That means waiting in line to get your bucket of water or to use the loo. Which also means you have to be considerate (or else) of other people waiting in line.

    Why? The rest of us get our water from private taps - delivered straight to our bathrooms and kitchens. Apart from the monthly water bill, we have no real concept of how our use of resources affects others.

    Green design will give us feedback on how much we consume of our shared resources.

  3. Reuse materials - squatter shanties are made of found/reused/recycled materials. Usually the dregs of what the rest of us throw away. They are patchwork quilts of different materials -each maximized for what it can provide.

    Our "formal" buildings use up tremendous resources and tremendous energy. As much as a third of green house gas emission come from the energy we put into putting up buildings. We eat up trees to get wood, and carve up mountains to get stone and metal and sand. The paints we use, the cements, the glues, the plastics - are all toxic materials and we leave a lot of construction wastes -that wind up in landfills and in our rivers and groundwater.

    We do even worse when we tear down existing buildings - throwing away the energy and resources (and often, our heritage) -so we can build new buildings that consume even more of our planet.

    Green design will have us reuse materials or use renewables and use "cradle to cradle" product Life-Cycle design to plan for re-use. It will have us consider embodied energy and embodied toxicity in the materials we us.

  4. Minimize your use of space -the density some of our informal settlements in Metro Manila can be as high as 41,000 people per square kilometer. That means each person uses up about 5 x 5 meters of total space -including their share of public space. In practical terms, that can translate to 1.5 square meters of living space per person and extended families of 5-7 relatives share a home of under 20 square meters.

    The homes of our middle class and elite take up so much space. Often this space is wasted in single function rooms that are hardly used. Most of these homes are large enough so family members can go through a day without having to see each other. -The larger the home, the bigger the ecological footprint.

    Green design will use space creatively and design it for efficiency.

  5. Don't have too much stuff -because their living space, and their incomes are meager, squatters don't accumulate stuff and thereby consume less. TVs are shared with the whole neighborhood. Clothes are cared for -and passed on - for as long as they can last. So with other products and old furniture and appliances.

    In contrast, our relatively generous spaces and our incomes let us buy more worthless stuff and lets us accumulate them (unused) in our homes.

    Green design will make each item practical and valuable, and last long.

  6. Find value in waste -the worst squatter communities are usually cheek-by-jowl with our dumpsites and landfills. The people who live there survive on scavenging the trash for items that can still be sold or reused.

    In contrast, we consume. We use once and throw away - food, or packaging, or materials (and sometimes, even people).

    Green design will generate minimal waste and plan it so waste produce in one process can be used as inputs for another, moving from linear systems to looped systems.

So next time you pass by that smelly, dirty squatter community while driving your hybrid car -bow your head in humility. The squatters, in their dilapidated shanties, are way more green than you could ever hope to be (enclosed in your air-conditioned, shiny metal prius).

Image credit: Squatters by Mon Solo

P.S. - How's that Lozada business going? Ready to kick out Gloria, or are you still willing to wait?


getting better public transit in metro manila (part 2)

Mobilizing the political will
to improve public transit in Metro Manila
Part 2: A promise of what is possible

So, first we have to change the frame of the conversation: from congestion to social justice.

The consequence of a bad public transport system is not bad traffic (alone) but a fundamental inequity -where those who cannot afford cars or cannot afford to take cars everyday pay a greater share of their household income and pay a greater penalty in time.

A bad public transport system is inequitable. And it is also inefficient.

We need to get better public transport not because we want to get rid of traffic congestion* -but because we want a transport system that does not favor the rich over the poor and the middle class. We want it because we want parents to spend more time with their children and we want students to have more time to study.

The next thing

The next thing we have to do is to provide an alternative vision of what can be.

You cannot change anything by simply complaining about it or pointing out what is wrong. We do not need any more black hats to tell us why something does not work when we know it is not working. We need to see what will work.

You can only inspire and motivate people to change if you show them what can be.

This is where the success of Bogota, Curitiba, Mexico and Jakarta comes in. We don't have to reinvent the wheel. There are many, many successful examples of bus rapid transit projects.

These projects are successful not only in terms of efficiency, but also in terms of economy and democratic participation.

Unlike massive light rail projects, bus rapid transit is:
  • cheaper (at just 1/5 to 1/3 the cost per kilometer vs. fixed rail)
  • cheaper to operate (no substations, no high maintenance infrastructure)
  • is more flexible (if you design the stations right, you can have service overlaps)
  • faster to roll out (transjakarta started in 2004 and will have a total length of 159 kilometers by the end of the decade)
  • is more participative (you can ask existing bus operators and drivers to bid to operate the buses -compare that to their options when we go with expensive fixed rail infra)
We need to invite people from these cities to come and talk about their success. We need to show videos of how BRT works and do TV and magazine reports on our transportation options. We need to show the best practices and the best solutions other mega cities are already exploring,

We need to talk about BRT and other alternative transportation systems (like bicycle networks, and bike rental systems). We need to get everyone to ask:

Why not?
So why can we do that here?

Up next, Part 3: Building a winning coalition

*BTW, next time someone says we need to ---take your choice:
  • widen roads,
  • build flyovers,
  • discipline the driver
  • deploy more traffic cops
  • buy a new computerized traffic signal system or
  • build new roads
--to eliminate traffic congestion, challenge them to name ANY CITY in the world that has eliminated traffic congestion by doing any of those actions. I guarantee you, NOT ONE city or region or metropolis in the world has has succeeded using any of those options.


There is only ONE PROVEN method to reduce traffic congestion -and that's congestion pricing.

It's been proven in Singapore. It has been very succesful in London. New York is planning to implement it.


the happy city

A must read article from enRoute (via urbanism.org):

All through the city, pavement has been wrested away from private cars and converted into sandboxes, plazas, dance floors and bike paths. Paris has joined a global movement that seeks to change not just streets but the very soul of urban spaces. Its adherents believe that cities can become engines not just of economic growth. But of happiness.

The charge is being led by some of the world’s toughest towns, places like Bogotá, where happiness theory led one mayor to transform roads into parks and pedestrian “freeways,” and Mexico City, whose mayor is investing in urban beaches and bikeways in order to change the citizens’ gloomy outlook. Now the movement is spilling over to wealthier cities too. Seoul has ripped out a downtown freeway to make room for parks and streams. London has put the squeeze on cars with its now famous congestion charge.

These measures are often sold as emergency actions to tackle global warming. In fact, changing the way we design and use public space can change the way we move, the way we treat other people and ultimately the way we feel. Now you might think that Paris had long ago figured out the art of urban joy. But in recent years, residents have become so sick of noise, pollution and congestion that they have thrown their support behind a radical plan by Mayor Bertrand Delanoë to reclaim their streets. By 2012, suburban cars will be banned entirely from the city’s core.

Let's repeat those key thoughts:
"changing the way we design and use public space can change the way we move, the way we treat other people and ultimately the way we feel."
"a global movement that seeks to change not just streets but the very soul of urban spaces. Its adherents believe that cities can become engines not just of economic growth. But of happiness"

Do you dare hope that Metro Manila can someday make us happy?

Image credit: "Childlike Happiness"
by Mon Solo


getting better public transit in metro manila (part 1)

Mobilizing the political will
to improve public transit in Metro Manila
Part 1: A sense of urgency

This begins my long promised post on how to get better public transportation (in particular: bus rapid transit or BRT) in Metro Manila.

The first thing we have to do

The first thing we have to do is to create a sense of urgency.

To do that, we have to change the frame of the conversation.

Ask anyone in Metro Manila about the "effects of bad public transportation" and invariably they will say bad traffic. Granted that PUV driving behavior (caused by the economic model) does cause traffic chaos, to put that first on the list of adverse effects of bad public transportation is to be myopic.

Traffic congestion is the most visible effect -but it is largely visible to car users. What is invisible and ignored is the effect bad public transportation has on the urban poor and lower middle classes who are dependent on PUVs to get from home to school or to work.

That segment is the fat part of the pyramid, almost 80% of daily person trips in Metro Manila are taken via public transport. Despite the overwhelming size of this cohort, I have yet to see statistics that detail the consequences of the inefficient system on the riding public.

Whatever conversations about public transit that is covered by the papers centers around fare prices and the issues of the operators and drivers. Their regular threats to hold transport strikes and their near constant refrains of the fares being too low to support their livelihood and their complaints about harassment from the MMDA and the local police. (I am not discounting those complaints, only saying that they have become monotonous.)

The questions we need to ask are: what are the economic and social effects of an inefficient public transport on the riding public in general, and the urban poor in particular? What are the comparative efficiency advantages (e.g. -time) of driving a private car vs. taking the bus or jeep? Specifically we need to ask:
  1. How much of the household budget does transportation consume? (Particularly for the C,D and E classes.) -and this should cover the costs of car ownership (purchase, maintenance and operation) as well as the costs of fares for all modes of public transit.
  2. How much more time does it take to get from home to work or home to school when you take public transit (all modes) vs. a private car?
  3. What is the social cost of the inefficiency and bias towards cars? How much less time do parents in families without cars have to spend with their children? Do students have to rent at boarding houses because it is just not feasible to travel from home to school daily?
My own back of the envelope (read: totally unscientific) calculations make me think transportation eats up about 20% of the household budget of middle class families -and that share could rise up to about a third in poorer families.

I suspect that the inefficient PUV system offsets the daily schedule of transit riders by 1.5 to 2 hours a day vs. private car owners. That's about 20 hours a week of bias for car owners.

But again, these are all just estimates. We need to demand that someone study the real numbers -or bring the stats out if there have already been studies.

We need to bring these issues to the public sphere and we need to frame this as an urgent social justice issue.

Imagine the direct impact you could have on the quality of life of the middle class and the urban poor if you could at least halve that time bias. You would be giving parents 10 more hours a week with their families; giving mothers and fathers an extra hour a day to tend to their children; giving students respite from the grueling time spent on the road or giving them the option of not having to pay for room and board just to live closer to school.

We need to make efficient public transport more important than traffic congestion.

Next up: Part 2: A promise of what is possible

Image credit: "63, alone / solo" by yeraze


brt up close

The public transportation system
we could have in Metro Manila

Here's an even more in depth look at bus rapid transit -how it works and how it is managed, featuring Bogota's Transmilenio.

The video is from The Oil Drum and was produced by Streetfilms, the same folks who gave you the documentary on Bogota's Ciclovia.

Just so you know that BRT systems are not only about improving traffic, but is basically about social justice through efficient transportation, read more about the Transmilenio's impact on the urban poor from the BoP folks in NextBillion. They write:
For Enrique Peñalosa, the mayor of Bogotá who drove the initial planning and implementation of Transmilenio, making high quality transportation accessible to Bogotá's low-income population was central to the project. By attacking the public transportation crisis, characterized by "penny wars," gaps in service, unequal pricing, high levels of pollution, and serious traffic congestion, the new BRT system aimed to reduce inequality. This included not only disparities in the quality of transportation services, but also long-term economic and educational inequities perpetuated by a lack of mobility and access between high and low-income areas of the city. [WRI has an interesting feature piece available that also describes the breadth and vision of Peñalosa's urban reform efforts].
Hmmm. So "public transportation crisis" that is characterized by "penny wars, gaps in service, unequal pricing, high levels of pollution, and serious traffic congestion."

Does that sound familiar?

And this serves as a great prelude to my next post: "Getting better public transportation in Metro Manila."


yes, we can

But of course I have to post this:


greens heart cities

Or why environmentalists should learn
to love Metro Manila

Do you consider yourself an environmentalist? Do you like the great outdoors and natural landscapes? Do you want to preserve them? -- Then you should be concerned about our cities and should be committed to making them better places to live:

The NYT's Dot Earth blog neatly sums up the reasons why:
Urban life can be productive and satisfying and is almost always much more efficient in terms of energy and land use. Families are smaller. Incomes can rise quicker. Wealth builds from the concentration of capital and enterprise. Pollution is concentrated, too, but that makes it easier to clean up once incomes grow enough to pay for municipal services. (That hasn’t happened yet in many developing-country cities.) -emphasis added- UDC

The post that comes from is about managing traffic in an urban age but that one paragraph should be read and re-read by every pinoy environmentalist.

Environmentalism is so often associated with pastoral or naturalistic scenes; with climbing Mt. Apo, Pinatubo or Makiling; with swimming with the whale sharks in Donsol or with diving and exploring the Tubataha reefs. But, sustainability must begin with cities. If we can manage our land consumption and clean up our cities, we will do so much more towards protecting our environment.

Next time you and your friends plan on an environmental education trek, don't bother to drive out all the way to the countryside. Plan a walking tour of your local metropolis, instead. And then ask yourselves, "What can we do to make life in the city more livable? What can we do to make Philippine urban development more sustainable?"


balikbayan box

Ok, this is only tangentially connected to urban issues (maybe to global migration patterns?) but it was a bit of a distinctly pinoy thrill to see the Balikbayan Box Cover featured on Kevin Kelly's Cool Tools:

A Filipino friend came to the rescue with this simple, but incredibly effective solution (in the Philippines, when someone travels abroad, it's customary to ship his/her relatives a Balikbayan box filled with gifts/goodies). At 60 inches linear total, the box cover conforms to major airline luggage size restrictions, although it may take some creativity to keep the weight within the 50-lb. limit in this large of a box.
Of course this is old hat for the OFW set, but it is more proof of how globalized we pinoys are. I didn't even know that Balikbayan Box has a wikipedia entry.

How cool is that? Kevin Kelly is only the co-founder of Wired Magazine and one of the pillars of the Long Now Foundation.

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