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?"

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