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.


Civic Booster said...

Dreaming on...

1. Would making the sewers bigger to accomodate 10x its capacity during our annual flood season,possible?

2. If the residents along Pasig river are mostly squatters, would it be a herculean task to get rid of them and gentrify the area to make it attractive for river transport stretching from Manila to Laguna? Wouldn't this dramatically decongest traffic?

3. Ok, jeeps are cultural heritage, but c'mon buses have more capacity and they make eco-friendly ones nowadays. How much pollution would reduce if we annihilate those GI hand downs? It is hot in them and they are noisy too. Lalong umiinit ang ulo mo pag-rush hour.

4. Pocket of nice places in Manila are small and should be walkable. But walking from Point A to B is unpleasant because of the heat, pollution, ugly buildings and squatters.
I grew up in Sta Cecilia in Las Pinas. 15 years ago I would cut through from subdivision to subdivision to reach SM South Mall. It was leisurely, the streets were wide and safe, the houses were brand new. I've also walked from Champs Elysee to Notre Dame.

5. I reckon if there are better things to do outdoors, that will keep us away from toxic television.
My cousin wants to form a soccer league and is looking for sponsorship. I suggested to do a fund-raiser to organize a soccer clinic for kids. Now, will private sector help out with this?
It's a healthy idea naman, diba?

6. Damn, olympic size swimming pools in Metro Manila! Can you imagine how much pride it would bring if we compete in water sports internationally? Para may pakinabang naman ang karagatan natin.

7. Round up all the public elementary schools in Manila and sponsor a Carlos Celdran field trip . Host a manila history expo.

civic booster said...

I apologize, I was just catching up with your blog. You have covered traffic solutions na pala.

My dissertation topic is place promotion of post-Fordist cities which is why I have this civic boosterism buzz.

Because I plan to migrate in Brisbane,I'm keeping an eye on www.brisbanemarketing.com.au or www.brisinsti.org.au. Urban planning pala sana kinuha ko.

On average, I've lived in different cities in the Philippines and abroad in my lifetime, about 5-6 years. Cebu is cosmopolitan to this day. Iloilo is congested. Cubao was stagnant. Manila breaks my heart. Buti pa Las Pinas. East Boston piers boomed before my eyes. Bristol is on the edge. I can't wait to stick my nose in Brisbane.

koikaze said...


It's nice to see you back again. Congratulations on your new job. I hope it works out well for you. I lived on the Eastern Shore of Maryland in the 1950's and one of my daughters lives in Baltimore, now.

Recently, my younger brother referred me to the political philosophy of Alasdair MacIntyre, of Notre Dame University.


His ideas, implemented through your Design of Democracy or even my own Practical (nee: Active) Democracy concepts could lead in time to the kind of resurrection you seek for Manila. Here is but a tiny sample of MacIntyre's views:

"When we have made the changes MacIntyre wants to see, politics will no longer be civil war by other means: 'the politics of such communities is not a politics of competing interests in the way in which the politics of the modern state is'. It is instead a shared project, and one that is shared by all adults, rather than being limited to a few elites who have gained power through manipulation and use that power to gain the goods of effectiveness for themselves."

Would that I had the wit and wisdom to enthuse others to make our political infrastructures more democratic. MacIntyre theorizes, and I believe he has it right, that when everyone is allowed access to the political decision-making process, "The matters to be discussed and decided on will not be limited as they are now; they will extend to questions about what the good life is for the community and those who make it up."

Welcome back,


Urbano dela Cruz said...

C. Booster,

thanks for the thoughtful comments. some replies:

1) on sewers and storm water -it's generally a bad idea to mix storm water with sewage and and even worse idea to build pipes to drain all that pollution (for storm water, the non-point-source pollution of chemicals washed off from our streets and buildings) - to the nearest body of water.

Sustainable storm water management would instead collect the surge locally into retention systems like green roofs and bioswales and allow the water to percolate to the aquifers.

I've written before about how we can redesign our streets to better cope with storm water.

2) Pasig, tourism and transport -what do squatters have to do with efficient river transport? they only become a problem if you think of the river transport as a "sightseeing" tour -a tourist trinket rather than connective tissue for the city.

Squatter colonies, as unsightly as they are, are no obstacle to efficiently using the Pasig River.

In a previous post, I wrote about our displaced emphasis on the aesthetics of river travel -and need to focus instead on utility and connectivity.

3) on jeepneys -I'm with you on rethinking jeepneys, but only if it comes from a serious commitment to improving public transport.

And yes, we should really be working towards a more walkable, livable metropolis -but I think the horse to this cart is getting rid of our bias for the private automobile.

Oh, and here's why we have squatters; and here's what we could learn from them.

Good luck in Brisbane.

You should check out the work of Jan Gehl in Melbourne.

Also, the work of CEOsforCities might interest you.


Urbano dela Cruz said...


thank for dropping by, i followed your link to Alasdair McIntyre and googled him further and promptly fell into the deep end of the philosophical pool. It makes me want to pick up Weber and Wittgenstein again, if only to better digest McIntyre.

Btw, please drop me a line if ever you plan to visit Balto. Perhaps we can meet for coffee.



Bea said...

Welcome back online :)

I agree with you about water retention. Bioswales are extremely cheap to retain water and can be incorporated into parks. In fact, that is what I am doing in a neighboring subdivision now... and I've installed the same system in my home.

About the river squatters (and creekside squatters, etc.), I also beg to differ. Squatters just make more evident what us "formal settlers" do. We have our trash in landfills (somewhere else), some of us have our "poso negro" emptied out by companies who drain them out into Mahila Bay (similarly removed from us).

They receive no services and take the visible option, and their actions are directly attributable to them. Some people act as though these squatters enjoy throwing trash in, or have the privilege of being beside an open dump.

People have lived beside waterways for centuries. Their food and other activities are connected to the water. In a river project I'm doing now, the settlers have declared parts of it a "protected area". There is a possibility for common management.

I also agree with what you say about the comments. Reminds me of a favorite Gogol Bordello song:

"There were never any good old days, they are today, they are tomorrow. It's a stupid thing we say, cursing tomorrow with sorrow."

Vanessa said...

And he's back!

Urbano dela Cruz said...


thanks! and good for you for working on sustainable landscapes! (fantastic start to sustainable pinoy, by the way).

I am with you on the issues of informal settlers. May I recommend the following:

Beardsley and Werthmann's recent article in Harvard Design Magazine: Improving Informal Settlements - I don't completely agree with some of their statements but they do offer a great exploration of the issues.

So with Robert Neurwith's Shadow Cities.

And, finally, you must pick up Stewart Brand's Clock of the Long Now.

-- "Gogol Bordello" -?? your musical tastes are very esoteric.


Urbano dela Cruz said...

Hey Ess,

Are all things Bon in Bonn?


Vanessa said...

Thus far, all is bonne in Bonn! :-) I am in the "government district" where all the offices and headquarters of agencies used to be prior to the move to Berlin. It's lovely. I just try not to get sideswept by the German cyclists. :-) Best of luck on the new job, by the way!

spanx said...

honored to be linked
here in your blog, sir.

i enjoy reading your treatises
on our beloved city!


love the lamp posts;

on nagtahan bridge,
mayor lim has removed
the christmas light cubes
of his predecessor
and replaced them with
posts similar to the ones
in this post's picture ",)

montalut said...

Been feeling the blues of Manila living lately; this post made me remember why I put up my blog 3 years ago.

>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.

GUILTY as charged. :(
Thanks for holding on.

Congrats on the job/move/settling in!

B Canapi said...

You are absolutely right. Cities will always be in a state of flux, and Manila is no exception.

To everyone who thinks Manila is hopeless, I invite you to look back at Manila at the turn of the millennium, and compare it to what we have now. Ang layo na, di ba?

The fact is, there are a lot of us who actually give a shit about the city and are doing something about it. Manila can be great again, I know it.

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