The politics of urban spatial form

Cities in the country are characterized by urban sprawl. The competing shapes and sights in the skyline and noise of metropolitan Manila. And in Baguio, the competing shapes and sights and noise in the central business district and decapitated mountain sides in the name of real estate development. Look closely, particularly in Manila and you’d see the pleasanter, quieter, and greener areas in elite zones such as Greenbelt in Makati City. Same in Baguio, and if the City is a tourist bus its tires have gone bust some time ago and the vehicle is now in danger of careening off into a ravine. At the heart of these problems is runaway urban development.

To illustrate the shaped or regulated development, Santa Barbara (California) is presented here as a sample case. It is taken from Warner’s and Molotch’ Building Rules: How Local Controls Shape Community Environments and Economies. In Santa Barbara, public administrators and citizens are not mere spectators of development but are active participants in it, like a baker molding dough into the desired consistency and shape.

The city of Santa Barbara required architectural review for every structure down to the color schemes for exterior paint; paint chips had to be submitted with architectural plans. Many projects were deemed to have historical or architectural impacts, especially those built in the downtown core, and therefore had to go before the city’s official Landmarks Commission which provided a second level of design review. All downtown projects must adhere strictly to the Mission Revival architectural theme that has been etched into Santa Barbara’s urban form for generations; this theme includes red tile roofs and at times extensive exterior use of wrought iron trellis and railing material. Outside the central core, the city followed different but still relatively tight, aesthetic guidelines.

1967 City voters turn down $1.5M bond issue to expand the city harbor
1970 Voters rescind approval of the subdivision of 3,638 acres next to El Capitan State Beach. The plan which would have allowed 1,535 homes had the unanimous support and approval of the county planning commission and the board of supervisors
1971 Citizens General Plan Goals Committee Report–goals are adopted as part of the city’s general plan recognizing that all major elements of the community’s economic base depend directly on maintaining and enhancing the quality and character of the city. The goals call for a study of the impacts of growth.
1974 Impacts of Growth study–a planning task force provides research for community analysis and discussion of optimum population size. The studies identify the ideal city size as 50,000-100,000 emphasizing that there must be a balance between residential and non-residential growth. County establishes Office of Environmental Quality. The task of this office is to carry out initial environmental assessments and prepare EIRs. The county abandons the practice of accepting EIRs prepared by developers.
1975 The city amends the general plan and zoning to reduce allowable densities in residential areas and to set a population goal of 85,000
1977 Voters endorse 85,000 limit stated in the general plan; this passes. A second measure requiring that changes to the general plan and zoning ordinance be approved by the voters passes. A citizen committee is formed to design a growth management ordinance. The ordinance aims at limiting residential permits to a yearly rate of 1.2%.
1979 City residents vote against disposing of certain city park lands.
1982 City residents defeat a measure that would have permitted a Bullock’s department store to replace several existing local establishments on State Street. City residents vote in favor of a charter amendment that requires that the city’s “land development shall not exceed its public services and physical and natural resources.” The measure stipulates that future rezonings require a “supermajority” (five of seven votes) for city council approval. The city institutes a new approval process for non-residential projects larger than 10,000. They are to be approved at the discretion of the planning commission according to the projects’ conformance with “sound community planning,” compatibility with “neighborhood aesthetics/character,” and impact on the availability of housing.
1985 City voters approve a permit to construct Fess Parker’s Hotel on the city’s waterfront.
1983-87 Technical studies are done to evaluate the appropriate balance between residential and non-residential growth. Workshops are held to involve the community in designing longer term limits on growth specifically non-residential growth
1986 An interim ordinance is passed barring the city from approving new development projects that require new water. The city is charged with seeking out new water sources.
1989 A housing mitigation program is enacted, requiring developers to replace any housing units that they demolish and to provide for the “new demand units” created by a project through direct construction or in-lieu fees.

For the longest time, I don’t remember city councils putting out the decision making on crucial development to their citizens. The country is what? of 85M citizens but the country’s decisions are bereft of their minds and voices. Citizens can’t forever be attending and singing silly songs at Willing Willie while we neglect our own future and who we are as a people. After all these years who a Filipino is and his or her foreseeable future are uncertain and undefined. We’re so scattered, politically. Citizens can’t live in cities – supposedly where learned and progressive minds and culture are – and not take our education, knowledge, skills, and resources forward.


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