Urban form as a reflection of local values Part 1

One of my interest area relative to my urban management studies is the Filipino’s manipulation hence formation of urban space – how does this space look like when collectively shaped by Filipinos.

My observation is that Filipino settlements* (whether in urban or rural) morph into a pattern of their own, in viral fashion, and blind to or despite the provisions in laws and standards set in policies. In terms of movement, the pattern distinctly orients itself toward and oftentimes encroaches on the street (usually the primary streets including highways).

Source: The Philippines and Then Some, as lifted from the book FILIPINO STYLE Photography by Luca Invernizzi Tettoni, Tara Sosrowardoyo with additional photography by Emil Davocol. Main texts by Rene Javellana, Fernando Nakpil Zialcita, Elizabeth V. Reyes.

In Baguio City, let’s start at Camp 7 (originating from Loakan or Kennon Road). Camp 7 is predominantly residential but over the years especially in the past five years saw the putting up of commercial establishments along the road and educational institutions in the inner area. As a residential area, houses here come in all types, colors, sizes, and shapes, laid out everywhere – under the bridge, on the side of the hill, on top of it, and alongside the road. The subdivisions don’t seem to have a uniform type of housing requirement – it looks like the owners are free to do whatever they want on their own plots and houses. And so you can actually be overwhelmed by the whole sight.

Of the commercial establishments and activities, let’s start just after the supposedly rickety bridge (early this year, a sign was put there – half of that bridge was even closed – that warned travelers to take caution because the bridge was falling. Now, the sign is nowhere to be found, traffic is back to two lanes, and it’s the same old bridge. So, now we’re Humpty Dumpties waiting to have a great fall anytime) where on your left you see a couple of itinerant vendors barbecuing innards (which the average Filipino loves) on their mobile implements set up beside the waiting shed. Just across the street from the shed, a car washing business which spills gray water all over the road. Beside it, an open swampy area used as a parking space for an old mini-bus and engine that seemed to have been placed there to decompose, however their owners define decomposition. Across the street from this open area, an apartment block with its ground floor devoted to shops selling hardware and an eatery-cafe. A few meters up ahead of this apartment block are heaps of gravel and sand occupying what is supposed to be the sidewalk. If it’s your lucky day you’d be stopped on the road (for what seemed like hours) to wait for a loader which has intruded on half of the road lane to finish loading gravel into a dump truck. A few meters up ahead, a fuel station. Beside this, a newly-built block of shops – restaurants and a spa with a blown up image of a half naked woman which makes you think she’s having a blast of a time from the spa’s services and perhaps you’d want to make a stop and join in. Across this block of shops, an apartment with its frontage devoted to a couple of variety stores. Up ahead, another waiting shed where another itinerant vendor sets up her home grown vegetables to sell. Across the shed, from the bend going into the residential area, a hotel that has no redeeming view (unless there are travellers who consider the tops of houses as the value exchange for the thousand bucks or so they pay for a night). Further from the hotel, a row of apartment with floor-to-ceiling glass walls and doors, the potted bamboos on its frontage giving the residents some privacy. The residents are young people from Korea. This apartment block is for me the only pleasant view on this route. A few meters ahead, across the road, a rent-a-car business whose parking space is an undeveloped area cleared off among the woods. A bit further ahead, another apartment block with the ground floor used as shops that have since closed and presently utilized as billiard halls. Across this, a shed converted into a variety store that also sells second-hand clothes which are hung on a mobile rack and displayed alongside the road. Ahead, a Christian church which was converted into an airport limousine business, its gates vandalized with white paint. A few meters ahead, across the street, a second-hand car shop, its limited front yard space bursting with “toys for the big boys” which sometimes had to be parked alongside the road. Across this, a police station. Further on, a shed, set up outside the gates of a house, displays wooden furniture sets for sale. Across the shed, a vulcanizing shop, the works done alongside the road because the shop doesn’t have enough space. Up ahead, variety stores on frontages of dwelling units, selling, well, a variety of things such as bananas.

The shop signages – mostly scrawled in white paint on what looked like ripped off thin wooden boards and hung on rusting wires. They are nailed into shop frontages, a little skewed to either left or right. (You can get disoriented and think you’re in the wild west of some American cowboy movie.)

At the CBD, on lower Session Road, you can catch on sunny days itinerant sidewalk vendors of posters and mobile phone blings having a grand time pulling out lice from each others’ hair in between sales which are far in between given that their wares are rather low end. Beyond, behind City Hall, the City’s fire trucks are parked under what looked like an abandoned building – is this the fire station office? Ahead, at the crossing to Bokawkan, a block of old shops – a dress shop beside a funeral parlor which is beside a telecommunications office (when you think about it, the product/services link up, although in a bizarre way). Along Bokawkan, you’ll find a mix of residential and commercial establishments such as a fuel station across a hotel. A Christian church beside a disco house which has blow ups of provocative Marilyn Monroe poses on its gates. Further down the road, a tertiary school (it said international) with its ground floor used as a grocery, fronting a couple of nightclubs that have ads of “come and see i-models (international models for folks at the international school across the street?) and pleasant GROs” posted on their entrances. Further down, Pines City Colleges, a nursing school, having a grand view of the grossly-disturbing hill of slums.

This sight and pattern are not exclusive for Baguio City. I noticed that it’s more or less the same throughout the country, whether urban or rural. In the rural areas, children play on highways (a former colleague who was the company driver ran over and killed a child playing on the highway. He was on the right side of the law but an accidental death such as should’ve been easily avoidable. With another company, while travelling on the highway we heard something went under the car, a child. Miraculously he only sustained a minor fracture and several scratches). Harvested rice and corn are sundried on highways. Fowls (and even pigs) are let out along the highway (and owners have the gall to charge motorists for having run over fowls sitting quite prettily in the middle of a highway which has an allowable maximum speed of 120 kph). Folks sit and converse at leisure along the highway (I’d avert my eyes whenever the bus I’m in zing past them. I mean, don’t these people have a sense of personal safety?).

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