Urban form as reflection of local values Part 3

There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible and wrong.

H. L. Mencken

As briefly discussed in Parts 1 and 2, this country’s urban form is in general free forming. If freedom can be designed in space, the spatial outcome of unregulated freedom is as have been described – viral, chaotic, and infringing on public space and peace of mind. Karl Marx was right – the individual will always decide and act for his or her own good first. There is no such thing as “others before self.” In other words, individual freedom need to be regulated. The chaotic free form contrasts starkly with the “regulated” or planned communities such as by say the Ayala Group (Makati CBD, BGC, Ayala Alabang, Nuvali, to cite a few), their overall effect being ironically the good fruits of freedom – a sense of calm and well being. In this sense, planning for the desired urban form (as opposed to allowing the space to take up a form on its own through individuals’ imposition of their own unbounded needs and wants on the space) is a regulation of the individual’s selfish motives or the absence of self regulation that paradoxically produces in the long run freedom’s good fruits, which is to say a justification for its use.

On this note, it can be said that culture as manifested in space has its down side too. My practice of my culture versus your practice of your culture is rooted in freedom. Again, freedom can be good or bad to the extent that individuals will always try to impose their own practices onto spaces occupied by another or the public. And so it’s back to the justification of regulating the boundlessness of freedom to achieve its better fruit termed as the common good.

Into these surely will sneak in the issue of urban poverty or lack of economic opportunities for an urban population, usually in local towns and urbanizing areas, that shows the extreme in skills (i.e. a few occupies the one end comprised of the highly skilled and the majority the other extreme comprised of low wage-based skills and there are generally very few in the middle or that which are currently needed by the market). Baguio City, although classified as a highly urbanized city, is in spatial form a half breed – one that is trying to shake off the robe of provinciality in order to fully get into the sophisticated and cosmopolitan character of cities. (Classifying cities as highly urbanized is here based on population count and density and not necessarily reflective of whether a city has achieved the distinct social and economic characters of the city.) Hence, you’d find pig pens smack in the City’s dense neighborhoods (worse, without accompanying appropriate waste disposal and drainage systems). Village officials avert their noses and let the pens be – again, with dire consequences to the affected public – because “for humanitarian concerns, the family needs the livelihood.” There’s a lot to be said about such reasoning (and allowing pig pens into urban neighborhoods) which this article isn’t for, but it contributes to the intensification of urban problems as opposed to nipping these at the bud; to the decay of urban space as opposed to shaping it toward a form that promotes physical, mental, and emotional health. At this rate, the question that begs to be asked is, are we leaving behind a legacy of decayed and devalued land for future generations of Filipinos (or, Cordillerans for that matter)?

Reading Mastery of the Metropolis by Webb S. Fiser, I came across the author’s discussion of the American Negroes’ attainment over time of the social habits, economic power, urban character, and educational level to the extent that they were able to assimilate themselves (and were accepted) into American middle class (urban America). This particular thought struck me as the thing that’s happening in this country. Many Filipinos are, it seems to be toward this direction albeit at the pace of the turtle (not the hare), in the process of refining their social habits (the Social Weather Station should research on say the trend of Filipinos’ social habits such as say spitting in public even on CBD pavements instead of focusing too much on the public’s number of likes for a particular politician), economic power, educational level, and urban character. It is such a contradiction (not to mention disgusting) to see city and urban dwellers spitting on city streets (despite clearly-written warning every 500 meters or so, or the presence of a police officer nearby, or in the presence of a throng of pedestrians). Again, we see here the resistance, consciously or not, of the individual to the orthodox framework of cities as having strong influence on the city dweller such that he or she ultimately conforms to the culture of the place – “when in Rome, do what the Romans do.” But overall this unbecoming habit of the Filipino urban dweller is based on observation on the decline. Perhaps on the sixth generation, Filipinos would have totally eliminated the habit.

The question at this point (although we can go on and on considering that there are many other issues related to the shaping of the urban form as experienced by Filipinos; and we haven’t touched on the unique spatial issues facing Mindanao) is what then for Filipino urban form of today? Will it be shaped like Oktay’s recommendation for North Cyprus or Rukmani’s for urban Indonesia? Or will it be like the planned estates such as found in the metros that are like modern American cities (which our urban planning thought borrows from)? Or will it be free forming? To what extent should planning be used to regulate spatial form? What is that spatial form that works for Filipinos? Is there one and only one? And back to the first, what is this uniquely Filipino spatial form? Is there such a thing?

What the Philippines has now in spatial form and character is not yet truly Filipino. It is said that the positive way to look at chaos is that it is the state before that of perfection’s. Moving beyond chaos into this almost perfection state is the burning desire and hope inside the average Filipino, behind the façade of seeming disinterest of his or her space. Research in urban planning in the Philippine context should mine the depths into the Filipino so to speak and try to shed some light to these issues that are fittingly described as

Roots (that) reach as far as the water
And help it keep dark. At night that lake
Burns like a torch. No one knows its bottom,
No wisdom reaches such depths.
(excerpt from Burton Raffel’s translation of Beowulf, as quoted by David Whyte in The Heart Aroused)

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