Pioneers in the 21st century

Displacement is one of the wicked issues affecting people and governments in the 21st century. Camps and centers are not home, merely holding areas. Eventually IDPs leaving the camps find new places to resettle in preferring urban areas for their perceived wealth of opportunities. For the urban planning community, this implies the need for new strategies in designing inclusive settlement areas.

One place, two worlds

Tondo. The place is already an institution in the Philippines. The place has come to mean an island of abject poverty in the midst of surplus. The place has also come to symbolize the grit and fighter spirit of the modern Filipino native. An enviable virtue. On the other hand, a den of everything deplorable and illegal. A veritable hell. As the musician Lorde puts it in Royals, the address is not “postal envy”.

President Duterte’s uncommon visit to the place right after his inauguration for a Solidarity Dinner with the Poor directs the nation’s interest from the glitterati of Malacanan toward Tondo and all that it represents. For the endowed, privileged, and learned among us, the test for whether our minds and hearts are still connected to this part of the community is do we feel the teeniest flutter of shame in having allowed decay of the place?

Growth and development has been happening all around Tondo. Masterplanned communities, picture-perfect ideals of urban planning, are continually being built beyond it’s borders. Throughout these changes, Metropolitan Manila Development Authority (MMDA) has been soundly asleep. Or should I say hijacked it’s own hands with traffic enforcement. Is not management of the metropolitan the role of MMDA? Is not Tondo part of Metropolitan Manila?

There has got to be a masterplan for Tondo too. This is not possible when authorities and citizens in the Metro continue to not communicate with one another. Possibilities start with a spark- it could be an idea, belief, aspiration, frustration over the status quo, a dream. But it has to blaze bright and hot enough to overcome fear, doubt, and differences and spur connection, action, and movement. Bright and hot has birthed the world with Google, Apple, Facebook, and such. Nothing great has ever come out of tepidity. And then for things to actually happen, persistence.

Incidentally, these innovators are young people. When young Filipinos underutilize their gifts and subsume their can-do attitude and naturally-curious and -innovative selves under the yoke of disillusioned folks’ can’t do attitude, tentativeness, and doubts, the result are places like Tondo.

Another glaring fact the President’s visit points to is productivity i.e. plenty of Filipinos are underemployed. Consider: a nursing graduate employed in a job which pays a quarter of what he is supposed to earn if he were a nurse in a top tier hospital. This means taxes he pays back to be utilized for reinvestment in growth and development are far below than what he is potentially capable to give. Multiply this situation by 2 million every year. A waste of capacities. In contrast, there are how many children being born in the country every minute?

Back to Tondo. The lack of productive opportunities that would over time raise their skills and knowledge hence their market value has caused the residents to revert into entrepreneurial activities of the illegal kind. In the real world, better that than starvation by saintly activity. When no employer in the Metro will hire from the “University of Tondo” human resource pool, not even bothering to hide disgust at their “smell” imagined as contaminating air in the interview room, going instead for traditional sources, what do we expect? Rejection bites and when this is a pervasive occurrence through no fault of yours it does something to you. It shrivels up your spirit, hardens your heart, and poisons your mind. Before you know it, in order to survive, you’ve joined the villainous ranks your place is famous for. And then nobody is really going to touch you with a ten-foot pole. A vicious cycle.

Economic growth and development is always a pro-poor strategy. But the problem is how. How to bring in those with less to play on a level field with the rest already in the economy. When we say inclusive economy it really means making rules more friendly to the poor as for instance the entrepreneurial poor for them to break into the economy. Yes there is microfinance. What else? And what else? It has to be a menu of choices. To put it simply, it is like choosing a budget-friendly call-and-text plan on your prepaid mobile. The lowest I believe is PHP5. The user chooses according to his or her available budget. Same with an economy that is inclusive.

Night markets: the case of Baguio City

Much of what happens in cities takes place in great streets.

Tim Stonor

This is Harrison Road nights.  The night market, already featured on Trip Advisor, opens at about 9PM and shuts down before dawn.  The photo above was taken past 1AM.

What wares sold in this market are worthy of buyers from near and far?  Clothes.  Shoes.  Bags.  Used, mostly.  Wagwag in local lingo (the term is derived from the act of shaking dust off used or old clothes).  Or, more popularly, ukay-ukay (from the act of rummaging through things especially of diverse things).  But these are not ordinary used wear and accessories mind you.  They’re branded.  Originals.  Theme.  Nine West.  Ferragamo.  And they’re sold starting at 50 pesos.  There is your price of motivation these days.

General Francis Burton Harrison may be twitching with amusement at the way this side of the City dedicated to him has turned out.  Well, this is the hill station now.  At least American brands are among the labels sold there and for all our anti-colonial sentiments there’s nothing that will stop us from grabbing American Apparels off the racks.

But I’m more interested in how night markets such as this shape or determine urban culture, economy, and space.

Obviously in as far as commerce for the local informal economy is concerned it’s a success, garnering more and more buyers over time.  But what’s interesting is it appears that a big number of buyers are not from the City.  What does this mean for the entire City? for planners and decision-makers at City Hall?

For one, the night market i.e. retail of used clothing and increasingly, imitation goods apparently has over time re-configured the image of the City.  Is this new image beneficial or hurtful?

The retail of second hand-clothing is part of an intricate international supply chain of entrepreneurs mostly women. From the main suppliers in, say, Hong Kong, sources come from China and South Asia the goods passing through layers of buyers and sellers until these finally arrive at the wholesaler in the City.  Imagine too the exchange of money in this web and of course the amount involved yet the wares come to us at 20 pesos per at the minimum. It’s quite an intriguing trade. But issues such as supplier-countries’ prohibition of second-hand clothing importation hound the trade which has blurred the lines of what’s legal and illegal, ethical and unethical business practice.  And what’s even more amazing is Baguio City finds itself a significant participant in this global enterprise.

Also, although it’s a subject for another post, the trade as mentioned borders on, if not, in fact smuggling and what’s disturbing is it’s largely run by women.  The country has just concluded hosting the APEC Summit in which we heard critical and moving arguments for the quality integration of women in economic trade and justification of their value-added role in business.  We need to go back to those in light of issues in the second-hand clothing enterprise.  How can countries especially APEC members assist women entrepreneurs integrate into the formal economy without hurting their business?  This requires a study of policies and will to reform these if that’s the need.

Second, to what extent has the night market since 2012 transformed or impacted on the local informal economy?  What is the profile of this slice of the informal economy?  Is there significant positive change in their lives as a result?

Third, to what extent has the night market directly contributed to City Hall coffers and in turn what percentage of this has been allocated back to infrastructures and services to support this economy? what percentage has been portioned off for upkeep or upgrade of the City at least in that area (one would think that with the frequency and volume of business happening there every night there’d be some visible improvements at least)?

Last, the use of space in the social, political, and cultural sense of the word.  Who determines the use of public space?  How is the use decided?  Who are displaced because of such use?  Who benefit from the use?  And of course the concluding cost-benefit analysis:  is it worth it?

Not another urban mis-planning

As I’ve been repeatedly saying, Camp John Hay is what the downtown area would’ve looked like if proper urban planning had been done.  I’m saying this again as it’s what got my attention, again, when I went this weekend to Ayala Technohub which has, since privatization of the Camp, the look and feel of Greenbelt in Makati City.

The City’s urban planning blunders have piled up to such a state that it’s more cost-effective at least in the short term to continue doing nothing.  Surprisingly, no current Mayoral candidate has taken up urban planning as his or her platform considering that this is an urgent agenda for the City which may I add due a hundred years ago.

On one hand, there’s the proposed monorail to traverse the downtown area and end on the front doors of SM!  If City Hall is even considering this particular proposal, it needs to have it’s brain checked already.

But if there must be a monorail, the best route is one that will connect the towns in BLISTT (avoiding the City’s (and probably LT’s) already built-up downtown areas) and which will readily link to the rest of CAR in the future.

To design such a route, the City needs to have a brilliant and creative urban planner on it’s side.

But wait, what is this about DOST-CAR being the lead agency in project preparation?  It should be the BLISTT LGUs via it’s Governing Council.  What say NEDA-CAR a staunch supporter of this convergence?

DOST-CAR’s role is technical assistance i.e. technical input and review of the feasibility study (not the other way around i.e. LGUs doing the review) with LGUs as the project proponent.

On the duck-cover-hold advice

I’m not a fan of the ‘duck-cover-hold’ safety advisory.  It’s a recipe for yet another disaster i.e. people getting trapped inside buildings, pinned by building debris, death.  I’ve communicated this, when I was in development work, to colleagues and partners in the DRR network.  I told colleagues that I don’t want to be responsible for, say, deaths of school children, who are the target of our awareness campaigns, as a result of the traditional duck-cover-hold advice.  My argument comes from experience and common sense.

The primary cause of death in an earthquake is getting trapped inside crumbling buildings and pinned or hit by falling debris. The duck-cover-hold tip is only feasible when the thing one is ducking under is made of extraordinary stuff that could withstand the weight of cement and steel falling.  Ducking under a table that is made of wood, with a used life of 20 years, is a sure means to death.  Moreover, shaking during an earthquake may last either a short time or longer, and that the strongest intensity could be felt during the initial shaking so that there’s no telling if the entire building will fall on you in that time. Things happen split seconds apart.

During the 1990 earthquake in Baguio City, I witnessed students of then Baguio Colleges Foundation (now University of the Cordilleras) flying out of windows, screaming like crazed ants, onto the street (Harrison) to their deaths.  The tables (things they should supposedly duck under) couldn’t protect them from huge chunks of falling cement nor the doors allow all of them out at once.  So it was the devil or the deep blue sea.  A tragic story as the nation now knows because their end, either way, was to kingdom come.

Therefore people should instead be advised to be attentive first and foremost, and next, know the exit ways of their buildings.  This is to say buildings should have these exit ways (note that this is in the plural.  Exits should be in proportion to the number of people inside a building and that these should be of proportionate width.  In other words, Local Government Units must enforce the national building code which on one hand is due for review.).

Building administrators, working with unit owners and lessees, should design an integrated emergency strategy and plan which must be drilled into individuals’ heads such that they know and take the plan to heart and are prepared to execute it any time, the rationale for the regularity of drills.  I take drills seriously.  When the alarm goes off in the buildings I’ve worked in before, I get up at once with the evacuation plan retrieved from memory and clear in my mind (except once when I was working on a report due that day and was among the last to leave the building).  It was noticeable that most people treat drills as a joke, whether in the workplace or in schools among students.  As I said experience tells me it isn’t a laughing matter at all.  Besides, there is always a new challenge cropping up in each drill.

Where is the nearest safe open area?  This is why in urban planning it’s important to integrate open areas downtown to serve this purpose among others.  The area should be identified with the evacuation plan directing people toward it.

Given this objective of building evacuation, it follows that emergency supplies should be stored in a secure place outside the building where these can be retrieved once evacuees get back their bearings.  This should be planned for as well.

Bottomline, agencies and the media should stop advising the general public to stay put (duck-cover-hold) at the onset of an earthquake.  It’s a fool’s advice.

What will be left?

It can’t anymore be denied that this side of the Mount Santo Tomas range is being overtaken by development, irrational by the sight of it.  Before we can finish uttering “A Buick Chop Jolted My Sexy Frozen Wives” and if folks at City Hall continue to sit on the land use plan, this area will end up exactly like that shitty side of the mountain range one sees from Marcos Highway when going up the City.  City Hall’s inaction has effectively taken away the opportunity for future generations to know and enjoy the environmental conditions in the City that past generations did and to some extent the present does.

Around Baguio City CBD: Session Theater

Before SM and the other malls, and even before there was piracy and home theater, Session Theater (the other one was Pines Theater) was King of the cinema experience for City residents.  I watched a couple of movies here, one of which was Pretty Woman.  That was the year before the earthquake which at 7.6 on the Richter Scale damaged the place as well as the entire building.  In fact, the building’s condemned yet is still being occupied (a big question for folks at City Hall — are the engineers waiting for another quake and disaster before finally implementing building code standards?).  Regardless, this supports the imperative to bring in more investors into the City, the kind who care about place making.

Around Baguio City CBD: Laperal Building

Laperal Building is one of the City’s commercial buildings that survived the 1991 earthquake. Preserving the old design, it’s facade recently received a much needed face lift i.e. new paint in keeping with renovations in this area of Session Road. Majority of it’s spaces are still let out as offices, many of which have been there for ages.

Announcing [on 14-Apr-2015] International Competition “Planetary Urbanism” [due date July 1 / July 15]

urbanculturalstudies

Announcing:
International Competition “Planetary Urbanism – Critique of the Present in the Medium of Information Design”
The competition is intended for Designers from the fields of architecture, urban and regional planning, environmental planning, graphic, product and media design, statistics, cartography, photography, film and the visual arts as well as for Scientists from the fields of art and cultural theory, art education, information and communication sciences, social sciences, economics, environmental sciences and geosciences.
On the basis of empirical material, of data and facts, visualisations should be developed that cast light on the current problems of the urbanisation process. The presentation should thereby look behind the facts and should visually display spatial and temporal circumstances and trace the forces driving their development.
The competition entries will be published by the organisers and exhibited in the context of the UN-Habitat III Conference 2016 in Quito, Ecuador.
Please find here further information such as the…

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Data visualization: East Asia’s explosive urban growth

In January, the World Bank released a report on the rise of urban East Asia. Between 2000 and 2010, the international financial institution reported, nearly 200 million people moved to East Asia’s urban places.
These sorts of gigantic numbers can be difficult to comprehend. So the World Bank set up a contest, with first prize going to whomever could design the best data visualization to accompany its expansive database on urbanization. Data scientist Nadieh Bremer answered the call. Her winning entry is below.

http://visualizing.org/embedded/590900