City or suburbs?
By Claire Agbayani Inquirer MANILA, Philippines--The city’s shrinking -- at least, that’s the message one gleans from the countless ads for resort living and leisure farms that entice readers to settle in the suburbs. Why put up with the congestion, pollution, traffic, and cramped space that the city offers, when countryside living can mean open spaces, fresh air, and bigger lots for grander homes? For young couples, the questions often translate to where it’s best to raise the kids. Open spaces, sure, but the best schools and the malls where everything’s within reach are often in the city. Just how do you choose where to settle? It’s still a matter of personal choice, says Redentor Valencia, a consultant of the Laguna Lake Development Authority, who has a master’s degree in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City. Valencia has experienced both city life and suburban living. Although he grew up in Mindanao, he came to Manila in the 1970s and, except for a brief stint as an urban planner in Cebu, has worked in Metro Manila for most of his life. “Cities and suburbs are what their residents make them to be,” says Valencia. “These are their homes, workplaces, where they go to school and spend their leisure hours. Real estate planners and property developers can put up the infrastructures, but it is the people who choose whether to buy into it or not.” Just like an organism, town centers and suburbs grow, evolve, age, die and regenerate, Valencia notes. “I saw how Metro Manila grew into new commercial centers like Ayala, Ortigas and Araneta,” he adds. “I saw the rise of new urban centers like The Fort, Eastwood City, Rockwell, Ayala Alabang and Boulevard 2000 (Mall of Asia). I also saw urban renewal in the facelift of the Ayala Center and the Araneta Center. In Cebu, I saw how the circa 1982 Metro Cebu of the Gaisanos evolved into a Singapore-like metropolis with the help of the Ayalas.” While the old residential suburbs eventually decayed into slums, new suburban enclaves rose out of sleepy provincial areas. “You should see Punta Fuego in Batangas, with its beautiful seaviews and huge houses that cost at least P15M each.” Most cities like Manila, Valencia avers, “attracted rich merchants, traders and settlers because they were near the seat of government and ports servicing world trade. Up to the Second World War, people from all over the country sought to live in Manila.” Although Manila is still largely seen as the Promised Land by impressionable provincianos who seek out their luck in the city, the trend has been reversed drastically by a host of problems, foremost of them the perennial floods owing to the city’s below sea-level elevation. The influx of migrants has also brought on a housing crisis and a host of related problems, say Eden Garde, program manager of the United Nations Human Settlements Programme, and co-worker Jaime Antonio Jr., program coordinator. The problems include “housing, secure tenure, safe water, waste disposal, drainage, access roads…” which, says Valencia, prompted rich folk to move to new residential suburbs developed by the Ayalas in Makati, the Aranetas in Quezon City and the Ortigases in Greenhills, San Juan. Quezon City has its housing projects for government workers through GSIS and SSS loans, while middle-income groups look to mall-makers Shoemart, Robinsons and Ever-Gotesco for affordable housing. Elmer Mercado, policy advisor for the AusAID-funded Land Administration and Management Programme of the Environment department, redefines suburbs. “There is no such thing as suburb in our situation,” he contends. “(Suburb) is an American invention and import in the Philippines specially during the early 1960s-1970s... This development was ‘copied’ for goverment and middle class employees. That’s why you have Teachers/UP Village and Projects 4 to 8 in Quezon City. The development later moved southwards to Parañaque, Las Piñas and Pasig. So the suburbs is really a movement of the rich outside Manila, which was later followed by the middle class.” Notes Valencia: “Wide spacious residential enclaves moved outwards primate cities like Manila and cars made the move easier, as suburban residents can easily drive to work.” Indeed the choice of one’s residence is largely dictated by its proximity to workplace, schools and shopping. When leisure is not part of the package, rich families opt to buy weekend suburban properties to satisfy their need for breathing space. Likewise, those who live in outlying provinces who need to be close to work are attracted to condominium living in the city, since most units are within urban centers. But the city-suburb dichotomy remains confined to Metro Manila and maybe, Metro Cebu, claims Mercado. In fact, he says, “Cities outside of Metro Manila and Metro Cebu more or less remain ‘rural’ in the culture and nature of their residents who maintain their close linkages with their rural past. This is what we see as the ‘promdi ’ culture. ‘Promdi’ culture is more accepted and pronounced in cities other than Metro Manila. So for me, the suburb-city distinction is actually an ‘elitist’ and ‘western’ concept from our real cultural moorings, our ‘promdi’ culture.” The danger in this, furthers Mercado, is ” the negative backlash of our ‘westernized’ urbanization: the shopping mall and consumption-based economy and lifestyle. The ‘consumption’ and ‘consumerist’ culture is slowly overtaking the sense of community that typifies our ‘promdi’ culture.” The lack of urban planning exacerbates the problem, says Mercado. “Most of our planning regulations were taken from both the American and British system.” He adds that public spaces are regulated by the local government unit and the DENR, “which apply environmental standards and impact assessments for any physical construction and disruptions of spaces and places. The problem of course is the implementation of these laws and guidelines.”
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