Thursday, February 26, 2009

Pagmamalaki (pride) and A City Beautiful

Upon his return to Chicago, Daniel Burnham commented on his trip to Manila, stating, “It surprises me to find how much this trip has modified my views, not only regarding the extreme East, but regarding ourselves and our European precedents”[1]. I returned to Chicago with a similar impression— a perspective of an urban lifestyle different from my own, and a rediscovery of my identity and my relation to my ethnic heritage. As a Filipino-American, my parents had described Manila during the 1960’s as a city “where the action took place”, filled with historical importance, limitless opportunities, and as a beautiful scenic destination for tourists. However, during my experience, my perspective became clouded with images of poverty—deteriorating infrastructure, street dwellers and beggars, and pollution. During my research, I came across a video of images that depicted the Manila my parents had described, a distinctly Burnham inspired collage. It was a sad realization that the “Pearl of Asia” had escaped our reality.

Nevertheless, development continues to reduce urban poverty in Manila, including government led beautification projects. The City Beautiful exhibit, held in 2003, highlighted the Burnham Plan of Manila, a reflection that addresses Burnham’s vision for Manila and refocuses the revitalization process. Recently, the Supreme Court ordered the Philippine government to cleanup Manila Bay in six months, a bold action that advances the beautification process. In an effort to attract foreign investors and generate civic pride, the Metro Gwapo program was established to “spruce up” Metro Manila. These efforts are examples of government action to generate civic pride, civic engagement, industrialization, and modernization of the mega metropolis. Beautification is an important component in urban development, similar to one’s personal space, if a person is prideful of their environment, a sense of responsibility for protecting and maintaining this space will occur. Likewise, revitalizing Manila’s public space addresses Burnham’s fundamental ideas in the Plan of Manila, creating an environment that fosters civic pride and responsibility.

However, there are repercussions to urban development, especially in regards to land use. As Manila focuses their attention on attracting foreign investment and privatizing public land, people have become secondary. The national railroad development project, for example, displaced squatters in Manila to Cabuyao, Laguna, without the livelihood to sustain a successful living situation. According to Kelly (2003), he asserts that the land rights of local farmers have been affected due to the expanding boundaries of Manila to allow for industrialization, creating a coexistence of an urban-industrial economy and agricultural production[2]. It is also evident in Makati, the financial district of the country, which has been modernized by attractive architecture, an abundance of shops and restaurants, and foreign companies; further gentrifying the area and creating an obvious exclusion of lower economic classes. Urban development and the preservation of human dignity can coexist; by promoting solidarity through civic engagement and pride, it can be achieved.

Photos courtesy of the Partnerships in Environmental Management for the Seas of East Asia (PEMSEA) & The Great Mirror.
[1] Burnham to Charles Moore, March 13, 1905, in Moore, Daniel H. Burnham, I, 245.
[2] Kelly, Philip F. “Urbanization and the Politics of Land in the Manila Region,” ANNALS of the American Academy 590 (November 2003): 173

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Chaos and Human Dignity
Throughout our trip to Manila, and participation in the Burnham Meets Vincent-Urban Renewal through University Engagement conference, I began to formulate a more complete understanding of the connections between poverty reduction, urban planning and Vincentian practices. My biggest “uh-huh” moment came at the end of the very last presentation by Filipino architect Paulo Alcazaren. He closed with this quote by Victor Hugo: “But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidents, chaos will soon reign.”
The words “...chaos will soon reign” prompted a slew of different images to race through my mind. I thought about the impromptu community of scrap metal shacks attached to the back of our Manila hotel, bare-footed children playing in the milky waters of the Pasig River along Quirino Blvd. and Jeepny exhaust pipes blasting at face level during tricycle rides. I also reflected on some of my other experiences outside of the Philippines; the villas de miseria on the outskirts of Buenos Aires and Córdoba, Argentina, the scramble of squatters for abandoned living spaces on the east side of Brooklyn (Squatters Celebrate Brooklyn Victory - New York Times) and the overcrowded ‘Coca Cola’ market square in San Jose, Costa Rica are just a few of the more prominent ones. Chaos. Organized chaos.
In these previous contexts an organized chaos adds to the affront on human dignity and contributes to the degradation of human life. Almost certainly, better planning could have reduced the chaotic environment of many urban areas, but what is done is not easily reversible. The major question facing urban planners nowadays is - is there a way to reduce poverty while maintaining human dignity of all involved? What can urban planners do? What should they do?
In an attempt to more fully embrace the human dignity aspect of urban planning, the concept of development as freedom (Amartya Sen) has emerged as an alternative approach. In essence, new development techniques are attempting improve human dignity by melding the values of St. Vincent DePaul with the tenacious planning style of Daniel Burnham. An exploration into the lives and philosophies of both men cultivates theses current progressive ideas and may lead to discovering more alternative paths of development focused on limiting chaos and placing human dignity of all stakeholders at the forefront of the process.
St. Vincent de Paul was an advocate for the poor and disenfranchised. He addressed poverty directly by clothing and feeding the poor, but he also actively fought against the social inequalities. Vincent lobbied the power brokers of his day to make the poor a salient stakeholder in decisions, especially those concerning land use and allocated resources.
Daniel Burnham believed in the power of logical diagrams and recorded documents, which he asserts that “…long after we are gone, will be a living thing” (Full Quotation). Burnham was also a big proponent of using public space as a means to enhance the living conditions of society, thus his concentration on landscape and parks.
Both men, Vincent and Burnham, had vision to see how the use of public space impacts the dignity of human life. However, in Burnham’s case, he did not take into account the dignity of the poor and working class as much as he should have. Although his plan of Chicago did call for roads and accessibility to public areas and some civic centers (never built) there is a clear attempt of class segregation. By Burnham’s plan, the cost of urban transformation was (and is) insulating wealthier segments of society from the economically lower classes (traditionally non-WASP and racial minorities) and, dare I say, to gentrify more desirable property for the benefit of the already prosperous and affluent. The Chicago Tribune newspaper argues that this is one of the major factors that resulted in Chicago being one of the most racially and economically segregated cities in the US
When the voices of disenfranchised populations are drowned out in the name of development, human dignity is being accosted and chaos is likely to be a consequence of the neglect. We see this in Chicago and across the world daily. From Burnham to current trends in urban development (gentrification specifically) there is a lack of implementation (not a lack of lip service) for the Vincent paradigm – viewing the poor and underprivileged as key stakeholders in development decisions. However some individuals, Amartya Sen and Greg Mortenson for example, both use a combination of Burnham and Vincent development styles to advocate an execute more just and holistic models of development.
Perhaps most importantly these models include an added focus on the objectives of empowerment for oppressed and ignored populations – the direct and indirect outcomes being less chaos and more attention to human dignity. While in the Philippines, I was encouraged to see a leader such as Father Fajardo of the Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility practicing the advocacy and development that places human dignity of the community at the forefront. Speculation and theory can help us with our development paradigms, but it is the people on the ground clearing the way for a better path of development. We would do well to draw on inspiration from Vincent and Burnham to continue standing up to the chaos that threatens to engulf the lives of the poor and society as a whole.

Related Recommended Readings:

Development as Freedom by Amartya Sen

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Never Ending Plans of Manila

Last December of 2008, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Manila, Philippines. Prior to our trip we had a few preparatory classes to learn of the history and culture of the Philippines. I also learned of Daniel Burnham and the connection between Chicago and Manila. He was a prestigious architect who designed the city plans for Chicago and Manila, as well as other cities. A recurring theme on his plans was the use of open spaces that he had designed for everyone in the city to enjoy. In Chicago and in Manila, I have been able to experience the benefits of the cities’ open spaces. There are however distinct differences that make each experience quite unique from each other. The sights that we see in Manila are far different from those that we see in Chicago. One of the factors that mark the differences is the degree of urban poverty experienced in Manila. The city on the Pacific that Burnham planned is crippled by poor economic development, deficient social facilities and poor physical planning (Marcelo 2008).

I took a walk on Jose Rizal Boulevard along the water. I wanted to experience what Daniel Burnham had envisioned for Manila’s water front. It was a warm and humid day, typical around this time in Manila. The air was thick, polluted and difficult to breath. The water in the bay had a brownish, murky color and it gave off an unpleasant odor. There were vendors and children begging for money. Between the bushes in and other shaded areas, there were individuals and families sleeping, hiding from the sun. We continued our walk along the bay, when suddenly the vendors and the swarm of begging children thinned as soon as we reached a building with tall white walls that blocked our view of the bay. The tall white walls enclose the grounds of the U.S. Embassy, which stands tall and grand in the middle of the boulevard.
As I continue my walk in Manila, I think of how different the scenery is from that of Chicago. In the windy city, there are no begging children and there are not any families living under any shaded areas. With this I’m not implying that there aren not any poor individuals roaming the city parks, there are. The difference is the degree of poverty, we do not see entire families living in the parks, or swarms of children begging for money or food. Instead, we have families enjoying the facilities that the city has to offer, well-manicured lawns, a glistening water front, impressive architecture, and a metal bean. And unlike in Manila, where the U.S. Embassy stands in the middle of Manila’s water front, the general consulate of the Philippines stands on Michigan Avenue, unguarded and surrounded by retail shops and fast food restaurants. I continued to walk, and pondered on the differences and similarities that both cities have and think if Burnham ever envisioned the disparities between the two cities that he planned.

In the beginning of the 1900’s, Burnham was invited to manila to design a plan that would alleviate the city from the problems that stemmed from industrialization and the large influx of rural settlers who were looking for a better opportunity in the city. Burnham was inspired by the urban improvements that had taken place in Paris, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Barcelona and Madrid. According to Mr. Paolo Alcazaren, an important Filipino architect and write for the, Manila is still dealing with the same problems as it did back when Burnham first visited the city; crowded tenements, pollution, traffic, and squatters (Marcelo 2008). After Burnham’s plan for Manila, many more followed, in total there have been 12 plans designed for Manila and none of them has been fully realized. The reasons for what one could perceive as the causes for Burnham’s plan to fail, as well as the many other plans that followed after, were not due to their quality, but to the changes in governance, economic shortages and war (Marcelo 2008).

Burnham’s plan of Manila did not fail. His plan never failed because it was never carried out to its entirety. Any future city plan for Manila has to address the social problems that this city has been facing for over a century. A new sewage system must be built, because a deficient sewage creates health hazards to its citizens, mainly the poor. Traffic has to be re-routed in order to alleviate the dense traffic and the strong fuel emissions polluting the city. Housing with access to transportation must be made available, this is especially necessary to help the many families that live in the relocated areas, like Cabuyao, Laguna. More importantly, as Mr. Alcazaren has previously suggested, the next plan for Manila must be carried out in its entirety in order to work.

Photograph, courtesy of Mar P. Bustamante, 2008

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reaching Beyond Walls: Connecting to the Spirit of St. Vincent

The city of Manila is an eclectic mix of new and old. Traditional Spanish churches and cobblestone streets blend with public green spaces and stretching boulevards while side streets are crowded with such western conveniences as Starbucks and Jollibee. Since Daniel Burnham’s efforts to incorporate aesthetic and functional cityscapes, Manila in part remains a city of “forgotten architecture” overshadowed by pollution, overcrowding and poverty. Though Burnham’s recommendations to create main arteries for traffic, incorporate parks, and add a thoroughfare along the bay are apparent today, the Philippine government abandoned his grand plans for creating a 30-acre campus civic center for government and public service.
At the heart of Manila’s history lay Intramuros, symbolically representing the separation of the wealthy, educated, Spanish ruling class from the poor, indigenous people and servants. The Burnham plan sought to connect this territory “within the walls” to the surrounding city. Ironically, as I traveled the streets of Manila, especially around the many universities, I was struck by the replication of walled institutions. The walls were created with the intent of creating a safe environment but there hulking presence were reminiscent of how historically physical barriers have been used to separate and isolate individuals of the basis of class, race and income.
In Chicago, such physical barriers were constructed to keep the poor in their designated areas of the city. In there heyday, the mammoth public housing buildings on the State Street corridor consist of more than 24 massive buildings with the Dan Ryan Expressway separating white middle class neighborhoods from the poor and working class minorities. The dead-end streets and underdeveloped retail areas promoted the intention of keeping the poor insolated and invisible. Urban cities worldwide face the challenge of managing the realities of poverty and crime while highlighting their attributes to increase opportunities for economic investment. Whether they are physical or transparent, the spirit of St. Vincent challenges us to reach beyond these walls to aid those in poverty and distress.The Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility (VCSR) at Adamson University has taken bold steps to reach out to impoverished communities and forge a model for battling urban poverty in Manila and its surrounding provinces. Their programs focus on using the strengths of the people to empower them to create avenues of income and savings and promote collaboration to work towards common goals of the community. I was impressed by how connected Adamson faculty and staff are to the Vincentian mission of serving the poor. Father Banaga has created a culture that invites every member of the Adamson community to become a stakeholder and active participant in poverty reduction. Urban poverty embodies many issues including healthcare, transportation and employment. Adamson students and faculty are encouraged to work within their disciplines to make meaningful contributions in their communities and explore methods for creating systemic change. As a current student, former employee and alumni of DePaul, I hope that we, as a university, can continue to grow in this area. By providing meaningful opportunities for service and education on social responsibility across disciplines, DePaul can expand its reach to those living in poverty while creating a greater connection to our Vincentian goals.

Planning the Poor In

A few hours before departure from Manila found me hurtling through streets, retracing my path from the night before in a rush to get to the Solidaridad Bookstore. While my body jumped puddles and navigated curbs my mind daydreamed of authors. This diet of rush and calm sustained me until I turned a corner into a street where parked cars were pinched between buildings and the roadway. Opting to squeeze between the cars and buildings I almost stepped into human excrement. The movement, never fully executed, prompted my mind to flash to the night before. There in the same spot I had attempted the same behavior, differing only in that the night before I had nearly stepped on a sleeping person. Within this anecdote lies a sobering reality of what it means to be poor, that is, to be forgotten.
While estimates of the number of informal settlers or settlements is not available on the Philippines National Housing Authority’s (NHA)website, I was able to find varying reports attributed to government estimates. The United Nations Development Program in a mid-term evaluation of progress towards the Millennium Development Goals reported that the 2004 government estimate of informal settler families nationwide was 675,000 families with 146,000 families residing in the National Capital Region (NCR). This number does not seem to be congruent with the 2002 NHA estimate of 1,408,492 informal settler families nationwide of which 726,908 families were from Metro Manila as reported in an article by Emma Porio and Christine Crisol. In any case, even the more conservative estimate depicts Manila (NCR) as home for 21% of the nation’s informal settler families. Industrial globalization and the subsequent shift of workers from rural areas to urban areas is a reasonable explanation for the higher rates of informal settler families in Manila (NCR). However, questions of why the problem exists and what is being done about it remain.
Rapid development, an increase in population and rising land costs, among other factors, have been attributed to the gap in access to affordable housing both in Manila and across the world. These factors, perhaps dressed differently as a result of globalization, are not new to urban settlements and cannot be held fully responsible for the lack of housing for the urban poor. In the article “Burnham before Chicago: The Birth of Modern American Urban Planning” author John W. Reps notes that Robinson – a city designer whom Reps argues most influenced Burnham- approved of beautification plans which moved workers and factories outside city limits. This approach was apparently not isolated to Robinson as Reps makes a point of highlighting the Brummer and Carrere design of Grand Rapids, Michigan describing the plan as “otherwise unremarkable [it] is worth noting because it at least recognized the problem of housing for middle and lower income families”. Whether Burnham was directly influenced by Robinson’s call to move workers away from city centers or by his contemporaries attempt to acknowledge the need for affordable housing is unclear. What does come to the surface is a historical foundation for what Shatkin argues is the intentional forgetting of urban poor settlements by urban planners and policy makers.
Among the solutions for easing the housing concerns of the urban poor are calls to formalize settlements, grant property rights, implement subsidized housing standards and integrate urban upgrading. As necessary as having a varied approach followed through to completion is an intentional ‘remembering’ that every individual – poor or rich- is of equal value. That being said, this assertion is not a new one. It flows down from history through the actions of individuals such as St. Vincent DePaul waiting simply to be practiced.

[Photo taken in Metro Manila by Nicole Meeuwse, 12/2008]

Other Links of Interest:

Monday, February 9, 2009

Beside the skylines: urban development requires space and order

Beside the Skylines: “Urban development requires space and order”
Those who plan and model developments in our cities should have vision and insight with respect for human value. Genuine development demands basic ethical foundations to promote human standards and values. Urban development can be advance with improved living conditions for people. Cities are built for human habitation. The structures in place should in no way be oppressive to proper living and progress. Good planning, decent housing, decent living orders the human habitat and makes it beautiful. It is a public good. For real, providing improved living conditions and ordered planning for our cities are long-term projects that require the courage of creativity and implementation.
Beside the skylines, across the rail tracks urban development can best advance with improved living human conditions. But how do we further development without due attention to alleviating the inhuman conditions of poverty on our streets? Thanks to the Manila 2008 public service immersion. It was a Participatory Poverty Assessment for urban poverty reduction through Appreciative Inquiry. Poverty is real, and the project of reducing it goes beyond words and statistics. Action is needed in making people more resourceful and enterprising to sustain their livelihood.
At the base of the high-rise buildings in Manila beyond the borders of intra-murus, is the testimony of the city’s deficit. The beauty of city architecture and its planning spans beyond the alignment of physical structures. It must take into consideration the study of people and their needs. The poverty of people and their conditions of living is indeed an enigma that menaces human advancement and world development. Public servants have the daunting task of advancing human progress and not exploit conditions and processes of development.
A necessary puzzle
Within most cities of the world are squatter settlements. Planned developments in almost all cities of developing countries are shaded by the cast of these densely populated informal settlements. Urban slums or ghettos are symbolic of poor living conditions of most urban dwellers. Gentrification as government resort to implement city master-plan is plausible but has evidenced far much harm. It has most times displaced a huge sector of society, rendered many unemployed and made accessibility to market and economy difficult. Such developments have failed to make room for working families and the poor people; making our cities appear exclusively elitist than being inclusive of all. Part of the fact is that public planners have appeared short-sighted with no big plan, or have failed to pursue existing actual city master-plans.
It is a thing of great concern when you urban relocation or newly developed sites are in no time overcrowded with people. Sometimes one wonders if the planners never had the future in mind. Worse still, you see developers quizzing a well designed architectural piece in a congested environment. In most cases you find the so-called low income housing units so clustered in a location in the city suburbs. For the most part, these housing units become evidently inadequate before they are allotted for habitation. What a pity! I think poor planning could result from selfishness or naiveté that is not in the interest of the nation. It is an advanced face of oppression and poverty—some form of discrimination and inhumanity to poor and suffering people. Yes, we’ll always have the poor with us. But shall we orchestrate poverty or alleviate it?
The site and distance of locations is another cause for worry. They are times so far removed from the economic, social and commercial networks of development that accessibility is most difficult. The relocation project of Southville 1, Cabuyao-Laguna is case sample. With so dense a population of young people, the space in question and the planned design of this so esteemed project would is already a failure. Could it be the half bread that is better than known?
Needed attention: Basic lessons
City planning must stretch beyond fashion to quality and durability to stand the passage of time. Space may not be the expanse of an area but the creative use of areas available for beauty and order. Such an order must never underscore the dynamics of human activities. It needs to study the trends in the settlement of people and project possible directions in time. Order is required to manage space, aesthetics and avoid congestion or over-crowding.
Poverty of place and of human living conditions could affect the effective management of space and the creation of order. It is instrumental to the chaotic nature of our cities—poor planning, naïve and arbitrary developers. Urban centers are potential sites for job seekers. They attract the movement of people and potent population explosion. Strategic decentralization of workplace and social infrastructure could decongest and orderly translate city plan to reality. Developers must work according to plan over interest and greed.
I think the streets are in no way bedrooms for families. Cubicles are not decent settlements that meet millennium development goals. Citizens have right to decent living, shelter and participatory civic engagement. People need space and order for freedom. But why is infrastructure mostly clustered in particular areas of a city or country? Developments must enhance freedom and respect human values. Governments have the obligation to promote these rights and not treat as mere social benefits or privilege. Collaboration with private and nonprofit sectors will go a long way to advance development.
The reality developers must come to term with is that urban planning is no small matter requiring “no small plan.” Its implementation and renewal is never exhausted. Designer must plan beyond their milieu.

How will Vincent and Burnham solve this paradox? But they exist to contend our appreciation of their legacies.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Burnham, Vincent, and the Suburbanization of Poverty

A century ago, Daniel Burnham, in collaboration with Edward Bennett, designed his great Plan of Chicago, a proposal that, though only partially realized, is responsible for many of the most aesthetically pleasing elements of the Chicago that we know today, such as the open lakefront. Manila, a city that Burnham also helped to design, has several common features, particularly with its open waterfront along Roxas Boulevard. Burnham’s concern for social well-being in urban design—his consultation with the great social reformer Jane Addams suggests that his interests went beyond mere aesthetics—coalesce with the life’s work of St. Vincent DePaul, who, several centuries before Burnham’s time, was focused on urban poverty reduction in Paris.

At the turn of the 21st century, though, cities like Chicago and Manila are beginning to more closely resemble a pattern that has already existed in Paris and many other cities: urban poverty is being gradually engulfed by suburban poverty. In Paris, the highest concentrations of poverty are found in the suburbs, especially in the governmentally-subsidized habitation à loyer modéré, while the city center is the picturesque locale known to tourists. In Chicago, save perhaps for a distinct inner core, the “inner city” has been the dwelling place of the poor, while those with financial means (particularly Caucasians with means) fled to the suburbs decades ago, to live what they thought of as comfortable lives away from people of other ethnicities and, presumably, from poverty and its accompanying social challenges.

In recent years, though, the trend seems to be reversing itself: as recent college graduates and young professionals have flocked back to the city, once-poor neighborhoods have been changed (either “gentrified” or “revitalized,” depending upon your perspective) from places of urban poverty to places of wealth. With that demographic inversion has come displacement, since the presence of these wealthier newcomers forces living costs up and thus forces poorer, long-time residents out—often to the suburbs. As much as gentrification is discussed (see a few interesting articles from the New York Times and The Chicago Tribune), the conversation among the socially conscious usually lingers on how to stop the phenomenon or how, if it were possible, to do “gentrification with justice.” In the meantime, there is too little attention to the present reality of the suburbanization of poverty.

I live and work in the suburbs, in DuPage County, among the wealthiest counties in the country. And yet, increasingly, DuPage County is also home to many people—about 45,000, up 115% in the past fifteen years—living beneath the poverty line, many of whom have moved out of the city. Others among DuPage County’s working poor are newly arriving immigrants; historically, immigrants began their lives in the United States in urban neighborhoods, but more and more are arriving directly to the suburbs—both because there is work available there and because the cost of living in many of the urban neighborhoods where immigrants once resided has escalated as a result of gentrification. During the 1990s, the suburban immigrant population grew by 377,000, a 91.9% increase. As of 2005, 62.5% of the immigrants living in the Chicago metropolitan area live in the suburbs, more than in the city itself. The challenge is that the social service infrastructure has not kept pace with the demographic shift: in 2005, for example, there were about twenty non-profit organizations recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals to provide low-cost immigration legal services to the City of Chicago’s 590,000 foreign-born individuals; meanwhile, the 370,000 foreign-born individuals in the collar counties of DuPage, Kane, Kendall, Will, and McHenry counties were served by just two BIA-recognized agencies.

On a recent visit to the Philippines, I observed a similar phenomenon in Manila. In order to make space for the renovation of the National Railway, tens of thousands of squatter families have been (obligatorily) “relocated” by the Filipino National Housing Authority from their dwellings along the railroad tracks of Makati and other central urban areas to suburban communities far from the city center. The city of Manila is now free of these railroad squatters, whom some considered an unsightly blight upon the city, but tens of thousands of families have been displaced to suburban communities like Cabuyao, Laguna and Marilao, Bulacan, which have neither the employment capacity nor the health or education infrastructures to meet their needs.

Whether for better or worse, gentrification is happening—sometimes as a result of the invisible hand of market forces and in some cases (in Chicago, as well as in Manila) with the complicit intentions of city governments. As gentrification occurs, and many of the urban poor are displaced outward, we need to consider how to best serve, care for, and empower the suburban poor, even as we challenge the structures that lead to their displacement. As poverty increasingly becomes a suburban phenomenon, we need a new generation of suburban planners who can combine Daniel Burnham’s genius for planning with a Vincentian concern for the poor.

(Photo of the suburban poor south of Manila in Southville, Cabuyao is by Mar P. Bustamante, a very talented Filipino photographer).

For Whom are Cities Planned?

Ang sakit ng kalingkigan, sakit ng buong katawan.
(The pain of the little finger is the pain of the whole body.)
Philippine proverb

I once held a copy of the Commercial Club’s 1909 Plan of Chicago. Designed by Daniel H. Burnham, Edward H. Bennett, and associates, the Plan aimed to create “a well-ordered, convenient, and unified city” (p. 4). It was heavy – both literally and figuratively – in physical weight and in historical significance. As I thumbed though the leather-bound book, my eyes fell upon intricate pastel-colored maps of the lakefront and detailed architectural drawings of buildings. What touched me most, though, were pictures of public education booklets aimed at instilling within young citizens-in-training a sense of civic pride, duty, and honor. Upon reading Burnham’s Plan, the Vincentian commitment to social responsibility emerges. Mindful of St. Vincent de Paul’s call for us to serve the needs of the underserved, I assert that the continued development of our urban areas relies on placing the poor at the center of our plans. In effect, the pain of one is the pain of all. Personal experiences in the Burnham-planned cities of Chicago and Manila have shaped my perspective. I now realize that planning does not start and end with planners, but with those who inhabit our cities, our neighborhoods – and our barangays.

Plans are heavy for a reason. Besides carrying the visual and written representations of designers’ ideas, they also bear profound influence on the lives of citizens, particularly those at the margins. The exclusion of public housing within the Plan of Manila has bearing on city life today: A recent national redevelopment project displaced informal squatters who had built makeshift communities alongside the railroad tracks of Metro Manila. Due to the lack of public housing space within the city, the slum dwellers were relocated to areas north of the city in Bulacan and south of the city in Cabuyao. As we saw in Southville, thousands of former
slum dwellers now live in relative isolation from other communities in Cabuyao. Disparities in public services, social services, and infrastructure exist between Southville and Cabuyao residents. How is it possible to instill a sense of civic pride, duty, and honor in an ever-factioned society? Does creating a sense of community within smaller entities such as barangays inevitably lead to the division of a region?

On the other hand, seeds of change and hope have been planted in Southville. During my short, but significant, immersion in the Philippines, I became inspired by the actualization of St. Vincent de Paul’s commitment to solidarity with the poor. The community development strategies implemented by Adamson University’s Vincentian Center for Social Responsibility have led to the formation of bonds of kinship between strangers, families’ participation in entrepreneurship programs to save money on a weekly basis, and the empowerment of women who feel comfortable voicing concerns about health, nutrition, and neighborhood well-being. The authors of the Plan of Chicago used citizens’ preferred standard of living as a rationale for urban development, noting that “there is a great
forward movement in the direction of transforming cities to adapt them to the improved conditions of living which the people everywhere are demanding, and which, moreover, they feel that they have the power to enforce” (p. 29). It follows, then, that the planning and development of urban communities starts with citizens, particularly those whose standard of living is in most need of improvement: The poor and the marginalized.

However, as Filipino architect Paulo Alcazaren noted in his speech during the Conference on University Engagement in Urban Poverty Reduction, the design and implementation of a plan rests within the hands of those in power – in the case of Manila, Spanish colonizers used urbanization as a tool to subjugate native populations. Later, upon U.S. occupation of the country, Chicago planner Daniel H. Burnham became responsible for the master planning of Manila. Burnham’s Plan of Manila never reached completion, due to a complex political and economic situation. In today’s Chicago, nuanced issues such as gentrification, Tax Increment Financing districts, public housing, and the bid for the 2016 Olympics are directed by people who possess political and economic clout. And what becomes of the voiceless? As critical needs of the urban poor persist, how must we plan for the future in order to alleviate poverty?

A comprehensive, strengths-based, and citizen-centered approach to planning is possible. Acknowledgement of the varying levels of political, socio-cultural, and economic capital between stakeholders will inform the process. Utilizing expertise in a wide range of areas is necessary. Interdisciplinary and participatory approaches to community research and action have been undertaken by professionals who link Community Psychology and Community Development (see work by Douglas D. Perkins, Ph.D., at Vanderbilt University, and his associates). A promising regional campaign through the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) relies heavily upon community input (see Vision 2040). Systems change can occur when planning starts and ends with citizens. The pain of one is linked to the pain of all; your liberation from suffering is intrinsically bound with mine.

[Images from Southville I, Cabuyao, Laguna - Photos taken by Liezl Alcantara]