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

No comments: