Private greed – and state coddling of that greed – is one of the reasons why basketball is the country’s most popular sport, though we are hopeless in it. Basketball requires very little space and hoop dreams can thrive anywhere. Baseball and other sports require development to be conscious of its civic duty to allocate ample space for public parks, baseball diamonds, football fields etc. A state like ours, predisposed to sell all its urban lands to private developers who are motivated by profit and greed 100 percent of the time, will definitely have nothing for public spaces.
Do you know of any flourishing baseball diamond in the heart of Metro Manila where young kids can dream of becoming another Ichiro Suzuki or Yu Darvish? None. Spaces are for giant boxy malls and mini-malls and convenience stores.
So there is no other option but basketball – though we know fully well that brown men can’t jump.
The country’s richest, our own dollar billionaires, cannot even write their life stories like Jeff Bezos or Bill Gates. The reason is, they cannot write inspiring stories. They got urban land on the cheap and built those boxy monstrosities called malls (and in the process their wealth) and cashed in on the wont of OFW families and the salaried workers to splurge and make the malls the centers of their lives.
The greed is more pronounced in the demolition of heritage sites to build malls and spas and cheap objects of commerce, the country’s heritage be damned.
Developers cash in on the construction of – if not malls and mini-malls – condominiums, many of them looking like Soviet Russia’s tenements.
The mall mania runs counter to the most elementary rule of urban planning. Do not allow malls along major roads to help ease urban traffic and make up for the lack of roads and related infrastructure. But no, the basic and most rudimentary rules of urban planning do not simply apply. Most choke points along EDSA are the areas where the malls are, standing firm and proud of their defiance of the basics of urban planning, and, urban sanity.
The defiance segues into the addiction to cars. Every year, close to 200,000 new cars are added to our urban roads. We are the third worst city in terms of traffic jams and gridlocks. In a few years, Metro Manila will wake up to the fact that it is a traffic-crippled city, a polluted city on a standstill.
Mr. Duterte said that Metro Manila is dying. No, it is much more than that. It is deader than dead. Right now it can hardly breathe, and mobility – now regarded as the fourth rail of democracy – is severely compromised. The gated enclaves of the rich in Metro Manila, just like Mumbai of the Ambanis, are located not far away from the most blighted slum colonies in the world. Metro Manila is an uneven mosaic of oasis and hellholes. The stench of the blighted slums wafts over into these gated enclaves some days of the year.
Are there no rational minds speaking out against private greed and the state coddling of that greed? None it seems. The so-called urban planners are poseurs and TV bloviators. In a megalopolis of close to 20 million people, you can’t find one urban theorist who can explain the way out of the mess.
If the physical decay is depressing, the nature and the themes of the national conversation are much worse.
The newspaper headlines scream not of political comity and the development of innovation hubs and the search for possible Einsteins. Or, of hopeful 21st century topics. The headline-hogging themes for several months running have been issues such as martial law, revolutionary government, impeachment and terrorist groups. The sense of country and national purpose is a dystopia defined by cadres of irrepressible bloggers that thrive off hate, division and venom.
Those who have come of age in the 60s, like this old typist, would not even recognize the self-proclaimed thought leaders with the barest understanding of what a democracy is and what it stands for.
Instead of letting a “thousand flowers bloom,” it is “let my misinformed view dominate.”
Metro Manila remains the most strategically located urban area in the country from the practical view of trade, travel, shipping and commerce. You cannot recreate the financial center it hosts. There is no substitute, only satellite areas that can be created to handle part of its economic load and functions.
From a political point of view, this is still the metropolis that, like the efficient market that corrects its own errors and missteps, undertakes the corrective mechanisms that ousts bad leaders, like what happened in 1986 and in the late 2000s (toward the end of the first decade of the new millennium).
This is still a metropolis whose academic communities still turn out the likes of Jo Lapira and her kind, who still believe in the ideal and are willing to die in pursuit of that ideal. Selflessness is, perhaps, the most admirable thing in the world and academic communities that nurture those kinds of young women and men have a right to exist.
This is a metropolitan area that, despite its limitations, blight and stress, perseveres.