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Sunday, August 05, 2007

Filipino Cities

In Dr. Michael Tan's column, PINOY KASI in the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Friday, he talked about his thoughts on moving to other cities within the country and how his friends have reacted to the idea. He then went on to discuss the good and the bad side of it all. In doing so, he discussed the subject of migration and urbanization, this year's theme and focus of UNFPA's State of the World Population Report - Unleashing the Potential of Urban Growth. Here's an excerpt.

Rethinking cities

The Philippines is supposed to be 64 percent urbanized, but “urbanization” is a relative term. We’ve had an epidemic of municipalities converting themselves into cities, with even the League of City Mayors complaining about the newcomers not coming up to standards.

The UNFPA’s latest yearbook suggests new ways of looking at urbanization. In the past, development planners tried to discourage migration from rural to urban areas, fearful of squatters and urban poverty. Today, the thinking is that we should encourage such migration because it alleviates rural poverty. One interesting research finding is that cities can be more eco-friendly because they can be more efficient in terms of using land and other natural resources.

But poverty alleviation and environmental conservation depend on how much government is committed to ensuring that the cities have adequate housing, jobs and social services. The problems we have today is that city politicians welcome rural migrants because they become cheap labor and bring in more votes during elections, but provide them very little by way of economic and social services.

Another point raised by UNFPA is that countries should develop several urban centers so hordes of rural poor don’t stream into the capital city. I’d add here that we need a major cultural shift as well, to get Filipinos to move away from “Manila imperialism.” We forget that Cebu and Iloilo were originally considered to be more sophisticated and advanced than Manila, centers of “urbanidad” or a sense of civility and civilization. If they’re losing that urbanidad, it’s because they try too hard to imitate Manila. If they could just keep their small-town charm and urbanidad, they might attract more professionals, artists and business people.

Meanwhile, those of us in Manila should also expose our kids to other urban centers, from Vigan and Tuguegarao up north, down to Zamboanga and General Santos in the south, so they can expand their horizons and their ideas of what a city should be. Hopefully, someday they will have more choices and options of where to live. Even better, they can contribute toward recreating and revitalizing our urban areas.

Read the full article here.