As we come to see the urban as a political ecology structured by human and material flows and their governance, the catalytic effect of urban density constitutes an insightful starting point from which to reflect: the intensities and complexities induced by urbanization generate both unique potentials – including the concentration of means enabling innovation – and great challenges for so-called ‘megacities’ in the Global South. According to Price (2006), nature in the city can be seen as “a landscape and ecology we build in and manage”. Within the ever-changing and incontrollable metabolism of the so-called ‘megacity’, ensuring that the city’s benefits are distributed equally among citizens is not an easy task (Porio 2012). Urban governance is therefore determinant for Manila’s capacity to manage major issues through inclusive development.
Multi-actor development in Manila
The People Power Revolution marked a turning point in in the progressive shaping of today’s political decision-making systems: under Martial Law (1965-1986), illegal settling was punished by imprisonment in Manila (Bello et al. 1982). Informal settlers were forced to organize into People’s Organizations (POs) to defend themselves for evictions and convictions. These POs were at the forefront of the peaceful People Power Revolution, which overthrew the undemocratic regime in 1986. Civil society was therefore acknowledged a legitimate role in political life in the country’s 1987 Constitution and other key legal texts (Shatkin 2007: 28-33). As a result, the Philippines is the country with the most NGOs and Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) per capita. There are over 2000 CBOs in Metro Manila today (Shatkin 2007: 2). Civil Society actors are granted 25% of the seats in the legislative bodies of each level of government (region, city and barangay) and their active role as mediators between the people and public authorities is widely acknowledged (Lobry, 2020: 11-12).
We have already stated the excessive privatization of urban services in Manila, as well as the lack of access to land and water for its poorest inhabitants. Yet Manila’s tradition of participatory governance may have the potential to help Manileños achieve inclusive, resilient development.
The Pasig City Green programme
The Pasig Green City Programme is a regional model for co-production and participatory urban governance. Pasig is confronted with Manila’s common resilience challenges including the prevalence of flood-prone areas and a rapidly-growing population. In 2009, after Typhoon Ketsana submerged 70% of the city, the mayor put an ambitious resilience agenda in place.
First, a disaster risk reduction and management program trains citizens in rescue and risk reduction in the case of a flood. In coordination with local CBOs, the city created community-based volunteer groups like the Tanod Sapa team, in charge of river watching (Porio 2012: 21). These groups are part of a complex scheme involving significant financial investment from the city into innovative disaster risk reduction technologies. The operational teams and supervising agencies are equipped with technology including GIS map-guided systems, GPS tracking, and weather monitoring for the city to respond as fast as possible (UN Climate Change).
Importantly, the disaster risk reduction and management program is integrated into a comprehensive Green Agenda promoting inclusive sustainable development. Pasig City is working closely with the ICLEI, a network of environmentally committed cities to “develop and deploy bottom-up models of climate action planning”. A continuous consultation process is in place thanks to a feedback mechanism: on “People’s days”, all residents are invited to make comments, complaints and suggestions to public officials (ICLEI 2019). Throughout the process, citizens feel empowered to implement their own projects and have their say on the ongoing initiatives. The resulting sense of ownership further enhances the citizens’ commitment to the Green Agenda (UN Climate Change).
The project expands to education: the Greenheart Savers Program raises awareness among the youth in 32 public schools. Pupils are encouraged to bring their recyclable waste to school through a system of rewards. Lastly, Pasig City encourages green mobility through various systems. These include elevated walkways to tackle Metro Manila’s poor walkability (GIZ 2016), the ICLEI-lead Pasig Green Bike Share Program and carless weekends in certain areas of the city (ICLEI 2019).
From Resilience to Thinking and Living Green
Pasig City’s green agenda emerges as a model for the entire agglomeration. Not only are environmental issues managed collaboratively, they are also continuously co-produced. As a result, more than a resource “especially dangerous to lose track of”, nature is increasingly considered by both citizens and government officials as “a premier source of human meaning” (Price 2006). Pasig City residents allegedly “think and live green” (Philstar 2009).
As Pasig scales up its solutions, it faces major challenges in Metro Manila’s pyramidal governance system: Municipalities are loosely coordinated, partly due to the weakness of the over-arching Metro Manila Development Agency (Boquet 2014). As a result, Pasig City’s public bus lanes and bike share system brutally stop at the municipality’s borders, thus limiting the positive impact of the Pasig green City Programme in the agglomeration.
Featured image: Agricultural Training Institute. (February 21, 2019). Expansion of Green Communities in Manila Continues. Retrieved from: http://ati.da.gov.ph/ati-main/news/02212019-2013/expansion-green-communities-manila-continues
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