Slowing the City: Mobility Constraints to Human Flows in Manila

The bigger half of this blog is now behind us. Through 4 successive posts, we have broadly outlined the complex links between nature and urban governance Metro Manila. To do so, we focused on the major challenge of urban ecology in Manila, namely resilience, taking the pressing issue of water security as a starting point. We explored the different and intersecting ways in which water flows structure life in Manila – including supply, exposure to floods and waste management. This will be followed by 4 shorter articles in order to broaden our view and refine our take on Manila. Throughout our journey, we will expand on previously identified elements as they underlie Manila’s ecology as a whole. We will come across similar trends regarding the intersecting political, social, economic and environmental dimensions of nature in the city.

In Metro Manila, one of the most densely populated cities in the world, analyzing mobility is crucial to make sense of urban development dynamics. Transportation nexuses and mobility opportunities play a key structuring role in the city and shape the nature of interactions. They hold the potential to isolate and connect (Guéguen 2014). As such, not only is mobility an integral part of Manila’s urban ecology, it is also a governance challenge.

Manila’s case is emblematic: the Philippines’ capital city is the second most congested city in the world (Tomtom Traffic Index 2019). Reasons for this are best identified as resulting from the city’s dual process of decentralization and privatization, which overarches our analysis of Manila’s governance so far. We will therefore approach mobility governance challenges from the perspectives of decentralization (1) and privatization (2) in two successive posts.

Manila’s congestion level reaches 71% on average.
Source: GMA News

Last week, we saw that Pasig City opened Manila’s first public bus line and bike sharing system without coordinating its action with surrounding municipalities. Despite an alarming lack of mobility options for Manileños, congestion and public transports are still addressed individually by municipalities. This trend is representative of Manila’s loosely coordinated governance structure.

Importantly, ease of movement has grown to become the main line of Pasig’s territorial marketing strategy. Pasig is now widely promoted as Metro Manila’s most successful municipality, so much so that other municipalities may adopt similar initiatives as they compete to attract businesses and residents. Since no institution is capable of coordinating municipalities among themselves, these campaigns would remain scattered nuclear initiatives. Such schemes have so far resulted in booming individual car and moto-taxis use throughout Manila, as congestion ignores inter-municipal boundaries.

The proposed plan for Manila’s BRT looks like an unreachable dream.
Source: BRT Plan International

Manileños now push for a comprehensive Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT) to be implemented. Such a project seems unfeasible given the current state of disseminated governance centers. Bogota’s experience is edifying: the Colombian capital ranks 3rd in the world for traffic congestion, and this catastrophic situation has not changed despite the city’s implementation of a wide BRT system (Lobry, 2020). Dissatisfaction is mainly attributed to technocratic governance and the lack of user consultation schemes (Hunt & Stacey, 2016). Bogota’s experience demonstrates both the need for a centralized agency holding the capacity to implement a comprehensive mobility scheme, and the need for participatory democratic systems to sustain the scheme over time and make it evolve according to the will of citizens. In order to smoothen traffic flows and social interactions in the city, Manila must enhance the MMDA’s capacity to supervise a comprehensive transport nexus (Boquet 2014). Nevertheless, Manila’s historic tradition of civic engagement and vital associative tissue holds great potential to build an incremental scheme and scale up solutions, as has been demonstrated in this blog regarding Pasig River rehabilitation and the Pasig Green City Project.

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Resources used:

Featured image: CNN Philippines (December 4, 2020). EDSA traffic to ease by 2020 – Public Works chief. Retrieved from: https://www.cnnphilippines.com/thesource/2019/12/4/EDSA-traffic-2020-Villar.html

Boquet, Y. (2014). Les défis de la gouvernance urbaine à Manille. Bulletin de l’association de géographes français, Géographies, 91(91–4), 461–478.

Guéguen, C. (2014). Des déplacements à la stratification des mobilités ? L’expérience du métro à Manille. Bulletin de l’association de géographes français. Géographies, 91(91–4), 479–499.

Hunt, S. L. (2016). Conflict and Convergence between Experts and Citizens. Latin American Perspectives, 44(2), 91–110.

Lobry, F. (2020). The (real) price of affordable sustainability, a tale from crowded Colombian buses. Retrieved from: https://sensusjournal.org/2019/12/23/the-real-price-of-affordable-sustainability-a-tale-from-crowded-colombian-buses/

Tiebout, C. M. (1956). A Pure Theory of Local Expenditures. Journal of Political Economy, 64(5), 416–424.

Tomtom Traffic Index. (2019). Retrieved from: https://www.tomtom.com/en_gb/traffic-index/ranking/

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