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RESPONDE, Leomark C.

March 26, 2013

Arki 1
Philippine Infrastructure and Urban Planning:
The Archeology of Slums
With the coming of the Spaniards in 1521, the general structure of pre-Hispanic
settlements started to evolve. In 1561, Lopez de Legazpi founded the first European settlement in
the east coast of Cebu, and soon after other settlements sprung across the islands. About two-
hundred new villages and fortresses (one of which was Manila) were founded over existing
native commercial settlements (Chias 2012). In those days, the lay-out of settlements was
simpler compared to the demand of today’s citizenry, thus there were no occurrences of ‘slums’.

Slums are a result of ‘urbanization poverty’ which, states Lou Antolihao,"[…] describes
the shift in the concentration of poor people from rural village to the city, bringing about various
social problems, such as massive unemployment and the proliferation of slums. Beyond the
movement of poor people, this concept pertains to the various historical and social factors that
have led to the poverty of many urban dwellers." Basically when a city’s infrastructures are not
able to accommodate a rapid rise in population, services will not be properly distributed resulting
in disorganization and accumulation of improper settlers.

According to Merriam-Webster, infrastructures are “the system of public works of a

country, state, or region.” Civil Engineers, typically associate infrastructures to technical
structures that support the society. It covers all necessary aspects of a functioning modern city
system such as roads, water supply, sewers, electrical grids, telecommunications and etc. These
structures not only form the basic life-support of the city but they also enhance and sustain the
societal living conditions. On the other hand, urban planning, as the name suggests, is generally
related to the intended lay-outing of a city to accommodate a certain population and plan the
necessary structures to provide necessary services of the said community.

Urban Planning
At present, the colonial fortress of the old manila is now just a part of a larger modern
day conglomerate of urban settlements, the National Capital Region. The urban landscape of the
NCR is growing day-by-day due to the positive growth in the vital industries. Constructions are
being done in almost every city. New residential skyscrapers are being built to accommodate the
growing numbers of city-dwellers and with that come the responsibility of improving public
infrastructures, not just for the cities but also for the benefit of the nation as a whole. Due to this
it has been a must that the urban plan be created based on factors that would capture both the
practical and technical benefits, and especially those that will utilize the ‘experience’ of the
population. This experience has always been commonly left out in modern planning, resulting in
‘squatting’. In the pre-Hispanic societies, small villages for example, the natives were able to
create a functioning settlement because they are adapted to their environment and their
‘experiences’ are suited to that context, on the contrary, our present urban areas only cater for
those with diplomas and required skills instead of utilizing the natural skills of ‘uneducated’
certain sectors.

According to a study of modern slum settlements, “[e]xperiences of people and social

groups that can be distinguished from their theoretical leanings or scientific backgrounds provide
valuable information that can be useful for formulating more effective urban development
programs. This is not because classical theories, such as structuralism, or development
paradigms, such as modernization, are totally irrelevant; but these constructs often become too
abstract to represent reality reliably, particularly of an issue that has immediate pragmatic
consequences”(Antolihao 2004). So in reality, urban planners must first study the would-be
dwellers and from that, create an urban landscape that would cater the needs of the former and
would be able to utilize the experience of the population in order to avoid the accumulation of
disorganized settlements or slums. Once that is settled, planners could then proceed to
accommodate the economic dimension of the urban area.

In the modern economic perspective, infrastructures whether energy, water, transport, or

telecommunications, must accommodate a certain efficiency to be profitable. City engineers
must then be able to construct well designed infrastructure that facilitates economies of scale,
and reduces costs of trade, thus promoting the efficient production, distribution and consumption
of goods and services. If these aspects are achieved, the vital ingredients of economic growth
will be assured, which is key in paving the way to higher living standards not just for
professionals but also for the minimum wage earners and the lower brackets of society.
Planning urban settlements must also take into account the proper layout of
administrative structures/buildings to provide the necessary governance and effectively create
order in the said settlement. One of the great examples of this is to ‘look back’ from the current
poblacion of old towns and observe how the layout was carefully planned based on the pattern of
a plaza complex. According to Donn Vorhis Hart, a “plaza complex [...] consists of the plaza
proper and its immediate vicinity. In most cases the municipio, market-place, school, and
Catholic church will be found on one side of the plaza, although this is not always so.” Hart also
added that, “[…]the Spaniards found it expedient in governing the Filipinos to assemble them
'under the shadow of the bells,' for the church was an important in administrative system.” This
suggests that an orderly society can also be achieved by having an orderly and urban plan. Given
the current state of the NCR, we can see how almost random the placement of necessary
facilities and agencies are. Also, the road systems are too dendritic that they almost literally
‘choke’ the economy. Though there was already a plan by the American Daniel Burnham for a
central government area in Manila during the Commonwealth period, it was not completed due
to the world wars. That then resulted in the current layout of our administrative buildings that
should have followed the American plaza complex of Washington DC. Although the motives for
the plan were primarily for colonial control, as in the Spanish, the benefits otherwise would be
also preferable since the plan was both aesthetical and efficient (Morley 2012).

Additionally, a plaza complex serves as the focal point of culture dissemination during
the colonial era. Public events are held in plaza, usually there are kiosks (bandstand) for political
announcements and speeches, and for the traditional zarzuelas and fiestas. There are also
fountains in the plaza built not for aesthetic but for public drinking as there were no water
distribution pipes yet available.

The Poor and Urban Development

One study about governance and urban development in Metro Manila stated
that,"[d]eveloping metropolis should be done simultaneously with the other equally promising
cities in the country as well as promoting growth in the country side. This would contribute to
minimizing further pressure on the already strained metropolitan environment and would
invariable help in managing growth of Metro Manila. Furthermore, the developments of MM
should always take into account the development of its immediate regions and spillover
areas."(Manasan 1999). This only suggests that the economic benefits of urban planning must
also take into consideration the effects on the whole country, this is especially true since there
are commentaries that the slums in the urban areas are caused by the influx of rural men who do
not have the needed skills in order to get a proper job in the cities. This statement rarely meets
opposition, except in the early 1970’s when a study about the slums of Manila claimed that there
is no significant attribute that can be used to justify the popular comment that the urban poor
must go back to the country sides since according to the author, his data shows that most of the
men are not even skilled for rural jobs like fishing or farming. Many of them are already second
generation migrants and thus are now cultured in an urban poor setting (Keyes 1974).

The author, William Keyes, also added that "[a]sian cities must be administered against a
landscape of national poverty. Decisions on infrastructure, use of public lands, and budget
allocations must reflect the awareness that government is building a city where poor men live.
Policies should make it easier for the poor to live respectable , though modest, human lives, and
truly to belong to their city.[...]Plans that refuse to accept that this is especially true in southeast
Asia are likely to become oppressive." Following that conclusion, it is again a necessity to
accommodate the ‘experience’ of the population as not to marginalize them in urban
employment and also to avoid the impression of oppression against the poor.

Solution to Slums
Recent surveys suggests that majority of policy-makers in the developing South East Asia
see infrastructure investment as an essential determinant of growth, which is good news for the,
not only because it entails more profit but also because it signals the awareness of governments
on the growing demand for more infrastructures as co-requisite for progress. Though the debate
of whether more infrastructures is the cause of economic growth, or the opposite, is still
undetermined, it is nevertheless a common sense that progress and more infrastructures will
always be seen together as signs of a developing national wealth.

However debatable, there are facts in which the causality contested between
infrastructure and economy is clear. According to several researches, “access to roads has been
shown innumerous studies to have a (positive) significant effect on rural poverty” (Jacoby et al.,
2000). That should not be surprising since trade and services will not be distributed properly if
the road systems are non-existent or undeveloped. This citation is only one of the evidences that
suggest that better infrastructure really leads to economic development.

Also in one research it is said that, “[c]ities play an important role in facilitating the
exchange of ideas and innovation, and hence advancing the technological frontier. To the extent
that infrastructure services affect the efficiency of cities and the effectiveness with which
knowledge is shared, infrastructure services may influence the rate of productivity
growth.”(Rozelle 2003). As stated before, a centralized urban plan like a plaza complex do help
in cultural dissemination and especially in social interaction.

East Asia, which includes the Philippines (Worldbank definition), is under the so-called
‘developing world’. The development of this region is fast, “its rate of urbanization is one of the
fastest and the East Asian mega-cities are comparably large and more densely populated.
Average urban densities in East Asia range from 10,000 to around 15,000 persons per sq km –
about double the urban densities of Latin America; triple those of Europe; and ten times those of
US cities.” (Straub et al. 2008). Though it is a good indication that the urbanization is rapidly
expanding, it usually contested that the mere development of certain areas does not reflect the
country as a whole, especially since the more urban areas there are, the slums also seems to
follow in quantity.

The potential of our country, once tapped could lead to the averting of ‘slums’. This
potential could only be accessed if the country is ready in terms of its infrastructures. This
preparation could be achieved if all institutions that offer civil engineering, urban planning and
urban policy making give the students a wholesome education, covering environmental concerns,
economics, and especially history and culture to better understand the needs of an efficient
society and to truly utilize the ‘experience’ of those marginalized sectors. Understanding how
people can achieve positive productivity through better communications, better roads, and better
cities will greatly help urban planners design and construct efficient settlements/cities. But in the
end, the best way to upgrade is not as much as to follow the footsteps of western cities, but to
adapt to the level of experience of the population.
Buildings for Progress
Infrastructure is one key in determining how successful the manufacturing and
agricultural trade activity of a region is. “Investments in water, sanitation, energy, housing, and
transport also improve lives and help reduce poverty. And new information and communication
technologies promote growth, improve delivery of health and other services, expand the reach of
education, and support social and cultural advance[,]” according to the World Bank.

In conclusion, a key factor in sustainable development and to avoid the occurrence of

slums is to have a good quality infrastructure based primarily on the people themselves. It is said
that urban areas must possess efficient transportations, effective sanitation facilities, fast
communications systems, and sustainable energy plants in order to prosper and to support decent
standards of living for the people, but what is lacking in that vision is the human context. Urban
areas must also be able to accommodate the necessary public spaces to provide people a way of
exchanging ideas and allowing them to find leisure. Also it will be a great benefit if the
institutions that specializes in urban planning and development to look into the socio-cultural
aspects of the dwellers, especially observing how the ‘levels of experience’ varies depending on
educational attainment, skills and cultural background. Finally development of sectors must be
simultaneous in effect as not to focus only on those already at the top of the socio-economic

1. Straub, Stéphane et al., Infrastructure and Economic Growth in East Asia, The World
Bank, East Asia and Pacific Sustainable Department Policy Unit, 2008.
2. Brooks, Douglas et al., Dynamics of Infrastructure and Development etc., Speech
Transcript of 'How Important is Infrastructure?: A Look at its Economic Impact in a
Globalized World', Brookings Institution, 2010.
3. Infrastructure,, Retrieved
March 23, 2013
4. Antolihao, Lou, Culture of improvisation: informal settlements and slum upgrading in a
Metro Manila locality, Quezon City: Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila
University, 2004.
5. Manasan, Rosario et al., Governance and urban development: case study of Metro
Manila, Makati City: Philippine Institute for Development Studies, 1999.
6. Hart, Donn, The Philippine plaza complex: a focal point in culture change, New Haven:
Yale University, Southeast Asia Studies, 1955.
7. Keyes, William, Manila scavengers: the struggle for urban survival, Quezon City:
Institute of Philippine Culture, Ateneo de Manila University, 1974.
8. Morley, Ian, City Designing and Nationhood during the early-1900s: Civic Design in the
Philippines, Sao Paolo: 15th International Planning History Society, 2012.
9. Chias, Pilar et al., Colonial Urban Planning and Land Structures in the Philippines.
Madrid: Journal of Asian Architecture and Building Engineering, 2012.