Over the recent weeks, I’ve been seeing extensive discussions on central-business-district-slash-fake-utopia Bonifacio Global City (BGC), and for good reason. The city is “a true child of the 21st century,” as it calls itself, where braindead millennials and career-sighted individuals dwell to keep out the uncivilized world just across highways you’d mistake for car parks because of the heavy traffic.
I suppose it is charming: the wide sidewalks with so much space for movement, high-rise buildings and apartments, white-collar workers in business attire, luxury stores and restaurants along every street, indifferent foreigners walking around feeling at home, shiny cars stopping and going when the stoplights tell them to—the very concept of everyone’s urban heaven.
But that’s all there is to that “city”. Years of urbanist studies point out that the explosive growth of global cities such as BGC is instrumental in the large-scale veiling of marginality and poverty in an attempt to embellish the Philippines as if it is not a struggling country. These global cities—worse yet we could call them Neil Smith’s “revanchist cities”—become bubbles that serve as a manifestation of a neoliberal’s wet dream. (Urbanists’ words, not mine. Maybe.)
It should come as no surprise then that not everyone likes the commercial hub. In the discourse online, people said it was a display of class divide, an ignorant city, and an inaccessible area, among other things. All these could have been solved, or at the very least mitigated, with good urban design.
See, a good city entails more than having trees adorning sidewalks or intersections having pedestrian lanes. It’s more foundational than that. A good city is a walkable, mixed-use city with public transit and pedestrians at the forefront of planning. An equitable design provides people with choices of how to get around and where to spend time without burning money in malls or commercial areas. Ultimately, people should actually be able to live there and afford it.
Everything should be intentional—why and where structures are built must result from striking a balance between material form and social dimension. Cities are not scattered boxes of concrete, glass, and steel; they are communities where city-dwellers thrive.
Take Makati for example. Although not all of its roadways may be as appealing as the Western, number-labeled streets of BGC, it is all accessible. There are designated parking spaces as well as options to go around with their jeepneys, buses, train lines, and tricycles. Trees also don’t look commercialized there like the too-carefully-placed greenery in BGC.
People can walk around even if the sun scorches through Makati because of the shade given by trees. It’s a lively city, not just in the commercial areas. There are common spaces. Roads are sometimes closed for street meets. The nightlife isn’t just drunk people walking out of bars, all too dazed to appreciate the artificial stars created by light pollution. It’s people walking under streetlights, people lounging in the parks, cars humming as people start to go home, with some deafening motorcycle exhausts once in a while—all signs of life.
There is also actual housing in Makati, with sari-sari and retail stores adorning every other street. Shops that provide services prosper because people, in fact, live there.
I know Makati isn’t perfect. It’s dirty and polluted. The people in government are the same as those who ruled the city decades ago. People get stuck in heavy traffic for hours. Nevertheless, the crux of the problem is that BGC simply doesn’t have anything that nurtures its almost-nil social fabric, which all Philippine urban communities should have.
The conversation on BGC shouldn’t just be about bad takes blaming people for elitism or shallow points about the inequality gap shown by the C-5 road divide. It should also be about what urbanization has seemed to become. BGC has become a blueprint for many cities, and it’s concerning.
Urbanization shouldn’t be just about digging roads, filling concrete, and building buildings anymore. Green, sustainable, or well-designed cities are not pretty architecture with some plants on top. We should move forward to aiming for actual well-designed cities—cities we would legitimately enjoy being in, not just looking at.