Thursday, March 13, 2008

Reflections on Public Spaces

I have heard many years ago how our public officials are so out of touch from an everyday Filipino's reality simply by being physically separated from the spaces in which they move. It was said that once in a while, our leaders should roll down the heavily-tinted windows of their four-wheel drives to see, hear and smell the urban sprawl.

Urbano of Another Hundred Years Hence has finished his series on improving public transit in Metro Manila. I particularly find insightful what he wrote on the second part:
So, first we have to change the frame of the conversation: from congestion to social justice.

The consequence of a bad public transport system is not bad traffic (alone) but a fundamental inequity -where those who cannot afford cars or cannot afford to take cars everyday pay a greater share of their household income and pay a greater penalty in time.

A bad public transport system is inequitable. And it is also inefficient.

We need to get better public transport not because we want to get rid of traffic congestion* -but because we want a transport system that does not favor the rich over the poor and the middle class.
I remember years ago having come back from Europe to Manila how I valiantly tried to do what I had been doing for five weeks - walk blocs everyday, walk everywhere. I even tried taking the MRT to get to places where I usually just took a car. I tried it for a few days until I finally gave up. Our public spaces are not only hard on the senses, but they are painfully cruel and unjust. I didn't think of this back then, but I remember having felt sad and disappointed that I had to get used to being boxed in a car again.

Here on the Gee Coast, I take the bus everywhere. Surfside buslines are comfortable, clean and almost always on time. There is no metro system here yet, perhaps because it is still a relatively small city. In Manila the last time I took the bus was (approximately) on my junior year in my undergrad. One classmate asked me why I wanted to take the bus to go to SM North even when I didn't need to. Because I was a budding democrat, I told her I just wanted to see what it was like because I hadn't taken the bus for years before then.

The other day I was talking to my friend from Cartagena and San Antonio (TX). Because our conversations are always bizarre, we got on the topic of public transport. J (the Colombian) was marvelling at the bus system here in Oz. He said it didn't usually carry what is visually and olfactorily identifiable as masa like in his home city. He pointed at me and told M (the Texan), "she would know." I nodded my head. I was surprised when M. responded they have those back home too. So in San Antonio at least, only the masa take buses. On second thought I shouldn't have been surprised, as I have expressed before how the US, while being richest and (still) the most powerful country on earth, is increasingly exhibiting some "third-world" symptoms. And very Filipino-like ones at that.

The quality of life of ordinary Filipinos are visibly on display. How could we doubt that things need to change? Resty jokingly calls commuting an "extreme sport." But he has plenty of other blog entries questioning why he should have to suffer through the injustice of our public spaces. The defence of our metaphysical public spaces must be complemented by the defence of our material public spaces.

1 comment:

Preston D. said...

hello, here's the pulitzer prize-winning reklamo. baka sakaling may magbasa from here. :)