Repurposing Facebook Stories to tell the tale of Metro Manila’s abysmal Urban Planning

How I abhor Facebook Stories. And Snapchat. And Instagram Stories. Or any other micro-blogging app out there that chronicles the most mundane activities of the digital generation that unscrupulous developers wanted to shove down our lumpy throats. I hate the inordinate craving for attention and next dopamine hit we get when we patronize these addictive tools ad nauseam. But that is just my opinion. To each his own, right? Whatever floats your boat. Whatever ruffles your truffles. Whatever turns you on. But I digress. Perhaps there’s some redeeming value to it? Perhaps the hate is uncalled for? Perhaps I can go against the grain of being an unrefined hipster, and instead of hating, do something useful instead and channel the energy into something creative? Perhaps take a cue from those who use Twitter to mount virtual rallies, and take Tiktok over to make a bold, catchy statement on a certain issue, and capture niche audiences and promote alternative lifestyles via Instagram? And so did I.

Being an urban planning aficionado for quite some time now, I developed this unhealthy obsession on Google Maps and its features. You know that omnipotent feeling you get when you pan and scroll and zoom in a very handy, palm-sized version of the Earth? And having that God’s eye view of a godforsaken city with a hellish urban fabric perpetually jammed by carmageddon? I know right.

Going back to the crux of the matter, we can say that Google Maps is such a high-value digital tool that opened new doors to help us demystify the infirmities of our cities through cartography, and correlate our street-level experiences to the macro-level spatial form. Case in point: Metro Manila. Despite the plethora of urban plans, masterplans, and urban studies conducted by the government, multilateral institutions, and the private sector, the degree of prioritization of duly-elected local and national administrations reflected their entrenched political agenda, cultural zeitgeist, and grasp of urban and territorial planning (or lack thereof.)

To date, we can see the failings and lack of foresight of past administrative leaderships, which all manifested in Metro Manila’s urban fabric. Being one of the densest metropolises in the world, this geopolitical region is grappling with issues on liveability, environmental degradation, urban poverty, overpopulation, and other key dimensions of sustainable development. The burden of proof lies on the accuser, you say? Well, yes. Let me tell you the tale of Metro Manila’s abysmal urban planning, through these micro-blogging snippets.

The City of Manila, the melting pot of Old World & New World colonialism:

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I’ll take you next to the ‘planned city’ of Quezon City, envisioned to become the country’s capital, in response to the overcrowding and blight of the City of Manila

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Now more of the southern cities, characterized by their expansive suburbanization

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Zeroing in on the affluent districts, we can see the manifestation of the social divide and a sundry of urban planning issues

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So there, I’ve presented my case.

In the interest of the reader’s time and attention bandwidth, this compendium is non-exhaustive and attempts to present a snapshot of the geophysical layers readily visible on Google Maps that merit our concern and of course, collective action. Having said that, there are other granular, nonvisible facets of our urban milieu that should also be seen through a critical lens: Issues that go undetected by our faculty of sight. Here’s to hoping that through Google Maps, complemented by whatever novel digital tools meant for our convenience, we can go deeper than the surface, and be aware of the issues embedded in the built environment of our cities.

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Rodelon Ramos

Rodelon Ramos is a Filipino architect/urban practitioner. He likes to write about public interest design & social impact architecture.