When the Right to the City is Under Threat

Artwork by: Kirsten Mansilungan
The aftermath of the Alima/Sineguelasan fire incident that took place during the onslaught of Typhoon Rolly. (Source: https://businessmirror.com.ph/2020/11/02/group-smells-something-fishy-about-recent-fire-in-bacoor-city/)
Cultural groups and peasant advocates paid a solidarity visit to the fire-stricken fishing communities. They opposed the local government’s reclamation project. (Source: https://twitter.com/pama_pil/status/1325253053881044992)

What are Private Spaces?

Private spaces are exclusive spaces that are subject to limitations determined by private interests, as opposed to public spaces, which ideally are not bound by any limitations. Private spaces, although often antagonized, play an essential role in the urban landscape. The limitations imposed on private spaces are meant to ensure the right to practice individual freedoms (Mierzejewska, 2011). In other words, private spaces provide spaces for individuals to exercise their privacy — to distinguish their public life from their private life. Since private spaces only ensure individual freedoms, they only allow specific individuals to access these spaces. Private spaces, then, create exclusive pockets of spaces that inhibit accessibility for everyone. While it is only right to limit inclusive access to private residential units, other private spaces, whose main function is not necessarily to ensure individual privacy, are outrightly excluding certain groups of people (e.g. urban poor, lower socioeconomic classes, etc.) from accessing these spaces. This is evident in Metro Manila and other urban areas in the Philippines, where shopping mall complexes, high-rise condominiums, expansive golf courses, tolled expressways and other exclusive spaces dominate the urban landscape. Driven by neoliberalism, the urban landscape is becoming increasingly privatized, resulting in a lack of inclusive spaces.

Wack Wack Golf & Country Club, a massive golf course located at the center of the metropolis, is a perfect example of a private urban space that outrightly limits access to lower socioeconomic groups. (Source: https://wackwack.com)

Neoliberalism: A Global Network of Privatized Spaces

Since its introduction as a solution to the global economic crisis during the 1970s (Springer, 2010), neoliberalism has become the doctrine of the global economy. Through free market-oriented policies, limited state intervention, and privatization of services, neoliberalism was able to uplift the global economy from that recession. While neoliberalism is responsible for the supposed “stability” of the global economy, it is also responsible for the growing global inequalities that exist today. Economic geographers often divide the world into two distinctions — Global North and Global South — to point out the economic disparities observed in the contemporary global economy. Under this distinction, Global North countries disproportionately hold the world’s political and economic power, while Global South countries are virtually powerless. As a result, Global South countries are expected to adhere to the neoliberal doctrine in order for them to integrate to the global economy. This inequality is further transcribed to urban landscapes globally, primarily by privatization of urban spaces, creating an uneven city that favors a certain class of people — one that holds substantial socioeconomic power. Because private spaces are dictated by free-market principles, what determines access to these spaces is one’s ability to pay for it.

A map that shows the Global North-Global South divide. The distinction is based on how much influence a country has on the neoliberal global order. (Source: https://ksr.hkspublications.org/2019/11/26/the-rise-of-the-global-south-can-south-south-cooperation-reshape-development)
Metro Manila is a microcosm of neoliberalism in the Philippines. Social inequities as a result of neoliberal practices are very apparent in the metro’s urban landscape. (Source: https://nolisoli.ph/19899/pasig-river-2nd-worst-plastic-waste-contributor-world/)

Slum Cities

Manila’s economic dominance makes it a primate city in the Philippines — a city that holds so much power that the majority of socioeconomic development is concentrated in it. This results in an uneven distribution of economic growth and development across the country. People from less developed regions are attracted to the economic opportunities that are supposedly abundant in the primate city. Those who have the means to migrate tend to do so, bringing with them a presumption that they can easily provide a better life for themselves once in the city, only to realize that the standard of living costs more than what they can afford. Oftentimes, they end up living in slum communities where their right to the city is constantly being threatened by neoliberal interests.

Residents of Sitio San Roque in Quezon City continue to resist demolition efforts that aim to displace them out of their community. (Source: https://www.bulatlat.com/2017/06/04/sitio-san-roque-residents-vow-resist-demolition-push-site-development/)
Map by the author.

Conclusion

The increasing privatization of urban spaces in Metro Manila and surrounding areas diminishes the society’s collective right to the city. The fire incident that razed the communities of Alima and Sineguelasan shows just how aggressive neoliberalism can be in converting urban spaces into private spaces of consumption. Sitio San Roque could suffer a similar fate. David Harvey explains: the right to the city is “to claim some kind of shaping power over the process of urbanization, over the ways in which our cities are made and re-made and to do so in a fundamental and radical way” (2008). In other words, practicing one’s right to the city entails acting against neoliberalism.

In a lot of ways, neoliberalism is threatening the life in the city, and the urban poor is at the forefront. To acknowledge and to uphold the rights of the urban poor is to act against neoliberalism.

Bibliography

  • Abrina, Dennis. 2020. BFP says faulty electrical wiring caused big Bacoor Undas fire. Retrieved from https://www.rappler.com/nation/bfp-says-faulty-electrical-wiring-caused-big bacoor-undas-fire
  • Ballesteros, Marife. 2011. Why slum poverty matters. Philippine Institute for Development Studies: Policy Notes.
  • Harvey, David. 2008. The Right to the City. New Left Review. 53: 23–40.
  • Holden, W., Nadeau, K., & Porio, E. (2017). Introduction. In Ecological Liberation Theology: Faith-Based Approaches to Poverty and Climate Change in the Philippines. Springer Briefs in Geography.
  • Mayuga, Jonathan. 2020. Not arson. Faulty wiring sparked big All Saints’ Day fire in Bacoor City-probers. Retrieved from https://businessmirror.com.ph/2020/11/10/not-arson-faulty wiring-sparked-big-all-saints-day-fire-in-bacoor-city-probers
  • Mierzejewska, L. (2011). Appropriation of Public Urban Space as an Effect of Privatisation and Globalisation. Quaestiones Geographicae, 30(4), 39–46.
  • Mitchell, Don. (1995). The end of public space? People’s park, definitions of the public, and democracy. Annals of the Association of American Geographers.
  • Reyes, Dania. 2019. Sitio San Roque: In the Peripheries of Development. Retrieved from https://www.newmandala.org/peripheries-of-development/
  • Springer, Simon. 2010. Neoliberalism and Geography: Expansions, Variegations, Formations. Geography Compass. 4: 1025–1038.

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Institute for Nationalist Studies

Institute for Nationalist Studies

The Institute advances ideas and information campaigns on social issues to ferment a nationalist consciousness for the interest of the people’s welfare