RDG Conference Report of Celestina P. Boncan

Write up about the Conference

“Island Cities and Urban Archipelagos” is an international conference which explored the uniqueness of islands in the course of history. In particular, the conference aimed to find out how island status, especially small island status, influenced urban development form the past up to the present. The conference premised its aim on the fact that many cities began as settlements on small islands and now count among the world’s leading cities in terms of population and size.

The conference is also an inter-disciplinary conference in the sense that it encouraged paper presentations to explore the uniqueness of island status from various points of view such as culture, government, economy, anthropology, archaeology, architecture, arts and design, business, film, folklore, history, literature, planning, political science, public administration, sociology, tourism, etc.

Feedback on paper presented

In the Open Forum, I was asked whether it was public or private initiative that was responsible for the boom being experienced by the new constituent cities making up Metro Manila. The person who raised this question in particular cited Taguig City for its Bonifacio Global City. I answered by saying that first of all, these new cities have young mayors. This alone is already a plus factor because the young generally have greater vigor and energy. They are not afraid to try new programs. Another is that they are far from the inner city of Manila which presents traditional politics as exemplified by its mayor today who is already in his 80s. Also, these young mayors are entrepreneurs and compete with one another in providing better public service, good roads, places of business and entertainment. By doing so, these cities are the ones registering huge revenues.

Future directions of research presented

I believe that the instrument of the island phenomenon as applied by our panel on Manila can also be used in analyzing other cities in the country who share uniqueness of island status of Manila. Two such cities are Cebu and Iloilo. Like Manila, they started out as creations of Spanish colonialism. At the center was a large square (plaza and surrounding it were the church, the casa tribunal (royal house), the carcel (jail). Typical colonial cities, they were exclusive to the colonizers. However, Cebu and Iloilo, just like Manila, are no longer confirmed to the center but have experienced a spatial expansion as well. It is noteworthy to study the urbanization that these two cities are experiencing at the present time.

Potential foreign collaborators

One reason why the conference is particularly significant to Filipino scholars studying urban history and development is because Manila was one of the cities cited by the conference ascribing to this particular phenomenon. Other cities included Penang, Xiamen, Taipei, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, Mumbai (Asia), New York, Miami, Montereal (America), Paris, Copenhangen, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Venice (Europe). Some of these cities like Manila are today metropolises and megalopolises. Because of Urbanization and spatial expansion, these cities are confronted with numerous problems similar to what Manila is also experiencing such as traffic, poor drainage, proliferation of garbage, etc.

Scholars from these cities doing research are the potential collaborators.

Other important contacts and insights

The paper on Venice struck me in particular. Entitled “Tourism in the Urban Archipelago of Venice: Old problems and New Scenarios,” the paper talked about how tourism has made the are of Venice where the plaza (piazza) of San Marco is located greatly vulnerable. The paper presenter said that numerous tourists visit Venice every day and yet they go only to one place — the piazza de San Marco — and after taking a picture here and a picture there, they leave. This is just about the only place where tourists go, making it the most densely visited area of Venice. The convergence of so many tourists there is not good, according to the paper presenter. The tourist traffic alone makes the place vulnerable to wear and tear. In the Open Forum, one question raised to the paper presenter is if the government of Venice ever thought of requiring tourists to pay a fee in order to see the piazza de San Marco! Manila also experiences a sort of human traffic everyday. Some estimate that the daytime population of Metro Manila on weekdays is something like 12 million people. But unlike in Venice, they are not tourists. On the contrary, they are worker whose places of employment are in Metro Manila There are among them also students who study in school in Manila even if most of these schools have already established satellite schools outside of Manila. Moreover, they do not live in Metro Manila. They live in the nearby provinces of Cavite and Laguna in the south and Bulacan in the north. As a result, Manila is so crowded, the streets littered with garbage, getting from one place to the other is a nightmare as so many people scramble for public transportation while Manila’s streets are saturated with numerous cars, jeepneys, vans and trucks that traffic is almost always at a snail’s pace.

Short write-up of one’s participation (to be used to feature/publicize the grantee’s participation in the conference)

My paper is entitled “Manila: From Riverine Village to Sprawling Metropolis”. It presents the spatial expansion of Manila and its development as premier city of the Philippines from the 16th century to the present, taking into consideration its strategic location, abundant natural resources and historic role as centre of municipal, regional and international trade.

The Island Cities and Urban Archipelagos Conference was the perfect venue for me to present the process of development of Manila as premier city of the Philippines, taking into consideration its strategic location, abundant natural resources and historic role as centre of municipal, regional and international trade. In connection with this, the paper also presented spatial problems encountered by Manila in the course of its urban expansion and development, such as rapid infrastructure construction, high population density, limitation of parks and open spaces, opening of new streets and highways, and flooding and poor drainage. Consideration will also be given to socio-economic concern such as congestion, crime, poverty and urban decay arising from the city experiencing massive rural-to-urban migration. These issues and concerns were no different to that which other paper presenters discussed in the conference.

The Island Cities and Urban Archipelagos Conference brought together a mix of scholars from nearly all parts of the globe talking about the uniqueness of island status of many cities. My participation has definitely enriched me in terms of the numerous insights gained with regards for example historical parallelisms of one or the other city with Manila as well as the inspiration generated to do more research on this particular topic.