Drive around Manila today and you will understand how cities die.
The process is slow but comprehensive. The blight spreads to every nook and cranny. The decay eventually infects everything, from public infrastructure to the morale of its citizens.
First, the city loses its luminescence. Then it loses its sense of order. Public services simply collapse. The residents lose their optimism.
There is really nowhere to go to in the City of Manila these days. The once-lively tourist district has succumbed. Avenida Rizal has lost its grandeur. Quiapo is no longer a center of commerce. The Manila Zoo features only malnourished animals. All the esteros have become cesspools. The only spectacle at the bay front is a large mass of garbage. The whole place has become endless gray.
This is a city without a single bright spot.
The city government does not seem inclined to fix house. The streets flood at first excuse. There is no enforcement against trash thrown into the waterways. There are no new infrastructure planned. Garbage collection is spotty at best and many streets resemble dumps.
It is as if this city is left to die in the most miserable manner imaginable.
No wonder that some in President Duterte’s constitutional commission suggested moving the nation’s capital to another place. The City of Manila has become a national embarrassment. It was not always like this.
When Lito Atienza was mayor, he pursued numerous projects to beautify the city. He took a page from the experience of the New York ghettoes that transformed beautifully after the local government lit the streets and fixed broken windows. Muggings dropped and old neighbourhoods became gentrified. Old warehouses metamorphosed into fashionable flats and functional offices.
Mayor Atienza has asked large corporations to contribute to light up Manila’s bridges. Now those bridges are dark again.
Atienza built numerous public parks for residents to congregate. Those parks have now been neglected.
He tried to transform Avenida Rizal into a bright pedestrian friendly mall to entice LRT commuters to stop over, shop, watch cultural presentations or eat in clean restaurants. When he was replaced as mayor, the whole plan was scrapped. The granite walkways were torn up. Avenida Rizal has since deteriorated into a dark, muddy strip no one wants to go to.
He developed the bay walk area as a place for Manila’s residents to gather and the Remedios Circle area as a place for restaurants to congregate. They were wholesome places that brought some sense of revival for the old city.
In a word, Atienza brought a vision to his job and an enthusiasm for seeing things change. Unfortunately, he was succeeded by ageing patriarchs who did not look far enough into the future.
Maybe the destiny of this city is all a matter of political leadership. The residents of Manila will have to decide if they prefer the decay to worsen or choose a leader with the passion to reverse the decline.