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What is in the heart of a city?

Updated on February 24, 2009

The Inner City

Most travelers, local or foreign, bask in the physical development of a place. Infrastructure development has become an indicator of progress. Clean surroundings and gorgeous young men and women add a high mark to the indicator of progress. In Metro Manila, for instance, the malls , the hotels, the metro rail trains provide the new visitor with an impression that the country is okay. Add the skyscrapers and the luxury cars that ply the business district and you get a perfect picture of a modern city.

What is a modern city? Have its people moved towards the higher evolution of mind and spirit? Who defines this concept of a higher evolution? What’s the lower level from which the higher level came from? There are so many questions that can be drawn from the quiet spaces of a tourism advertisement: Fresh cool water falls in the countryside. City of Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines. The City of Flowers. The white beaches of Boracay....And so on.....Who can afford to go to these wonderful places?

The world traveler who wants to learn about what lies in the shadow of the indicators of progress doesn’t stop his/her tour of the landmarks. S/he goes farther into the inner city where the real message of progress is at the peak of its eloquence. The traveler who goes to the water ways of Metro Manila, for instance, will understand why the Pasig River is not the river of old that inspired poets, painters and composers. The traveler may wish to hear more why people had to settle by the river banks when factories started to be built in the 1950’s. Why is the River of Life a dying river now?

The traveler who would want to know more about what lies in the heart of the city would push farther into the narrow alleys and ask why there are children who sniff into a paper bag with solvents like rugby. Would the tourist want to know why even children and sometimes elderly people sniff solvents? If the traveler has a willing ear to listen around for answers, s/he would know that sniffing solvent eases the pangs of hunger and help people cope with fear. Children who sniff solvent will tell the traveler that while sniffing rugby they view themselves as very much bigger than the bullies in town.

If the traveler stays longer in Manila after January 1, 2009, s/he would discover that there are questions in the heart of the city that are like festering wounds. There are more questions than answers. Why, for instance, does the government want to clear the waterways of 75,000 families this year even if there are no suitable relocation sites? 75,000 families is just a fraction of the 375,000 families in Metro Manila who fear the threat of evictions. Is the heart of the city the business district or the narrow alleys by the 27-kilometer long Pasig River? What is in the heart of a city that throbs for humane responses to raw and painful questions?

If the traveler who moves around the business district and the dark alleys and corners of the river banks would want to go one moment more to understand what it means to be forcibly evicted from a dwelling with nowhere to go that is close to jobs and livelihood opportunities, this traveler may be, by design, have some connections – psychic perhaps – with the questions of the people in the heart of the city. The traveler’s questions would be: What is in the heart of people in a city? What is in the heart of people who have the power to take a country wherever they want to take it? What is in the heart of people on the streets who are looked down as “eyesores”? The traveler who asks these questions is a human being who wants to be aligned with the original nature of life.

Life, if the laws of nature are obeyed, follows the following orders: a) Everything must go somewhere. b) Nothing is free. c) Nature knows best d) Everything is interconnected. These laws don’t only govern the physical environment. They do govern human judgments and relationships too. But the way the modern city moves now, it is obvious that those in the inner city take the brunt of all the harsh wind of what we call progress. The heart and gut of the modern city aches for the restoration of the city to its original nature. Interconnectedness, Mutual accountability of the governing and the governed, Respect for the dignity of the physical environment – all these if woven again with compassion will surely be the way back to the original nature of society. The traveler who traces this trail back to the original nature of a humane society is not only giving something to himself/herself in terms of learning but is also giving back to life, ah yes, to the city, what is supposed to complete the full circle of why people set out on a journey.

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    • franciaonline profile imageAUTHOR

      franciaonline 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks RA, I feel honored by a comment from you, one of the best hubbers at hubpages!

    • Research Analyst profile image

      Research Analyst 

      9 years ago

      You are such a good writer and very expressive, I can see my self right there. Thanks

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      Gee, I could come over to your place and wouldn't know the difference from my house! LOL :D

    • franciaonline profile imageAUTHOR

      franciaonline 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      The usual Filipino food (on a budget). LOL with round things as usual for good luck and happiness - i.e. oranges and polka dots plus a shower of coins for the kids. Will start the year creating positive energy in the house.

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      And I wish you the same, Ms Francia! What's for media noche? LOL :D

    • franciaonline profile imageAUTHOR

      franciaonline 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks again, Cris. Wish you all the best for 2009!

    • franciaonline profile imageAUTHOR

      franciaonline 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks again, Cris. Wish you all the best for 2009!

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      So there is indeed this sad dilemma that begs for resolution. I'm now more troubled since the answer you discussed above, with all its logic and sense of correctness, seems herculean in nature considering the minds that pull the strings. But your are right, it won't be easy - it's never easy - but that doesn't mean it's impossible! Thanks for headsup :D

    • franciaonline profile imageAUTHOR

      franciaonline 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      Good question, Cris. Thanks for leaving an engaging comment. The urban poor ("squatter" is a derrogatory term for bonafide citizens of the country) so I never use the term since I achieved my modest level of enlightenment. I'm referring to the urban poor in this hub. They are citizens of the city and good governance expects shared citizenship, meaning, fair sharing of what we would call "Gross National Happiness." Remember 1972 Bhutan?

      The rate of migration from the countryside to the city in the last decade has been so high not because the poor wanted to leave rural life but because there was no other choice. Big tracks of land were being sold to subdivision developers. Agricultural lands were converted to agro-industrial use. More and more until today, the rural areas are becoming a part of the urbanization process which of course is very much tied up to the globalization trend of the economy. Another reason for the diaspora to the city was the armed conflict in the countryside. The diaspora continues.

      There is no land to go back to for the poor in the city. There is a law that protects the rights of the urban poor but the poor have to be strong so that the law is not interpreted from a perspective that contradicts the spirit of the law. For the urban poor, housing means access to an income. They would opt for a hovel if that is to be but at least, the hovel should be near a source of livelihood. So, if they are evicted with no relocation site near a source of livelihood, indeed they'll perish. So does the city because our lives are interconnected. There'll be no peace if a sector of society is downtrodden and excluded.

      There are still many vacant spaces in the city. Political will and a sense of social justice are all that are needed to reach a truly open and principled negotiation between the urban poor and the government. This is not easy but this is not impossible.

    • profile image

      Francia  

      9 years ago

      Thanks for leaving a comment, Lgali. Happy New Year!

    • profile image

      Francia  

      9 years ago

      Thanks for leaving a comment, Lgali. Happy New Year!

    • Lgali profile image

      Lgali 

      9 years ago

      Interesting hub

    • Cris A profile image

      Cris A 

      9 years ago from Manila, Philippines

      This is an enthralling - almost poetic - read despite the subject. I am a city dweller and I'm familiar with the landscape you described. When you scratch the surface, sometimes you will realize that the city is the saddest place to be and yet you surmise that you will perish when you get out of its confines. so what are you going to do about it?

    • franciaonline profile imageAUTHOR

      franciaonline 

      9 years ago from Philippines

      Thanks, barranca, for reading my hub and leaving a comment. I'll look for Jacques llul's Meaning of the City.

      franciaonline

    • barranca profile image

      barranca 

      9 years ago

      Interesting hub premise. Recommended reading: Jacques Ellul's Meaning of the City. His argument is that the city is an effort to attain to complete independence, self sufficiency and security, thereby, ruling out God and contingency.

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