What is in the heart of a city?
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.