By Renard Teipelke
This is a short story about a single view and multiple perspectives. The view is shown in the first photo of this blog article: There are three lawns. They are surrounded by a US-American style checkerboard street system of (vertical) avenues and (horizontal) streets. The area is characterized by office and residential high-rise buildings. There are a couple of stores in flatter buildings to the left. And above the lawns, there are big construction sites, where new high-rise buildings are emerging.
Recently, I walked together with a friend over the lawn, coming from the upper-left side, where the flat buildings are, to the high-rise from which the photos have been taken. My friend remarked: “Why is the footpath not going diagonally from the one edge of the lawn to the other edge?” So why is there no direct straight line from the stores in the upper-left corner to the street intersection at the lower-right corner of the left lawn?
Walking over the lawn, you will not easily recognize the reason for that. One could simply assume that the dynamics of footpath development are coincidental. A few people started to choose a less direct way of crossing the lawn and, over time, a less efficient path from the upper-left to the lower-right corner developed. However, this is not the case.
Seeing the lawn from above, it becomes apparent that the footpath of the left lawn is an extended diagonal from the lower-right edge of the right lawn to the upper-left edge of the middle lawn to the upper-left edge of the slightly high-lying left lawn. You can see it quite clearly on these pictures, as the rainy season in the Philippines has just recently revived the flush green of the grass.
Talking about the Philippines, I might want to add the specific context: This lawn is located in Bonifacio Global City – the prime real estate development area of Metro Manila. It may be one of the greener and more enjoyable neighborhoods in the megalopolis. In any case, it is definitely the busiest with regard to construction activity…high-rises are popping out of the ground everywhere in short time. For instance, the two construction sites above the lawns had still been lawns themselves last year.
Mentioning the busy construction activity gives a hint about the footpaths. People in the Philippines are not famous for spending too much time outside of air-conditioned rooms (if it is not for the great beaches). Walking outside is a leisure time activity for some upper-class Filipinos or expats, who are clinging to their memories of previous homes where the urban space and/or the weather allowed convenient strolling. In addition to these two groups – which are very common in Bonifacio Global City – it is lower-income and poor people who walk. They might walk, because public transport is not accessible, not affordable, overcrowded, or stuck in traffic. Or, they might choose to walk, because they actually live nearby.
Extending the photo motive around the right corner, we can see: an informal settlement in a tiny area squeezed right between the American Cemetery and an access road to one of the big SM Malls (SM Aura); C5 – one of the inter-city highways of Metro Manila; and a lower-income, partly informal neighborhood across the highway (connected through a bridge), which forms the larger part of Taguig City, to which actually also Bonifacio Global City administratively belongs.
Knowing this spatial context, the footpath reveals its full meaning. It is not just a random footpath. It is a human-made route of construction and service workers walking every day/night from their homes or the C5 highway bus stop to the construction sites, stores, and offices within Bonifacio Global City. While it represents quintessentially a very socio-economic aspect of urban development and segregation in Metro Manila, it also exemplifies those rare routes, which allow low-income workers to also commute to work by walking. It is a proximity that saves personal transportation costs and frustration with the terrible (maybe even world-worst) traffic in the metropolitan area. There are many ways to look at and interpret this footpath. But it is definitely a very telling one.