A Cebu of Inclusiveness

(The blogger wrote this for the Movement for A Livable Cebu last month. She is a member of the Movement of Imaginals for Sustainable Societies through Initiatives, Organizing and Networking. Helping MLC grow is one of the initiatives of MISSION.)

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The series of dialogues dubbed “Creating Our Future Cities: Where Do We Begin?” that transpired the other week is probably the first of its kind in Cebu. The brainchild of the Movement for a Livable Cebu brought together different voices from across the different spheres of society—the government, the private sector and the public which includes civil society movements. Two experts, together, provided a framework in which to view the future of Cebu—that in which the “software” and the “hardware” of a sustainable and a livable city are integrated. Dr. Abdoumaliq Simone, an urbanist and a sociology professor, provided the former while Architect Senen Antonio, urban design and planning expert, supplied the latter.

“I would like to thank Dr. Simone…” said a political science professor from the audience—in the open forum of the last of the series of dialogues at the CAP theater—who resonated well with Simone’s espousal of a culture of inclusiveness for citizens in urban planning and governance. This was seconded, although indirectly, by several others who participated in the open forum. What was supposed to be a question-and-answer segment became a platform in which they brought up concerns and issues from the grassroots level—like the great lack of opportunities in rural areas forcing residents to come to the urban core thereby contributing to the traffic congestion. Simone portrayed the deceptions at work in urban life that turn out to be accidental gifts through people getting things done out of trying anything and out of whatever resources they have to make their lives or their livelihoods better. This invited the participants in the audience to talk about the plight of the vendors in Colon as well as in Carbon market. One of the participants requested for a copy of Simone’s speech which he then sent through e-mail to MLC.

Apparently, the participants in the open forum had more comments and reactions than questions sending a strong message of the need for the public to have avenues in which key decision-makers and other stakeholders could engage them, include them and think with them in looking for ways to solve the issues they, after all, live with.

In the dialogue at St. Theresa’s College, a high school student asked Simone about how they could participate in the processes the city undertakes given that they are “young” and that they “don’t know anything.” Simone replied by asking how old she is. “Sixteen years old,” she answered. “So you’ve lived here for sixteen years, right?” he asked. The question didn’t need to be answered. You know a place if you live there. He cited using Facebook or online media as one of the ways in which the youth can express what they think.

Simone conveyed that one does not have to be eligible—have the authority, education, social or personal background—to speak up and act. “For if people only have something to say, only will act when they feel eligible to do so, then few people will take risks, people will remain in their corners, in their narrow worlds, and few new experiences will be created…”

Simone defined democracy as the ability to move across the city or how free one is to circulate around. He said that when people no longer have access to each other, then it is—he thinks—a sign of a diminishing democracy. In the dialogue at the University of San Carlos-College of Fine Arts and Architecture, he pointed out that some infrastructures do not help forge relationships and connectedness and sometimes even cause people to avoid each other—he cited “the flyovers” as an example. These relationships, according to him, help create more opportunities for people and that it allows them to get things done by observing each other, learning from each other.

On addressing traffic congestion, which was asked in the open forum, he said that there is no amount of engineering that could solve the problem. “You just need to take out more cars from the road,” he said. “It takes political courage to do that,” he added.

Simone did not assume to know how to resolve the problems of Cebu but he has offered valuable insights on how to go about them simply by a juxtaposition and comparisons of the different urban practices and the dynamics of urban dwellers and urban cities that are very much like Cebu.

This writer thinks that the very culture of Cebu is about having a deep sense of community with each other, fostering relationships in a neighborhood where a parent, for example, can tell his neighbor: “pabinla sa ko kadali sa akong anak kay muadto ko sa merkado, ha?” Everything is close-by—literally and figuratively.

Simone’s ideas and depiction of living viable lives in an urban setting captures the soul of Cebu. A colleague of mine in MISSION or the Movement of Imaginals for Sustainable Societies through Initiatives, Organizing and Networking would tell me later on that she thinks Simone brought in very deep, thoughtful and people-oriented ideas and thoughts that stretched many minds and raised consciousness.

Meanwhile, Architect Antonio encapsulated the heart of Simone’s talk in Smart Growth planning and designs that enable cities to avoid the suburban “sprawl.” He described a “box-to-box” kind of life that can be attributed to sprawl—where people spend more time in their cars, in traffic and confine themselves in homes and subdivisions that do not provide the opportunity for people to interact with each other. He advocated allowing the diversities to come in. Antonio, in a roundtable discussion, a day after the series of dialogues, also pointed out how subdivision developments here in Cebu are contributing to sprawl and is causing segregation of society. His presentations captured the essence of a humanist architecture.

The two speakers are “strikingly similar in their approaches, both leading towards sustainable and livable cities,” said Architect Joseph Michael “Yumi” Espina, lead organizer and dean of USC-CAFA, in his welcome address in one of the forums.

To build on the learnings from the dialogues, MLC is engaging the Ramon Aboitiz Foundation Inc.  in a dialogue next week regarding the next steps which could include Development planning at the local government unit level.

MLC is beyond stopping flyovers. Its role is to constantly engage the different sectors of society in genuine dialogues and consultations that foster transparency, responsibility and accountability. It vows to bring in the public in the decision-making process as well as bring into the public consciousness matters where it is a major stakeholder.  Today, “we are witnessing the emergence of a coalition of groups which are common in their quest for a Comprehensive Metro Cebu Planning effort,” Espina said in his opening remarks at the CAP theater. If the local government, the businesses and the community work together, Cebu might just open another fabric of history.

I cannot give justice to what MLC has been co-creating. It is beyond words. But, perhaps, a movement can be defined as something that keeps moving, with boundless energy, or a fire you can’t seem to put out.

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