Measuring the Manila square meter

This essay originally appeared in the catalogue for the exhibition titledLiving Spaces: Hyperreal Estate and the Architecture of Dispossession“, curated by Alice Sarmiento. I wrote it in conversation with, and with thanks to, Alice Sarmiento, Andre Ortega, and Maria Khristine Alvarez.

Consider the average Manila billboard.

It is many times larger than the average Manila home. Perched above Manila’s hypertensive roads, it gets better breeze, sunlight, and sight lines than the average Manila home; its floodlights consume more power than several average Manila homes.

The visuals of the average Manila billboard are also larger than the average Manila life—especially when they peddle condominiums, those new average Manila homes for the 21st century. They feature models with impossibly white, impossibly smooth skins, living impossibly carefree lives of minutes-away convenience from the best that the city can offer, all under impossibly blue skies.

From a messaging point of view, the average Manila billboard needs to be larger than life. It must, after all, be heard above the jostle of shoulders, the knots in our backs, and the blare of last night’s death toll—all before we heave and lurch our way onto the next billboard.

It then needs to tell, within the limits set by 216 square meters,[1] convincing lies: small lies, about the life of grandeur possible within an eighteen square-meter unit,[2] about how the baked air takes your breath away, or about the mysterious dues and fees that await.

Fig. 1. About twelve 18m2 Manila studio units can fit within a 216m2 Manila billboard.

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Kung Saan Man Tayo / Wherever We May Be

Kung Saan Man Tayo will be screened virtually by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies of University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa from 4 to 9 February 2022.

In 2014, filmmaker Adrian Alarilla sent a camera on an eastbound circumnavigation of the world. The camera, named Enrique after Panglima Awang/Enrique of Malacca, was to tell the stories of seven overseas Filipinxs, as part of an ongoing corrective to the stories of conquest, plunder, and exploitation that begun five hundred years ago.

For a few weeks in the summer of 2014, while I was reading for my comprehensive exams, I hosted Enrique in Toronto, on the first stop of a journey that involved Paris, Tübingen, Bangkok, Singapore, and Melbourne.

Adrian wove these stories into Kung Saan Man Tayo, an 80-minute documentary released in 2021.

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Reading list: Manila

Manila reading list – 2022-08-31 (pdf)
Manila reading list (Google docs link)

From this edition onward I will also be making it available as a Google Doc file. If you would like to take part in maintaining the list, and would like to be granted editor access, please get in touch.

Countermapping v. epistemicide:

On the limits of neoliberalism, financialization, and gentrification

I will be presenting this paper at the Counter-mapping the City International Virtual Conference, organized by the Counter-Mapping PH Network, on 15 March 2022.

Critical urban scholarship has an unstated canon. The core concepts of this canon had been developed in response to North/Western experiences by North/Western experts, have been circulated and universalized through knowledge practices with roots in Empire, and now exert a distortive influence on scholarship from and on, the global South.

In this paper I propose an epistemic sense of “countermapping”: naming the ways mundane practices of critical urban scholarship reinscribe the cartographic practices of Empire, and showing how key features of present landscapes of class power and dispossession may be better described by explicitly Southern modes of knowing.

Enclosed and deliberately-idled land is a persistent feature of urban Philippine landscapes. These are dispossessions: their presence means land is withdrawn from beneficial use, and they contribute to artificially-high land prices. 
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