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.

Continue reading “Measuring the Manila square meter”

Reading list: Manila

Manila reading list – 2021-12-20 (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. 
Continue reading “Countermapping v. epistemicide:”

The mobility-oligopoly nexus in Philippine property development

This book chapter appears in Aulakh, P.S. and Kelly, P.F. (2019). Mobilities of Labour and Capital in Asia: Spatialities, Institutions, and Cultures. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

What kinds of places do contemporary mobilities of capital and labour create, and what kinds of place-specific capitalisms do they enable? This chapter addresses this question through an examination of the restructuring and rise of the largest Philippine-nationality conglomerates (PNCs) from 2001 to 2015, a period which saw the emergence of property development businesses as a core interest among these companies. It situates this development within two place- and period-specific sets of labour and capital mobilities: the continued growth of the overseas Filipino workforce and their inbound remittances; and the emergence of a foreign direct investment-driven, information technology-enabled business process offshoring industry in the country’s major urban centres, and a concomitant strengthening of domestic rural-urban migration flows. While PNCs had played only minor and indirect roles in facilitating these two developments, they have been the primary beneficiaries of demand for residential, office, and retail property which these movements of labour and capital have created.

Continue reading “The mobility-oligopoly nexus in Philippine property development”