OPINION: BGC, capitalism, and the citizens' right to the city

07.26.2016
Society Economy

Bonifacio Global City is not a city that offers its citizens a right to the city—all decisions have been, and will continue to be, made by private capital.

By Clara Aseniero 

Urban development in Manila has in the last decade seen the rise of “megacommunities,” which are areas that “locate residences, workplaces and commercial centers in one setting.”1 The creation of these domains for the privileged few has come up as one appealing solution to the failure of government to sustain the metropolis in its infrastructure and basic services, including the guarantee of peace and order. Master-planned and managed as a private enterprise, megacommunities are seen to offer their residents better, richer lives, because the easy accessibility of vital institutions and places of leisure means they can extract more value from their home. This promise of value is a huge consideration at a time when land, ever a scarce commodity in population-dense Manila, continues to increase in price. The question then arises as to what the implications are for the citizens’ right to this kind of city. 

“What kind of city we want,” David Harvey explains, “cannot be divorced from…what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire.” Indeed, he theorizes this as another type of human right—the right to the city, in which we live. This right to the city is more than just individual liberty to access urban resources—“it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city.” It is about inclusion in the place itself, participation in, and ownership of it. In this way it is a common right, not an individual one, since transformation of the city “inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization.”2 

 BGC has no city council to facilitate participatory decision-making and pose issues for referendum to the public. 

In a private megacommunity like Bonifacio Global City, formed entirely on the basis of neoliberal values and business interests, quality of life has effectively become a commodity, much to the detriment of community-based movements and collective forms of social expression and political action. Under these conditions, “ideals of urban identity, citizenship and belonging,” would “become much harder to sustain,” as Harvey’s theorization predicts.3 BGC is unlike other cities in Metro Manila in many ways, but most significantly in the fact that its citizens have no right to participate in the decision-making affecting their resident community. BGC has no city council (or anything analogous) to facilitate participatory decision-making and pose issues for referendum to the public. The corporate managers of the Fort Bonifacio Development Corporation (FBDC) cannot be voted in and out of office. The only vote available to residents is whether to live or not to live in BGC. Additionally, there are no public space for people to gather for their own purposes and express themselves collectively. What passes for parks and green open spaces is private property kept under constant surveillance or private property still awaiting building plans.

If a citizen is defined as a person endowed with rights that are guaranteed and respected, then it can be said that BGC has been conceived, implemented, marketed, and managed with no citizens in mind—only property owners, corporate personnel, and workers and consumers, for even its residents have entered this urban landscape as consumers of ready-built housing units, and have remained merely consumers of the area, rather than citizens. This is most revealing in the case of the OFWs who, in recent years, have been the target market of BGC’s real estate development with a good segment of its newest residential allotments downsized to maximize the number of units and profits. OFWs, however, make up only a fraction of BGC’s residential demographic and thus remain peripheral in the overall development of the city as envisioned from the beginning. They remain priced out of its elite schools and hospitals, and alienated by income barriers from the vast majority of the commercial institutions that altogether define the urban lifestyle within the city.

The conversion of Fort Bonifacio from military base to the master-planned Bonifacio Global City has, from the point of view of government and private developers, undeniably attained its objectives: the Philippines has made its mark in offering a globally competitive, ultra-modern city in response to the latest phase of global capitalist expansion. But it is also a city tinged with irony. Andrés Bonifacio was a nationalist hero from the working classes who led an anti-colonial revolution against Spain to gain sovereignty for his nation just over a century ago; his name is now linked to the most exclusive urban development in the country, reserved for big capital and the wealthy, and designed to serve business interests that transcend national borders. The inherent contradictions of BGC are symptomatic of a wider historical pattern of class-based segregation in Metro Manila’s urban development.

BGC is not a city that offers its citizens a right to the city—all decisions have been, and will continue to be, made by private capital.

As an enclave inside a metropolis of 11 million people, the overwhelming majority of whom are poor, the security that BGC offers is a major factor in its appeal. But this geographical space that calls itself a global city cannot expect to remain isolated and immune to the real conflicts of daily life in Metro Manila. BGC offers the most sought-after urban lifestyle available in the Philippines with all the choices that the modern urbanite could wish for, provided that they have the money. But it is not a city that offers its citizens a right to the city—all decisions have been and will continue to be made by private capital with the support of an increasingly business-oriented government, without the participation of the people.

The question therefore arises if any real sense of community can emerge in such a social setting. The resulting urban development is dictated by the search for profit and the search for solutions to the anxieties of the privileged willing to pay the economic price for exclusivity and security. But there is also the political price to pay in BGC: the willingness to surrender the right to the city for the privilege to live within its parameters. It would appear, however, that when faced with the uncertainties and insecurities of Manila outside its gated communities, on top of the unacceptable pollution levels and traffic conditions and with a drainage infrastructure that can be overwhelmed by torrential rains and typhoons, citizens are prepared to value their right to private property and right to security over and above the right to the city. Ultimately this is perhaps the very kind of citizen BGC was created for: one whose concerns and perspectives are aligned with BGC’s own business interests, and who can afford the lifestyle that is fostered within a globalized but in fact severely restricted and protected enclave. If nothing is lacking, then no need arises—not even the need to the right to the city. Whether BGC represents a utopia or a dystopia is for its residents to decide, and as always for the elite, it is a matter of choice—at least for as long as BCG can remain an enclave circumscribed by a different reality. 

FOOTNOTES

1

“Living the high life.” Finance Asia Apr. 2012: 54-56. Print.

2

Harvey, David. "The Right to the City." New Left Review (2008): 53. Print.

3

Ibid.

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