Metro Manila, Philippines --
It was an opportunity we couldn't resist.
Mrs. Wendy Wycherly, an English teacher at the British School Manila, requested the CAI-Asia Center to take in two Grade 12 students for work experience, one of the requirements of the school's International Baccalaureate (IB) program. "The aim is to give them some real hands-on practical experience of a working environment, and this helps with their university application," she says. "There is no strict format as all our students go to very different companies and have very different experiences. The key is that they come back with an understanding of a real working environment."
Several of our staff had already participated in a walkability survey in Bangkok last year, and we had been meaning to do something similar in Metro Manila, especially around the MRT/LRT stations. The plan was to use the Walkability Survey developed by Holly Krambeck (MIT) and Jitu Shah (World Bank). "The reasoning behind this is that if streets are made more walkable then people are more likely to leave their cars at home," says Sophie Punte, Executive Director of the CAI-Asia Center. Less cars, means less pollution.
Soon enough, we were introduced to Britanny Cheng and Andres Griffiths, both 16 years old. Despite growing up in Metro Manila and having an interest in geography, these two teenagers have yet to experience the city with an urban planner's eye.
To prepare for their week-long work experience with the CAI-Asia Center (1-5 June), we invited the teens to attend a special talk by Prof. Madhav Badami of McGill University ("Do People Matter: Restoring Pedestrian Accessibility in Indian Cities" ADB Library, 27 May). As one of the leading experts on better urban planning, Prof. Madhav reminds them, "Most who walk don't have a say. Those who have a say, don't walk."
Day 1 (June 1)
Britanny and Andres spent the day at the CAI-Asia Center office to learn who we are and what we do. We all took turns meeting them for 10-15 minutes, explaining our role in CAI-Asia and offering them career advice should they wish to pursue environmental work. Britanny was thrilled to find that we were friendly and casual. "As I looked around the office," she confesses, "I was relieved to see that the employees were people just like me. We are imposed with this stereotype that all environmentalists are tree-hugging hippies. However, it was refreshing to see a whole office full of environmentalists who aren’t hippies or organic vegetarians; they are simply critical thinkers, who anticipate the extent of our actions."
Our plan was to have them conduct supervised walkability surveys in the Ortigas Center, the Makati Central Business District, the MRT/LRT stations in Cubao, and the area around their school in Bonifacio Global City. The weather, however, was not always cooperative, and the Makati and Cubao locations had to be dropped from the schedule.
Day 2 (June 2): EDSA-Ortigas Center
After a morning briefing on how to conduct the walkability suvery, Britanny and Andres were literally taken for a walk around the block ... a rather large block. The nearly 2 km route forced them past the "infamous" MRT station along EDSA, in front of ADB. Andres couldn't have said it better: "The pedestrian facilities in Ortigas are not particularly anything to be proud of -- you often experience obstructions or lack of crossings for hundreds of meters -- but when we walked on EDSA, which is a public road, I was truly shocked. The sidewalk was dirty, gritty and no more than one meter across at its widest. There was one particular part where stairs to the MRT station came down into the sidewalk, effectively blocking 90% of it and leaving space for barely one person to walk by. Yet hundreds, maybe thousands of pedestrians walk through this exact spot in EDSA. It's ridiculous to say the least."
Britanny concurs. "The sudden shrinkage of walking space was due to the stairs and escalators towards the MRT. An average size person would not be able fit through the passage without contorting their body appropriately [to avoid pedestrains walking on the opposite direction]. In addition, the area was completely paved but there were numerous amount of litter which negatively affects the aesthetic appeal of the area. Honestly, I didn’t feel safe while walking through the first two stretches of the route. We were right beside a main highway with extremely aggressive bus drivers just a foot away from you. With the lack of police in the area, many people including myself feel unsafe."
Days 3 & 4: Stormy weather. Two walkability surveys canceled.
Day 5 (June 5, World Environment Day): Bonifacio Global City
Andres turned seventeen today. To "celebrate" his birthday, and to make up for the lost days, we took the students back to the British School Manila for a unique walkability experiment.
Bonifacio Global City is the newest business district in Metro Manila. The developers take pride in the many ramps and sidewalks near the expensive restaurants and clothing stores. But what about the streets around these malls? Do cars rule, or do people rule? That's what this test was all about.
The twist: someone had to volunteer to be in a wheelchair, while another will pretend to be "blind." Luckily, Sara and Enrique, two of their friends from British School, were willing to help out.
Read Part 2