Editorial: Inner cities

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Tuesday, March 18, 2014


FIREFIGHTERS battled a nightmare yesterday afternoon in Cebu City’s Barangay Lorega, the loss of at least 300 homes, probably more, to a blaze fanned by a strong wind.

Journalists described scenes of interior sitios that no fire truck managed to reach, because their alleys were so narrow, only one or two persons could fit at a time. Among the survivors were families who still lived in tents; they had yet to rebuild their homes after an earlier fire.

Past the immediate help that Cebu City Hall and private donors can extend, is there more that Lorega’s fire survivors can hope for? Mayor Michael Rama spoke of widening the interior roads or re-blocking the community, something his administration has done in other congested areas that large fires seem to feed on.

Yet the recurring fires and homelessness in Lorega aren’t just the City Government or the fire bureau’s challenge. What the loss reveals is the continuing lack of safe, decent housing for thousands of families. Of course, these families could make their homes away from the inner cities—but is there housing they can afford in the suburbs?

Is the public transportation system efficient enough to let them work in one city, but live in another? When will the towns attract enough capital to create jobs that are closer to where people live?

Just 24 hours before Lorega’s fire, four of the nine individuals who represent Cebuanos in Congress pledged to try to create a metro-wide planning and development authority that will bring together 13 local governments to address challenges that cross boundaries. Traffic congestion, pollution, waste management and disaster preparedness are among the more obvious of these challenges.

Yet the lack of safe, affordable housing is a metro-wide challenge, too. The tale is familiar: poor families, starved for education or jobs in the towns, wend their way to urban inner cities. Not all of them end up better.

Cebu City Rep. Raul del Mar points out he has filed the Metro Cebu Development Authority Bill at least thrice in 20 years. He hopes the private sector’s involvement—the energy and resources of the Metro Cebu Development and Coordinating Board—will make a fourth attempt succeed.

Lorega’s plight shows the urgent need for such a move. Our most vulnerable communities pay the price, when those who lead our towns and cities fail (or refuse) to solve common problems together.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 19, 2014.

Opinion

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