Dabawenyos with disabilities-A A +A
Friday, January 25, 2013
WE ALL like to think that we have a full grasp and even mastery of the things that we are able to do. Our abilities become a matter of course, such that it is difficult to imagine things differently. Yet when situations change, and we suddenly become persons with disabilities (PWDs), our awareness of the experience, its implications and the alternatives can help us imagine not just a different, but also possibly, a far better place.
A couple of months back, I had to wear a patch over my right eye and got to experience the world a bit differently. Vision was partial as the right peripheral view got cut by about 45 degrees; crossing streets without the aid of traffic lights was tricky. Depth of field was hard to gauge, so putting my feet down and reaching out to grasp something became more tentative.
Even in that state, I can’t claim to know what it is like to have one or more senses and abilities constrained -- to not be able to see, hear, talk or move about fully -- but the experience did get me paying more attention to the PWD section of Davao's population and their experiences in the city.
Walking on uneven surfaces -- which meant most of what passes off as sidewalks in Davao's main streets -- was a challenge. Concrete suddenly becomes asphalt then pebbled strips and in no time muddy holes. In many places pedestrians compete with two to four-wheeled vehicles and the PWDs can get crowded out even if they have tools such as canes and their sharp hearing for tapping out a safe path. Many buildings do not have ramp access for those on wheelchairs or using crutches. These are hardly consistent with the claim of Davao being one of the most livable cities; and so, in the spirit of continuing improvement, changes are in order.
But the opportunity for an improved Davao City goes beyond addressing access issues. The city is ripe for better change beyond more mall complexes and high-rise buildings. For instance, with the flooding earlier this week that caused 18 of the city’s barangays to be declared as calamity areas, and many sites categorized as highly and very highly susceptible to other geohazards like landslides, there is cause to rethink habitation patterns beyond what Davaoeños have become used to in the past decades.
Our current built-up area is only 15.13% of the total land area of the city; and there is scope to imagine different future configurations. Other cities are not as fortunate in terms of having real options for strategic development. As a case in point, the local government prepared a Comprehensive Land Use Plan for 2012-21 that proposes increasing residential and conservation areas and reducing agricultural and forest (rehabilitation/agroforestry) lands. These are matters that cannot be left to the city planning unit and elective officials and will have to be discussed by stakeholders. What better venue than elections 2013?
Hopefully, the elections will cause Dabawenyos to give due consideration to the concerns that make Davao City a truly liveable place. This will mean looking into issues that are not viewed as urgent and are not necessarily popular but will impact on the living conditions of the future. Admittedly this is easier said than done, as election campaigns tend to focus on the immediate, the hilarious, and the sensational.
For instance, would there be a candidate running on a platform of a well-thought out alternative and comprehensive growth model for the city -- one that would shift and redistribute growth and development in various places and transform residential, industrial, commercial, energy and transport patterns? Call me jaded but it’s probably as likely as the chances of the Freedom of Information bill being passed before Congress takes a recess.
Still and all, the conversation has to be attempted by Dabawenyos and soon. We can let the city sprawl and spread willy-nilly as Metro Manila has, or we citizens can, aided by information and technology, collectively look into the things that are important to us, recognize the issues and forecast consequences, investigate alternatives and make reasoned and hopefully reasonable choices. This includes taking into account those who do not often get to set a city's development agenda -- the differently-abled, the Lumads and the farming population.
What would it mean if the LGU’s current spending patterns get altered; what if it does more of this and less of another? What if something is done or delivered in another manner? At the very least the discussion should help citizens know which candidates understand and commit to the strategic and sustainable growth of the city.
To be sure, there will be a lot of debate and most likely protest actions as many, and often competing, interests come to play; but those are not problems in themselves. There are tools and processes for managing multiple interests; and the day Davaoeños cease to debate and protest is the day that complacence and decay will undermine and overwhelm the city.
For the discussion to happen, there is need for concerted efforts to equip and enable citizens and communities to engage each other. We need to know our city more and what it is confronting now and in the coming days -- primarily and secondarily -- so that we can care for it, its resources and the people who call it home, better. This is a task that the City Government, civil society and the private sector share.
The point being that we should try to overcome partial vision, and enhance our depth of field so that we know what is front and center and what are just fore, middle and background. We can make different our visioning abilities today so that our future will be a different and better one.
Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on January 26, 2013.