Sanchez: Livable cities or Potemkin villages

Nature Speaks

I MENTIONED in a column last week why Bacolod is deemed the Top Philippine Model City, the Business-Friendly High Returns in 2019, with its frequent brownouts and its daily water losses. Baciwa and Ceneco can drag Bacolod out of the running. These two public utilities are our weakest links to achieve another feather in its cap.

Last week, we read in a national paper that the United States Agency for International Development (Usaid) and the League of Cities of the Philippines and a host of other partners, held the “Sustainable Cities Summit: Building Liveable Cities” and launched the Liveable Cities Dashboard and Challenge.

Of the country’s 1,634 local government units (LGUs), 145 are cities. These 145 cities account for 40 percent of the national population and well over half of the contribution to gross domestic product.

The two utilities might turn to be the emperor’s new clothes. Nothing. Others might perform well, but these companies will be the flies that can spoil the broth.

And in this rapid spread of information, Bacolod have nothing much to show. Basically, a Potemkin Village. In politics and economics, a Potemkin village is any construction built solely to deceive others into thinking that a situation is better than it really is.

However much Ceneco and Baciwa hide their poor performances, people who live in Bacolod will retort thru social media that Bacolod is not doing its job. Inspectors can check our consumer complaints.

Part of livable project strategy is to get cities to be as data-driven as possible. Data and analysis are essential ingredients of both policymaking and planning at the city and national level. As one of our speakers at the Summit, Chris Monterola, a data scientist and professor at the Asian Institute of Management, said: “So much of policy discussion is all about opinion-versus-opinion. We should move this to data-versus-opinion and eventually to data-versus-data where the smarter, more accurate data wins.”

How many brownouts happen in a week? How many complaints of water shortages?

As the world continues to rapidly urbanize, there is increasing pressure on mayors to better plan their cities to take advantage of the gains of urbanization, while at the same time addressing or avoiding the pitfalls and challenges associated with “big city” development.

That means the buck will stop at the local mayors. That means, at the desk of Mayor Evelio Leonardia.

In that sense, cities are the economic engines of countries. They are hubs for employment, businesses, creativity, productivity and economic growth.

But they are also faced with multiple challenges, from traffic and congestion to environmental and sanitation issues, pollution, crime and poverty. Well-planned and well-managed cities will resolve these challenges.

Among the parameters of livability are utility services (power, water, connectivity). Can we expect changes in the coming days? Or a Potemkin Village? Changes and yet no changes.


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