Last 2019 October 1, I gave a talk at the LSE Saw Swee Hock Southeast Asia Centre’s event for “Decolonising the LSE Week”. The podcast for our panel, “South-South itineraries: alternative routes for mutual learning between Latin America and Southeast Asia”, is available to download and stream at this link.
My talk reflected on the lack of engagement with the work of Southern urban scholars writing on and in the South. I began by situating my work as Southern scholarship that aims to theorise urbanisation, dispossession, and climate displacement in ‘vulnerable’ and ‘at-risk’ Southern cities. Reflecting on names and places encountered in literature reviews, manuscript revisions, conferences, and conversations, I enquired into the invisibility of other Souths in studies of the urban global South. To contextualise the questions I raise, I used my experience and my scholarship as reference points for illuminating absences and silences in a field that constantly challenges itself to diversify and provincialise both knowledge and knowledge creation. Finally, I explored three correctives in support of decentring knowledge production and expanding the intellectual geographies of critical urban scholarship.
The second journal article from the MA thesis is out. I am honoured to publish in the first-ever issue of Radical Housing Journal, an autonomous and fully open-access academic journal for “debat[ing] ideas and advanc[ing] knowledge, theory, and practices around a radical approach to housing”.
Out of the more than 70 submissions for Issue 1, 15 were selected, rigorously reviewed by three activists and scholar-activists, editorially evaluated, and accepted or rejected accordingly.
My article for the Long Read section (focus on critical analysis and theory-making) decenters ‘post-2008’ organising around housing struggles, the theme of this issue, using Manila as a frame. I make the case for a systematic state-led eviction crisis in the city region. Proceeding from this, I argue that Manila’s ‘post-2008’ is not the global financial crisis but rather the 2009 Ondoy flood disaster, and its ‘post-crisis housing situation’ is the mass eviction and relocation of informal settlers from ‘danger zones’ under the Metro Manila Flood Management Project and Informal Settler Families Housing Program. I introduce the concept of benevolent evictions to describe a new mode of dispossession whereby expulsions from the urban core to the periphery are facilitated through the systematic deployment of benevolence as a technology of eviction. Drawing on the experience of Alliance of People’s Organizations Along Manggahan Floodway (APOAMF), a community association in Pasig City, I examine how benevolent evictions, as materialised in The People’s Plan, reconfigured community participation and activist contestations, and end by considering the radical possibilities that emerge from the contradictions of cooperative housing models.
Two research articles in the launching issue are on the Philippines, including Hazel Dizon’s important paper for the Retrospectives section (focus on specific cases, histories, ideas, and actions) which describes the tactics and strategies employed by Kadamay in claiming their right to shelter through the takeover of idle public housing.
Workshop on Delta/Coastal Cities and Environmental Change, 2019 October 19-20, Shanghai, China
Expediting the full implementation of the Metro Manila Flood Management Project (MMFMP) in response to the 2009 Ondoy (Ketsana) disaster prompted the systematic eviction of informal settlers in ‘danger zones’, particularly along the waterways. As slums along embankments were demolished and 44,186 riparian households were dispossessed, easements were recovered—their edges converted into revetment walls and ripraps, retrofitted to accommodate pumping stations, and paved into linear parks. In smaller creeks, overgrowth was left to colonise the strip of land where shacks and slums once stood. Manila’s riparian corridors are gradually being transformed by ‘danger zone’ evictions carried out in the name of flood and disaster resilience. This paper explores the emergent changes in the landscape along the eight priority waterways identified in the project, by considering how these recovered spaces were envisioned in plans. Through a critical discourse analysis of project documents and plans, it describes how the implementation of the MMFMP via flood mitigation infrastructure developments, urban drainage improvements, and ‘danger zone’ evictions, is reconfiguring the metropolitan region’s waterways. Reading the spatial transformation of Manila’s peripheral landscapes as a question of urban justice, I end with critical reflections on its implications for informal settlers’ housing struggles.
104,219. That is the total number of informal settler households that the Philippine government intends to ‘remove’ in order to make Metro Manila flood- and disaster-resilient. Between 2012 and 2017, 52,254 households were evicted under the Informal Settler Families Housing Program, which was established not simply to address the shelter needs of the urban poor, but to more effectively facilitate the implementation of the Metro Manila Flood Management Project (MMFMP).
Manila is in the grip of a massive and systematic state-led eviction crisis. For the first time in the city’s contemporary history, government is succeeding at eliminating slums and slum dwellers. Yet, as I have argued in two recently published journal articles, this phenomenon is neither due to gentrification nor to processes of urban accumulation, but rather to climate adaptation and flood and disaster resilience initiatives.
These evictions are happening across Manila’s ‘danger zones’: in the peripheral spaces where the urban poor eke out a home, particularly in riparian corridors. I am interested in understanding what happens in and to these spaces, and how these changes simultaneously transform adjacent places.
Thus, my PhD research asks how ‘danger zone’ evictions, as a requirement and consequence of resilience seeking, spatially reconfigure Metro Manila and its peri-urban fringe. I hypothesise that these changes are clustered around three areas. Along the waterways–specifically the eight priority waterways under the MMFMP–green spaces, linear parks, and flood control infrastructure are sprouting. Along the city’s coast, particularly the stretch of Manila Bay, reclaimed master-planned enclaves such as the City of Pearl are being built. And in the suburbs–notably in Bulacan–relocation hubs are emerging.
The point of this project is threefold: to tell a different story of Metro Manila urban development post-2009; to critically interrogate the consequences of resilience seeking on the production and reconfiguration of urban and peri-urban space; and to theorise the new drivers and new modes of dispossession in vulnerable coastal Southern cities beyond processes of capital accumulation.
These contributions are important because they demonstrate that other forces and processes have the ability to systematically erase undesired bodies and landscapes and fundamentally remake the built environment.
References and further reading:
Alvarez, M. K. & Cardenas, K. (2019) Evicting slums, ‘building back better’: Resiliency revanchism and disaster risk management in Manila, International Journal of Urban and Regional Research, 43(2), pp. 227-249.
I’m presenting my PhD research on 16 May before the people who make this PhD possible. I will talk about resilient city making in Manila via ‘danger zone’ evictions, particularly how the systematic dispossession of informal settlers along waterways, in the name of climate change adaptation and flood/disaster resilience, is spatially reconfiguring Manila and its suburbs. Green spaces and flood barriers are sprouting in the city’s riparian corridors and reclaimed enclaves are being planned along its coast, as relocation hubs are emerging in the peri-urban fringe. Manila and its periphery are being transformed neither solely nor primarily by capital, but also by flood and disaster risk and the anticipatory logics of ‘resilient’ futures. My research attempts to read this transformation through a critical genealogy and ethnography of the Metro Manila Flood Management Project and the Informal Settler Families Housing Program, the main proponents and primary beneficiaries of ‘danger zone’ evictions.
This event marks the 65th year of the DPU and is part of the #Bartlett100 celebrations. It is free and open to all; non-UCL attendees are required to register as indicated in the details below.
The first journal article on the MA thesis is out now in International Journal of Urban and Regional Research (IJURR), coauthored with Kenneth Cardenas. It is part of the symposium issue, “Flood Risk and Littoral Connurbations: Theorising the Asian Experience”, edited by Gavin Shatkin.
In this theoretical and empirical paper, we forward the concept of resiliency revanchism to characterise Manila’s disaster risk management (DRM) strategy, which we argue is predicated on the mass eviction and relocation of informal settlers. We trace the first shift in Philippine DRM policy to the 2009 Ondoy floods, and cast critical attention on the ways the disaster was constructed, as well as the manner by which flooding projections and solutions attend to the further marginalisation of ‘vulnerable’ yet undesirable populations. We deploy the concepts of “risk society” (Ulrich Beck), “territorial stigmatisation” (Loic Wacquant, also Tom Slater), and “aesthetic governmentality” (Asher Ghertner) to examine how the deliberate production of ignorance by disaster and climate expertise (knowledges produced by state officials, DRM practitioners, environmental and climate advocates, and academics) constructed anti-slum discourses of urban flooding and disaster, which in turn produced uneven landscapes of risk and resilience (via the creation of a ‘danger zone’/high-risk zone binary) that justified slum evictions in ‘building back better’.
The image below links to the full text version.