Workshop paper | New landscapes in recovered riparian corridors: ‘danger zone’ evictions and ‘flood-resilient’ infrastructure in Manila’s waterways

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 households were dispossessed, easements were recovered—their edges converted into revetment walls and ripraps, retrofitted to accommodate pumping stations, or 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 slum 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 this 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. 

PhD overview | ‘Danger zone’ evictions and ‘resilient’ city making: Metro Manila urban development post-2009

‘Danger zone’ evictions under the Metro Manila Flood Management Project. Cartography by Jose C. Javier (2018), produced for Maria Khristine Alvarez.

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.

IJURR 2019 and Radical Housing Journal 2019 research articles

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. (2019) Benevolent evictions and cooperative housing models in post-Ondoy Manila, Radical Housing Journal, 1(1), pp. 49-68.

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.