Latest Stories

The Artist Abroad

More malls mean less of a city


NEW YORKIn my last column, I wrote about the restoration of Lino Brocka’s Maynila sa Kuko ng Liwanag (Manila in the Claws of Neon), the late filmmaker’s classic, uncompromising look at the degradation and moral rot in the city by the bay, and its tragic effects on a pair of young lovers. We see nightclubs, neon lights, crowded markets, Binondo, humble eateries, and slums, but the urban landscapes represented in the film contain no visual referents to malls, for the simple reason that none existed in the 1970s, when the film was made. Department stores such as Rustans, yes, that seemed to coexist with smaller businesses, Mom-and-Pop types.

I wonder how Brocka would have felt about the proliferation of malls, and how these increase in number every time I return to the city of my birth, to the point where they are eating the city alive. They multiply, like cancer cells, obliterating public and private spaces that are essential for a city to be a site where its cityzens can live, work, and play in a variety of humane settings. In short, I find them to be obscene blots, repellent in the way they impose their presence, for the most part, huge and hugely unimaginative, white boxes that are really glammed-up warehouses. How many malls exactly do we need? It seems to be the aim of mall developers, whether SM Corporation or Ayala Land or Robinson’s, to have one in every district. Perhaps we will wind up with the extremely dubious distinction of being an archipelago of 7,100 malls!

At the same time a whole host of towering edifices are built that offer both office space and residences, complexes more often than not also planned and built by the mall developers, providing a hermetic existence for its residents, so that they only have to step occasionally onto and into the real world—pedestrian-unfriendly, polluted, hot, and perceived to be unsafe. In short, these places exemplify the paradox of living in the city, apart from but not a part of, the city. And the names of these enclaves reflect a telltale mindset: Illustrata, Light, Aura, Global City, etc. Titles like Megalomania, Paranoia, Agoraphobia, Grandiose City, etc. would be more accurate, of course, but no one has ever accused these developers of having a wicked sense of humor.

Arguments will, and have been made, about the benefits of having malls. They provide air conditioning to the sweaty masses, public restrooms, a convenient one-stop for shopping for everything from liposuction to purchasing a house and lot, and even a place where one can walk briskly and get some needed exercise—difficult to do in the sidewalk-challenged metropolis—but that they provide jobs is probably the most effective one. True, but what about all the small enterprises they have forced out of business? One need only look at how many shops closed on Baguio’s Session Road when the SM mall was constructed, where the wonderful Pines Hotel once stood. (The construction also meant the wholesale cutting down of trees on the land.) Its view of the city at the top of Session is grand—and symbolic: of private capital overriding the concerns of the vast majority of Baguio City residents.

And that of course links the construction and siting of malls to public policy—and to the bodies charged with enforcing zoning and environmental, and even historical preservation laws. In effect, the local city council in issuing permits to build and operate these gargantuan structures bear a large share of responsibility. By abdicating their duties they leave governance of these semi-autonomous spaces to private enterprise.

The truth of the matter is, city councils don’t seem to care too much about their constituents, not where malls are concerned, behind whom lie vast reserves of cash. For those councilors and city officials who kiss the ass of Mammon, I suggest they be entombed within the very walls of the next mall they approve of, regardless of how it serves the neighborhood.

It might seem paradoxical but I have nothing against malls, in theory. There are malls and there are malls. The most repellent to me is the SM module, which is determined to exclude as much of the outer world as possible. Given their anti-labor policies, some friends and I have forsworn shopping at SM malls. But a mall can be built in such a way as to harmonize both interior and exterior spaces—open as much to light and air as it is closed to these very elements, with vest parks and gardens interspersed. (To their credit, in their Greenbelt and High Street corridors, Ayala developers have managed to do just this, though to a limited extent.)

While a mall will never replace the public plaza, which anyone regardless of economic class can frequent and where the seeds of a genuine community spirit can flourish, still, a well-designed mall need not be a joyless, artificial environment. To do that, mall builders have to start thinking of the everyday Filipino not just as a consumer, but also as a human being of complex needs.

Copyright L. H. Francia 2013

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

More from this Blog:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Department stores , Features , Global Nation , Kuko ng Liwanag , Lino Brocka’s Maynila , malls

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. Filipinos second-shortest in Southeast Asia
  2. Afghan hospital guard kills 3 US doctors, including Fil-Am pediatrician
  3. HK victims to get P115M; traders raised money
  4. Career diplomat is new PH consul general in Los Angeles
  5. Senator hopes PH will also get same vow
  6. Filipina, 51, shot dead by 24-year-old American boyfriend
  7. US4GG: Aquino should ask Obama for TPS approval, drone technology
  8. Obama to visit Filipino soldiers in Fort Bonifacio
  9. Believe it or not: Filipinos love US more than Yanks
  10. Abandoned in Malta,15 PH seamen return
  1. Filipina, 51, shot dead by 24-year-old American boyfriend
  2. Japan presents $57-B ‘dream plan’ to solve Metro congestion
  3. Hong Kong accepts PH apology; sanctions also lifted
  4. Japan says visa-free entry still a plan
  5. 85% of Filipinos love US – survey
  6. 10 US presidents who visited the PH (and what they said)
  7. WHO warns vs spread of MERS-Cov, urges vigilance in taking precautions
  8. 19 Ukrainians, Russians, Filipinas rescued in bar raid
  9. 150 Filipino teachers in Maryland to lose jobs, visas
  10. Japan mulls no visa rule for Filipinos
  1. US to China: We will protect Philippines
  2. Japan mulls no visa rule for Filipinos
  3. DFA grants visa-free privilege to 7 countries
  4. China warned: Don’t try to tow away BRP Sierra Madre
  5. Back home in Manila, and feeling out of place
  6. Filipina, 51, shot dead by 24-year-old American boyfriend
  7. Japan presents $57-B ‘dream plan’ to solve Metro congestion
  8. China: PH tarnishing Beijing’s international image
  9. What’s inside BRP Sierra Madre?
  10. Hong Kong accepts PH apology; sanctions also lifted


  • Aquino to lead Air Force turnover rites
  • Security in place for Obama as police hope for ‘peaceful’ visit
  • Retired SC justice Lorenzo Relova; 98
  • Ligots fight 2nd forfeiture case
  • PH will be partly cloudy in afternoon, evening—Pagasa
  • Sports

  • Sharapova advances to Stuttgart quarterfinals
  • Galedo caps ride of redemption
  • Beermen, Express dispute second semis slot today
  • Lady Agilas upset Lady Bulldogs in four sets
  • NLEX roars to 7th D-League win
  • Lifestyle

  • ‘Recovered’ Banksy works on display ahead of sale
  • Marinduque: Visiting the ‘palm of the ocean’
  • First at Vatican in 60 years
  • How Jing Monis Salon gave Krissy the pixie
  • Want to be a supermodel? Work on your inner beauty, says Joey Espino
  • Entertainment

  • Paul McCartney to play at Candlestick concert
  • Kristoffer Martin: from thug to gay teen
  • Has Ai Ai fallen deeply with ‘sireno?’
  • California court won’t review Jackson doctor case
  • Cris Villonco on play adapted from different medium
  • Business

  • PAL hailed for ban on shark fin cargo
  • BSP to change tint of P100 bill
  • Nielsen sees car buying boom in the Philippines
  • How author of best-seller exposed ‘one percent’ economic elite
  • Bangko Sentral readies new bank lending rules
  • Technology

  • Cloud strength helps Microsoft earnings top Street
  • Vatican announces hashtag for April 27 canonizations
  • Enrile in Masters of the Universe, Lord of the Rings?
  • Top Traits of Digital Marketers
  • No truth to viral no-visa ‘chronicles’
  • Opinion

  • Editorial Cartoon, April 25, 2014
  • No deal, Janet
  • Like making Al Capone a witness vs his gang
  • MERS-CoV and mothers
  • A graduation story
  • Global Nation

  • Only 4 Etihad passengers not accounted for
  • Abandoned in Malta,15 PH seamen return
  • Senator hopes PH will also get same vow
  • HK victims to get P115M; traders raised money
  • Afghan hospital guard kills 3 US doctors, including Fil-Am pediatrician
  • Marketplace