The virtue of ‘resilience’ has become a dirty word now in the Philippines as third-time unlucky Manila is again hit by another one of those “one-in-one-hundred” calamities that were once the key statistical notion underpinning urban planners’ archaic flood “control” master plans. Although response to the disaster has “improved”, the feel-good rhetoric around Filipinos’ cockroach-like ability to survive calamities is wearing thin. Increasingly unpredictable model-breaking weather disturbances and the reality of the urban decay case study Metro Manila has become has re-defined what “normal” means to most of Manila’s residents.
The WorldPoliticsReview.com article Philippines Flooding Highlights Dangers of Fast Urbanization cites an observation made by Edward Blakely, honorary professor of urban policy at the University of Sydney…
â€œThese floods are the result of overbuilding and extending the city into former farm and marsh areas,â€ Blakely told Trend Lines. â€œThere is an issue here of responsible building,â€ he added, explaining that developers â€œwere building on very fragile marshlands, on creeks and so on, just covering them up with a bit of cement and hoping for the best.â€
He said some cities, like Manila, might have to abandon entire neighborhoods so that the larger city can avoid the â€œboom, sprawl and bustâ€ cycle that has doomed cities in the past.
Blakely said that at some point, a city can reach a point of â€œcatastrophic failure,â€ where the combination of a natural disaster and a lack of planning creates a disaster so devastating that some significant portion of the city cannot be rebuilt. He called Manila “a likely suspect” for that kind of event.
The concept of catastrophic failure enjoys solid mathematical governance in most engineering fields and finds a place in any kind of design endeavour alongside that other mathetmatically-governed design property: resilience. The relationship between catastrophic failure and resilience is quite simple and can be summarised in a single sentence:
Any system subject to stress flexes within a resilient range before it transitions into a catastrophic failure event.
The favourite subject of metaphors used by poets to describe “resilient” systems is the bamboo stalk. A bamboo stalk is “resilient” because it can bend (flex) when subject to stress. Like most building materials, however, it eventually cracks (the catastrophic failure event) when the load it bears goes past its resilient range.
An example closer to the catastrophic scale Metro Manila might be facing in the future, is the big sinkhole that suddenly appeared in the middle of Guatemala City in June 2010. Apparently, years of leaking sewage pipes underneath that city had progressively carved out an underground cavity that eventually led to the catastophic failure that finally manifested itself on the surface.
[Photo courtesy CSMonitor.com.]
How much more “resilience” can Metro Manila residents exhibit? When flood waters come knocking at the doorsteps of the very folk who like waxing poetic about Filipinos’ legendary “resilience”, perhaps we can expect a bit of a change in the tune traditionally sung by our venerable “thought leaders” soon.