Beyond the BGC dream
By Kurt Alec Mira
Growing up, I witnessed the rapid growth of Bonifacio Global City (BGC) in just two decades. Before becoming famous for its American-like streets, it was first a sanctuary for families living in Taguig, Makati, or Pasig because of its vast open space. Developed by a consortium of developers such as the Ayala Corporation, BGC became what we know it today — a tiny safe space for the sophisticated amidst the noisy surroundings of Metro Manila.
Unlike other commercial districts like Ayala and Ortigas Center, BGC pictures itself as a melting pot of international cultures like the rise of “first in the country” establishments like Mitsukoshi and the largest Nike store in South East Asia. Given these posh affairs, who would not want to live in BGC?
Modern Filipinos, too, have their own version of the American dream. Everyone desires to taste what it’s like to live in luxury. BGC symbolizes our cravings for high standards of living which we usually see in feel-good Hollywood films and Korean dramas.
Such standards could mean spending your afternoons grabbing coffee in a newly-opened, aesthetically-pleasing café along Bonifacio High Street. Many also dream of relaxing in Burgos Circle, bringing pets, and strolling under the sun without the pollution and the nosy neighbors. That’s the BGC dream. No wonder many would visit the district to experience this pro tem.
The central greenery in Bonifacio High Street and every surrounding park make up for the need for more access to green spaces evident in Manila. It is inherent in our humanity to enjoy breathable greens covered with native trees and embellished with seasonal flowers. Unfortunately, all we have are concrete plazas that everyone typically passes by.
Being an outsider in BGC
Certainly, BGC is famous for its night scene. There stand countless bars and restaurants to choose from, each with its own tempo and style. That’s why it’s where my friends and I would party and spend our weekends, either in Uptown or Burgos Circle.
At first, I enjoyed hanging around the area. Everything — and everyone — looks fashionably charming. Nothing is an eyesore. As everyone says, BGC is a different country with a distinct lifestyle and culture. But after some time, it gets tedious and tiring. And then, like an awakening, you would slowly realize that BGC is just a pretentious facade.
Unless you are affluent enough to live there and buy whatever you want, everyone is literally and metaphorically an outsider in BGC. Going there takes a lot of money, time, or both. The traffic is terrible even if you drive your own car or can afford to book ride-hailing services regularly.
Commuting is hell in BGC. Many people without private vehicles can attest to that. Buses roaming around the district are not 24/7. And even if the fleet exists to transport commuters to EDSA Ayala or Market Market, expect a longer waiting hour come rush hour.
As such, some will point out that BGC has its own terminal worthy of being described as accessible to the general public. But just because there are jeepneys, buses, and vans in Market Market, one of the area’s first malls, it is far from convenient. And despite the plans to build a subway station in hopes of alleviating the worsening public transportation crisis, it has yet to materialize.
For some, BGC is well-planned in terms of walkability. They champion the wide sidewalks and the abundance of pedestrian crossings. However, walking in the middle of the day on a hot summer afternoon would tell you otherwise, let alone the lack of trees that could have offered some shade. To enjoy walking, you have to park first, which says a lot about BGC being a bubble. In order to see its beauty, you have to be inside.
The great divide
BGC manifests all things wrong in the country.
I once saw a bird’s-eye view picture of the district. Even I could not argue the subtle existence of the disparity between the newly-erected buildings and the dilapidated houses situated just a walk away from the global city. Our unhealthy obsession with aesthetics locks us to live in a bubble. Across BGC lies the great divide nobody wants to talk about.
We often forget its isolation from the harsh realities of being Filipino. As often as it is, BGC is an escape. Albeit, a literal one. It is isolated from the harsh realities of being Filipino. Like the infamous opium, the tall glass buildings and asphalt roads became our antidepressants, temporarily forgetting the clattered urban habitation we are used to.
There are no street children, but that’s because its claustrophobic choke points ideally limit vagrants and other ‘undesired’ people, all thanks to BGC Marshalls.
When it comes to road injustice, BGC does not beg to differ. The Kalayaan Bridge, which connects the global city to Ortigas Center across the Pasig River, was designated for private cars only. A proper sidewalk is nowhere to be found, and its bike lane is narrow and unsafe. Supposedly, it is intended to reduce traffic congestion, but when would the government understand the principle of induced demand?
Looking from a different angle, BGC seems to be a copy of different Western blueprints. It is a development serving foreigners and the rich. In contrast, the masses — people who frequent the place for a few hours — also deserve clean and green spaces not sealed behind high-end opulence.
More folks are becoming aware that the place is nothing but extravagance, ignorant of the ills of the masses. Those who defend the area and compare it to poverty-stricken businesses like Tondo fail to understand that affordability and inclusivity go hand in hand with accessibility. Without inclusivity, a city is not affordable. Without affordability, a city is not accessible. By overlooking the former, we just love the idea of having an attractive city.
We do not need more BGCs. Perhaps, it is a case study of the success and failure of building a global city without the ordinary Juan in mind. BGC being tagged as the ‘worst area in Metro Manila’ is another side of the story, and indeed, not surprising.
Contrary to popular belief, however, BGC is not exactly soulless. It is not as old as Ayala and Ortigas, not even Binondo, but it still has character. Little by little, It tries to create a culture in which everyone can participate. The problem now lies in whether or not this character can appreciate all walks of life in all sorts of situations. That, without judgment and prejudice.