Philip­pine malls be­come the new town plazas

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY MY­NARDO MACARAIG

As she eyes the col­or­ful ice creams on of­fer at a Baskin-Rob­bins in one of Manila’s most lux­u­ri­ous shop­ping cen­ters, Philip­pine teenager Jamie Gam­boa ad­mits to be­ing an in­cur­able mall rat — but not only for the shop­ping.

“It is the only place where you can just walk around with­out hav­ing to spend, and there are a lot of things to en­ter­tain us,” said the pe­tite 16-year-old, sur­rounded by a gag­gle of friends.

“We tried other places but it’s more of a has­sle. In parks, there isn’t enough to do. A mu­seum or a zoo isn’t a place you go to more than once.”

With their func­tions ex­pand­ing from shop­ping and din­ing to venues for Catholic mass, Zumba work­outs or even wed­dings, ex­perts say malls are tak­ing on a more im­por­tant role at the heart of com­mu­ni­ties.

Filipino life tra­di­tion­ally re­volved around a public square, with a church, lo­cal gov­ern­ment build­ing and mar­ket at­tached, where adults so­cial­ized and chil­dren played, ac­cord­ing to ur­ban plan­ner Felino Palafox.

But while malls have long been a main­stay of ur­ban Manila — the cap­i­tal has at least 153 pep­per­ing its skyline — the neon-lit con­sumer tem­ples are now sweep­ing across the Philip­pine ar­chi­pel­ago, pen­e­trat­ing even ru­ral ar­eas.

“They have re­placed the public plazas as gath­er­ing places,” Palafox said.

City Lungs ‘lost’

As the Philip­pines’ pop­u­la­tion has boomed in re­cent decades, soar­ing from 68 mil­lion in 1995 to 100 mil­lion in 2015, creep­ing ur­ban­iza­tion has mag­ni­fied the ap­peal of malls to res­i­dents and busi­nesses alike.

But this has come at the ex­pense of green spa­ces, left lan­guish­ing through ne­glect, short-sight­ed­ness and poor ur­ban plan­ning.

“We are los­ing the lungs of the city,” said Palafox.

Pro­vin­cial gro­cer Wendy Tan re­mem­bers how she and her friends used to play in the sprawl­ing, ver­dant plaza in Mam­busao, a cen­tral Philip­pine town of about 38,000 peo­ple.

But as the park de­te­ri­o­rated over time, the lo­cals searched for the next best thing — a spank­ing new, 300-hectare air-con­di­tioned shop­ping mall in Roxas city, about an hour’s drive away.

“There are no more tall trees. No more foun­tains. There is no more shade so it is too hot,” she said.

So the mall de­vel­op­ers stepped in, some­times even leas­ing green spa­ces to build re­tail com­plexes.

“They know very well that the gov­ern­ment is not de­liv­er­ing ser­vices so they ad­dress those. If the gov­ern­ment does not cre­ate public spa­ces, they will build public spa­ces,” said Jorge Mo­jarro, a Span­ish Ph. D. stu­dent study­ing Philip­pine cul­ture.

“It is not that Filipinos do not like parks. They are just not be­ing of­fered parks,” he added.

But many Filipinos don’t seem to mind, see­ing malls as safer than the streets — the crime rate re­mains high in Manila, de­spite po­lice fig­ures show­ing a fall na­tion­wide — and a way to re­lax in cool sur­round­ings.

Jac­que­line Luis, a 48-year-old mother of three, says malls are a sanc­tu­ary for her fam­ily away from the trop­i­cal heat and traf­fic-choked thor­ough­fares of the ur­ban me­trop­o­lis.

“You can let them (kids) go to the amuse­ment cen­ter or watch a movie while you shop. And then you can all just meet up at the same place later,” she said.

Even the small­est towns are try­ing to at­tract malls.

Dean Villa, mayor of Larena, on the tiny is­land of Siqui­jor, has en­tered into a joint ven­ture with a pri­vate firm to de­velop a mall in his com­mu­nity of about 13,000.

He hopes the new mall will at­tract peo­ple to spend money in his town — in­clud­ing lo­cal res­i­dents.

“Over here, as soon as pay-day comes, ev­ery­one hops on the ferry to Du­maguete City, about an hour’s ride away, be­cause they al­ready have a mall there,” he told AFP.

Not Just Shop­ping

As their steady march con­tin­ues, malls are swal­low­ing many of the ser­vices typ­i­cally found in the public square.

Many boast chapels as well as child-care cen­ters, al­low­ing fam­i­lies in the de­voutly Catholic na­tion to com­bine re­li­gious and fam­ily du­ties with shop­ping.

Satel­lite gov­ern­ment of­fices in shop­ping cen­ters al­low Filipinos to pay util­ity bills and get doc­u­ments such as voter ID cards, busi­ness per­mits, driver’s li­censes and pass­ports.

The elec­tion com­mis­sion is even con­sid­er­ing al­low­ing vot­ing in malls.

“We evolve to what is needed by the peo­ple,” said Alex Po­mento, vice-pres­i­dent of the coun­try’s largest mall chain, SM Prime Hold­ings.

The group of­ten hosts free com­mu­nity events in their malls such as mass wed­dings, school grad­u­a­tions, Zumba work­outs and singing con­tests — events once held in town plazas.

The rise of In­ter­net shop­ping does not worry the com­pany, with four more of its malls set to open this year on top of the cur­rent 50.

“Our malls are des­ti­na­tion places,” Po­mento told AFP.

In an ironic twist, some larger malls are now lit­er­ally re­plac­ing the lost parks by build­ing ex­pan­sive rooftop gar­dens to make them more at­trac­tive and in a nod to en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns.

“Nowhere else in the world has a pop­u­la­tion so ab­sorbed the shop­ping-mall lifestyle, Paul San­tos, vi­cepres­i­dent of the Philip­pine Re­tail­ers As­so­ci­a­tion told AFP.

“It’s not some­thing you can stop.”

AFP

This pic­ture taken on June 21 shows a mass wed­ding held in­side a shop­ping cen­ter in Manila. With their func­tions ex­pand­ing from shop­ping and din­ing to venues for Catholic mass, Zumba work­outs or even wed­dings, ex­perts say malls are tak­ing on a more im­por­tant role at the heart of com­mu­ni­ties.

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