Discovering Manila on foot

Two Jane's Walk organizers in Metro Manila tell us that walking in their city can be challenging, but has many rewards

Arndis Johnson, April 24, 2015

Photos from the 2014 "Viva Manila!" walk, by Julia Nebrija


Manila’s first Jane’s Walk was held last year in the City of Manila (one of 17 different cities in Metro Manila). We sat down for a Skype chat with returning organizer Julia Nebrija, and Celina Agaton, who’s organizing walks for this year’s festival in the central business district of Makati.

Julia describes the "Viva Manila" walk as an introduction to the area for people who wouldn’t usually have a reason to visit old Manila. “We introduced them to people who live in the neighbourhood: Here’s where the museums are, here’s where the cultural centre is, here’s the guy selling coconuts on the corner. ” The walk generated a lot of discussion about how to avoid romanticizing the old quarters of the city—is it possible to point out the highlights of the area while acknowledging real issues with poverty, safety, and traffic? Julia says, “It might not be ideal, but it’s more about challenging perspectives of livability in all these different neighbourhoods.”

Especially when it comes to challenging assumptions about connectivity and transportation. “The interesting thing about our walk was that some people were already living in the neighbourhood, and they just never figured that they could walk from the cultural centre to their house, or from the cultural centre to this one restaurant. They just never thought that they could do it before.”

Celina says that people in her district don’t walk much either—cities like Makati haven’t been designed for walking. She describes walking in Makati as a hassle. “If it was a straight line from point A to B, or you could visually see that you were getting to where you needed to go, or have some kind of understanding with signage, people would walk more.” As it is, she says, when it takes fifteen minutes to walk a five-minute distance, a lot of people feel like “you might as well have just waited for your driver at the entrance of where you were.”

Julia’s neighbourhood in old Manila can be challenging for walkers too, even though it was built on a grid and has a very walkable framework. Sidewalks are often obstructed or occupied, forcing pedestrians onto the street.

Another challenge for walkability is that a lot of the public space in cities like Makati has shifted indoors, to what Celina describes as “a pseudo-park within the mall.” More and more, Celina’s been trying to have her meetings in an actual park. “I’ll say ‘Hey, can we meet and have a coffee,’ and then throw in, ‘Then let’s walk over to the park.’ At first, they look at me like I have a third head! They’re like, ‘Ok….’” But once they get there, she says, the response is usually, “Oh, I never knew this park existed, this is actually quite nice!”

Some of the walks for this year’s festival will focus on places like that park, “hidden gems that people don’t read about in major newspapers, but that are beautiful spaces—laid back and accessible,” says Celina. Since the food scene is a major draw in Manila, this year’s walks will also feature great food and arts places—that aren’t in a mall—for locals and expats to check out.

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Walks in the City of Manila, Bonifacio Global City, and Makati will be posted on the Metro Manila City Page -- check for updates!

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