Bernardo M. Villegas
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Family-Friendly Practices in Urban Living (Part 1)

         As the Philippines moves towards high-middle-income and high-income status in the next twenty years, it is inevitable that an increasing proportion of its population will be residing and working in urban areas.  Industrialization and urbanization go hand in hand.  It is highly probable that as the income per capita of the Philippines rises to $12,235 and above (First Word level in today’s prices) by 2040, close to 80 per cent of the population will be living in urban or at least “rurban” (partly rural and partly urban like Lipa, Batangas today) districts.  A most relevant question being asked by those who consider the family as the most important foundation of a progressive society is how to ensure the well-being of the Filipino family.  How can we sustain the best practices of Filipino families that are intact, harmonious and happy in the midst of the challenges of the complexities of urban living, such as traffic, pollution, time pressure, etc.

          I was fortunate to have attended a most innovative exchange of ideas organized by Andre Yap, founder of one of Manila’s most curated gatherings called IGNITE xCHANGE.  The title of the gathering was “Mega Manila 2020:  Reimagining the Future of Urban Dwelling and Home Sweet Home.”  Last March 10, 2018, I met with 60 other participants from different sectors of society:  education, health, urban planning, innovation, technology, enterprise, government, and industry.  The question we addressed from our respective vantage points was “What will the urban home of 2030 look like, in a mega metropolis like Manila?”   In the next twenty years, there will surely be other large urban conglomerates in such regions as Central Luzon (the Pampanga Triangle); Batangas; Metro Cebu; Davao; Cagayan de Oro; Iloilo; and a few others.  These other potential metropolitan cities can learn from both the successes and failures of the National Capital Region in providing an environment conducive to the wholesome development of the Filipino family.

         Let me start with my own contributions to the exchange.  I emphasized the importance of helping the Philippines avoid the tragic fate of most developed countries in Asia that are suffering from demographic suicide because of fertility rates that are much below the replacement of 2.1 babies per fertile woman.   The most notable examples of these rich countries in Asia that are gradually disappearing from the planet are Japan and Singapore.  A recent Bloomberg report categorically stated that “While Japan had the biggest slump in its workforce in Asia over the last 10 years, Singapore has the most to fear from an ageing population over the next two decades.”

       My first recommendation then had to do with the residential condominium units that are proliferating over the Metro Manila area, contributing to the building boom. An Increasing number of families in the urban areas are residing in condominium units located in strategic business districts.  As I have often communicated to such developers at DMCI Homes, PHINMA properties, SMDC and similar developers of units for the middle class (with prices of P1 to P6 million a unit), they must make available a big proportion of three-bedroom units in their inventory, or design their products in such as way that even the two-bedroom units can eventually make room for a third bed room.  The reason is that for the young couples to be able plan for three or more children, a minimum of three bedrooms would be needed: one bedroom for the boys and another bedroom for the girls, in addition to the master’s bedroom.  For family sizes larger than three, double-deck beds can be used in each bedroom to accommodate multiple girls or boys.  This would make it possible for Filipino couples to continue with the traditional preference for large families that has been part of  Filipino culture for generations.  This help to large family sizes will guarantee that as we become richer, we will defy the almost universal trend all over the developed world that the fertility rate drops below replacement which can lead to serious economic problems.  We should not hesitate to be the exception to the rule in the same way that we are the only ones who do not have a divorce law.

         The second recommendation I made is to encourage real estate developers, whether of condominium units or individual detached dwellings, to make provisions for spaces within their developments in which enterprising educators can put up early learning centers for children from 1 to 6 years of age.  Couples with children of this age group would be interested in sending them to these kindergartens that are within walking distance from their homes for obvious health and safety reasons.  I am glad to note that there is an increasing number of parents who are either home schooling their children or are sending them to  early learning enters that are located close to where they live. There are even groups that are franchising these educational centers, providing both the instructional materials as well as the training programs for quality teachers.  Those who are interested in knowing more about this trend can get in touch with Mr. Danny Moran at email address dannymoran@aol.com or Edric Mendoza at  edricm@homeschool.global.com.   I know for a fact that DMCI Homes is already piloting these schools.

         Because it is important to introduce children as early as possible to sports activities so that they know how to spend their leisure time in healthy physical exercise rather than being glued to their smart phones for hours, I also recommended to these real estate developers to always provide space for a gym and a basketball court that can also be used for futsal games.  The advantage of futsal  is that it can be played by children as young as four or five years old.  As an advocate of the development of football as a national sport to approximate the popularity of basketball, I am especially encouraging schools and nongovernmental organizations to organize futsal tournaments.  The skills needed to play football can be developed even faster in futsal because the players handle the ball more often since there are only five vs. five in a typical futsal game.  Also, a football pitch—which is more difficult to find—is not needed.  In fact, futsal (as is done in Brazil) can be played in any street corner or vacant lot.  Of course, I would like to see more real estate developers follow the example of Megaworld which built a full-sized football field called Emperador in its township development in McKinley in Fort Bonifacio.  The availability of more football fields will go a long way in the development of football as a major national sport, especially now that the AZKALS, our national football team has qualified for the first time for the Asian Cup, a major stepping stone toward the World Cup.  It is also a cause for rejoicing the national women football team, the Malditas, has already qualified for the Asian Cup and is a step closer to the World Cup.

         As a proponent of a greater emphasis on agribusiness as a professional choice among the youth, I also suggested to the real estate developers to invest in a farm one hour or less from their condominium units where they can lease small farm lots to those condominium dwellers who would like to engage in urban farming.  These can generate profits for the households who can grow such high-value crops as honey dew melon, sweet papaya, tomatoes, cabbage, eggplant, lettuce and other fruits and vegetables, using the well tested technologies of such enterprises as Harbest and East-West Seed.  It is healthy for families who are cooped up in urban centers to be able to spend their weekends in a rural setting, especially in actual farming work to which they can expose their children.  This is another way of avoiding that their children become digital geeks who have absolutely no contact with nature. 

         Finally, these urban housing developments should follow the example of their counterparts in the retailing sector who always provide for a chapel or at least a prayer room in the malls that are dotting the urban landscape.  From time to time, Masses can be held in these chapels on special days.  They can also be a place for prayer for people of all denominations.  Having this space for spiritual exercises will be highly appreciated by the condominium dwellers who are subjected to so much stress and strain that are inherent to those who have to live, using the phrase of Ignite xCHANGE, in a “bustling metropolis of 24 million people, waking up every day to a laboratory-full of the world’s most wicked problems.”  (To be continued).