Is Our City a City?



Or, is our city a great city?


This question was triggered by two surveys released this season. One came out from a website called TimeOut, which is described as catering to foreign lifestyles. This inquiry is said to have involved 22, 000 urban dwellers determining Manila as “one of the best cities in the world.” Immediately, of course, your question is how that distinction came about, especially when you learn that Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland tops the list.


TimeOut, which is also defined as a “global media and hospitality brand,” claims that the survey respondents voted Manila as “the third most resilient.”


Resiliency has always been one of the traits that cultural observers, especially Filipinos, have ascribed to us as a people. For a long time also we have accepted this until this last decade when enlightened individuals began to see in that description an underhanded compliment. Resilience is no more a value than it is an indictment of a government that through the years has fallen short of services and support to the people. A little improvement in those services and we are happy.


But could this resiliency could also be how the city responded to the pandemic? According to the website, Manila had unique measures in place like “cruel liquor bans and the demand for spacewear-like face shields being enforced with the lockdown.” is this survey serious or are we missing the sarcasm?


The study mentions more indicators - “walkability, good public transport and safety, as well as sustainability.” At this juncture, our jaws must have dropped already.


The other survey has a more official tone to it. It is the Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index (CMCI), which appears in the website called GOV.PH, described as the National Government Portal.


The study is “an annual ranking of Philippine cities and municipalities developed by the National Competitiveness Council through the Regional Competitiveness Committees (RCCs) with the assistance of the United States Agency for International Development.” This study has ranked the city of Naga number one among component cities that, following the categories of CMCI, are cities that do not fall under the category of a “Highly Urbanized City.” In detail, the results of the competitiveness has placed Naga no.1 in infrastructure, no. 2 in economic dynamism, and no. 3 both for government efficiency and resiliency (there is that word again).


We should celebrate this. But how?


We should understand the study.


If we go to the website of GOV.PH, there is an explanation about the methodology of the survey. It says: “The CMCI local competitiveness Framework (sic) adopted the framework developed by Michael Porter, which is also being used in a number of global surveys on competitiveness.” It goes on to explain: “Porter’s definition of competitiveness focused on the idea of productivity.”


For Porter, as the website quotes the source, competitiveness is “based on location and is essentially the productivity that companies located there can achieve.” Location is articulated as “a country’s underlying source of its resources and productivity as how (sic) the country uses these resources.” According to the website, “using the same lens local competitiveness is how a city or municipality knows its resources and how it uses these to improve its standard of living.”


To students of development, Michael Porter is the professor at Harvard Business School who developed the recognized tools to assess and understand competitive strategies. It was some thirty years ago that he came up with the book looking into these strategies and the philosophies behind them.


It is advisable to make sense of this report so that we can use what it says. Celebrating is fine but it is incumbent upon us. From the same website, there are significant aspects that are necessary if we want our citizens to appreciate the report and what it says about Naga City. For Porter, as quoted again, “almost everything matters for competitiveness - schools, roads, financial markets, the consumer. Even without citing Porter, we know that in order to make all these factors work to our competitive advantage, the people, the societies and cultures must all be in synergy with each other.


Would Naga City and its officials have the time to bring this report down to the people?


In the final tally, Naga scored 53.02. What does this mean for the local officials? How should city planners respond to this? Would this inspire local business? What about the schools and cultural workers? How do they enter this scenario?


If we look at the weights of the ranking, we see the following: economic dynamism - 25%; governance efficiency - 25%; infrastructure - 25%; resiliency - 25%.


Are we barely passing or are our competitors barely there? Are we good or are cities in the county all that average?


The website says improving competitiveness takes time. This we understand. It also declares: “Improving productivity allows firms, cities, municipalities and countries to improve their standards of living and thereby give prosperity to its citizens.”


In the end, there are recommendations on how to use the data. I have my own interest, and it is the policy implication for the academe: “The Index paints a general picture of Philippine cities and municipalities which may be used by the academe, civil society and even tourists as a take-off point for further research.”