A megacity, Metro Manila is composed of 16 cities and one municipality, all squeezed in 619 square kilometers of narrow land. The official population is 12 million, with several millions more added during daytime as employees report to work in business districts spread out in different parts of the big city. I live in Marikina a city in the eastern part and considered as the edge of the metropolis. A small river marked the boundary with the province of Rizal, across is deemed as the start of the “provincial” or “rural” areas.
From our place, it will take an hour to reach Cubao, the main business district in Quezon City. Going to our office in Makati City will take another hour through a bus crawling along EDSA, the mother of all roads in Metro Manila. Another means is through the elevated light train which is always full. Going to my hang out place in Cubao or to the office in Makati is really a struggle.
The opening of a SM City mall in San Mateo, the town across the river was a surprise for me. In the Philippines, SM mall is an indicator of urbanization. It is sign that the place has “arrived”, giving the place a cosmopolitan character. People are now exposed to a higher shopping experience (to those who have money), or just a cool place to hang out (to those with limited financial resources). SM malls have evolved from being just a shopping area to a mixed-use facility where churches and government offices are found. This is an accurate reflection of the company’s tagline – We’ve got it all for you!
The sweltering heat at home induced me to visit the SM mall last Saturday. I arrived at the mall and was amused to see the place jam-packed with people from all walks of life. Rowdy groups of young people mingled with senior citizens and families with children in tow. Restaurants were full and the most crowded space was that of the National Bookstore, as parents and students buy supplies for the school opening next month. If the number of people inside the mall is a barometer of the country’s economy, then I can say that the country’s growth rate, gloated by the politicians, is indeed true.
What I appreciate the most is the free wifi. It was so easy to connect and you can enjoy a one-hour period of surfing. The only thing I missed were the coffee shops, none was open during my visit. I made myself comfortable in the small space of Bibingkinitan, a rice cake shop with ordinary hot coffee. Sipping my coffee, I relish the sight of endless flow of people enjoying the mall.
There is always another side to any development. The most visible negative effect was traffic. The movement of vehicles in front of the mall can be described as turtle-paced. Public utility vehicles jostle with tricycles, cars and trucks in the narrow four-lane road. The sad reality is that there is no more room for expansion. I think it will become worse at the opening of classes. Another effect will be the demise of small community stores in the area. Less than a hundred meter from the mall is an old supermarket expected to close down as its clients were sucked by its bigger neighbor. A boon for SM, a bane for small retail stores in the community.