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Guardian Cities: The Malls and Jeepneys of Manila

When asked for recommendations about their city, Manileños have the irksome habit of insisting that “There’s nothing to do in Manila,” or that “It’s just buildings,” and directing you instead to the nearest beach. But knowing that a city of Manila’s size and vitality is interesting by definition, if you press them, they will usually admit at least one thing: “Well, we do go to malls.”

And do they ever: the malls of metro Manila, 16 of them qualifying as “supermalls” – to say nothing of the various “community malls” and “lifestyle malls” – offer all of life’s necessities, and most of its pleasures. These cities unto themselves descend, in some sense, from Manila’s walled colonial-era “city within the city” of Intramuros.

But today’s largest malls offer not just the usual shops, eateries (usually including at least one branch of a chicken roaster named after the American country singer Kenny Rogers), grocery stores and movie theatres, but bowling alleys, gyms, medical offices and even churches. More importantly, they offer air conditioning, which goes a long way to explaining their success in a city whose temperature seldom falls below 20°C. (Can it be a coincidence that Manila’s first enclosed shopping mall, 1932’s art deco Crystal Arcade, was also the country’s first air-conditioned building?)

Read the whole thing at The Guardian.

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