The Doughnut Effect

Published in The Freeman (Philippine Star), June 28, 2012

The emergence of suburban sprawl (suburbs) brought about by the desire for sparse, low density residential areas with individual “single-detached” dwelling areas may have been an ideal setting for the middle class American families in the last century, but it also brought about the car dependency that North American society is equated to. The US has more than 800 vehicles per 1,000 population today. Compare that to around 70 for the Philippines. In fact, if there is a worker that the US has which we don’t have, it’s a used-car salesman. Some Filipinos do buy and sell cars, but it’s not as common a job here as it is in the States.

As people move to the suburbs to live, their employment usually remains in the city center, as do the commercial activities associated with income generation. As families and households move outward from the city center, residential areas sprout around a rather heavily commercialized city center, later called as the “central business district” or CBD, and these form a ring of suburbs, which is the reason the phenomenon is called the “doughnut effect.” This brings people’s homes farther from their places of work. Which requires cars, of course!

This results to some sort of odd situations later. Say, like, before the bubble burst in Japan, central Tokyo becomes a ghost town at night. Of course, people go home and sleep. To a certain degree, this is also true in Cebu. Try walking the length of Colon Street around midnight. Of course, further down the progress road, economic activities may become so dense that activities happen all day and night long. New York is a city that never sleeps. So does Fuente Osmeña. But the net effect in all of these is the need for a car.

But is this predominant in Metro Cebu? Very few people take statistics seriously. Especially the regular census of population. Maybe NEDA and the NSO are the only people who take time to study these figures. Well, the figures can be boring alright, but they can be interesting, too, especially to them which are enamoured by cities. Let’s take a look at the Metro Cebu landscape between the years 2000 and 2007. Let’s just assume for the sake of simplicity that Metro Cebu has 10 towns/cities.

The share of Cebu City’s population in 2000, among the 10 is 42%. This went down to 39% in 2007. But all the others, except Naga which stayed with the same share, approximately, increased! Between the two years, Cebu City has the lowest population growth rate – 1.52%, all the others have more than 2%, from as low as 2.48% for Naga to the highest at 5.12% for Liloan. Mandaue, Lapu-Lapu, and Cordova had more than 4% growth rate. The average for the 10 Metro Cebu LGU’s is 2.76%, still higher than the national average then.

Does it mean, then, than families bear more children in Liloan than those in Cebu City? That’s an uncanny way of looking at it. The more plausible explanation is that people literally “migrated” to the suburbs. With all due respect to the other cities, development-wise, they are considered suburbs of Cebu City, due to the doughnut effect, as Filipinos take after the American way of life. Camella Homes started the trend in the ‘90s, in Lapu-Lapu and Talisay, and hundreds of other “subdivision” and residential enclaves followed suit until today.

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What does this mean? It means that the 800,000 population of Cebu City is just the night-time population, and its daytime figure is way much more than that. We really don’t have the exact figures but some pegged it at 1.5 million. These are the workers that commute each day, riding on jeepneys or driving the cars causing the chaotic traffic in the city streets. And it will be getting worse – subdivisions are springing up farther and farther away from the center.