The suburbs of Quezon City

CITY SENSE - Paulo Alcazaren () - August 6, 2011 - 12:00am

The rise of suburbia in the Philippines was led by Quezon City. There were, of course, the pre-war extensions to central Manila like San Juan’s Addition Hills and the millionaire’s row in Pasay City, but it was in QC that the suburbs took off in full flight — from congested Manila, that is.

It all started with the announcement of the new capital that was to be Quezon City (by the way, QC day is approaching — Aug. 19). Although the original announcement was made in 1939, after the war the government had second thoughts about the site. Seventeen other options were considered. Eventually though QC was still chosen albeit with the addition of Novaliches (which was originally part of Caloocan).

With the decision in 1949 to keep the capital there, and despite warnings to curb speculative real estate deals, investors flocked to buy up whatever they could around the planned civic and commercial centers for the new capital.

In the early ’50s one of the most reliable insurance firms, the Philamlife company, set up an innovative residential development just off Highway 54. The Philamlife Homes village was the first middle-class development outside of Manila (Forbes Park was for the relatively wealthy — though the initial lot prices were dirt cheap).

The government built eight projects for civil servants and ordinary “wage-earners.”

The enclave was gated for security. It had a large central park with amenities, a clubhouse, swimming pool and even a supermarket (Jopson’s). The development was planned by Harvard graduate Angel Nakpil with the houses designed by architect Carlos Arguelles. The houses came in several models to choose from.

Philamlife Homes became the standard for more developments in the area. About the same time along the edge towards Marikina, two “subdivisions,” as they were called, were also starting up. White Plains and Blue Ridge were opened to buyers and offered fantastic views of the verdant Marikina Valley.

The opening of the Ateneo, Maryknoll, and the University of the Philippines also spurred residential development. La Vista and eventually Xavierville were carved out of cogon fields and undulating knolls of Quezon City.

White Plains beckoned with panoramic views of the verdant Marikina Valley below.

It was not just these middle-class enclaves that were growing. The 1950s also saw the sprouting of government housing projects. Projects 1-8 were built out in the decade of the city’s growth. They were well planned but horribly built with streets unpaved till the ’60s and water supply as well as electricity was spotty despite the proximity of the Balara filters.

Of course, the New Manila enclave was also filling out, along with areas adjacent to the original settlements of Kamuning. All these started to fill in fully in the ’70s and by the ’80s the original big houses started to give way to townhouses and other more dense forms of residential development like condominiums and mixed-use complexes.

In the ’50s and ’60s there were few options for entertainment and shopping. Cubao filled most of these needs, Large markets like NepaQ and district markets filled the gaps. Some of these even had neighborhood cinemas like the two in Project 4.

Eventually, commercial establishments and restaurants along Quezon Avenue and España Extension were set up. Arcega’s, Max’s Fried Chicken, D& E, Aguinaldo’s, Merced, Little Quiapo make for fond memories for those who lived in the suburban districts of Quezon City.

Quezon City provided security with police riding in Volkswagen beetles — how very ’60s!”

Eventually, too, the larger complexes came to the city. Shoemart was in Cubao since the early ’60s. They have since expanded their historical presence in the city. The establishment of SM City North, in fact, has spurred the growth of the North Triangle district and changed the complexion of the former suburban section of QC.

Today, QC is still partly suburban, but more and more it is urban in character and actual reality. The challenge for the city in the next few decades is how to ensure sustainable growth and a quality of life the original subdivision developers enticed buyers with. One thing’s for sure, it is a city with real history and a destiny that still has to be completely fulfilled.

For more on Quezon City’s colorful past and promise of the future, please come to an exhibit I am curating called “SM&QC, Visions of a City.” It opens next Friday, Aug. 13, at The Block, SM City North.

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Feedback is welcome. Please e-mail the writer at paulo.alcazaren@gmail.com.

Real estate developers and car distributors loved the suburbs so they could sell their products and the promise of great family life.
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