Manila Plan under American Imperialism
Burnham wrote, “The War department set about adapting the city of Manila to the changed conditions brought about by the influx of Americans, who are used to better conditions of living than had prevailed in those of islands.” (Hines, 1973)
The plan of Manila shows the imposition of American imperialism implicitly, in accordance with the government’s attitude of “benevolent assimilation” towards the Philippines. The fact that the Manila Plan itself is a continuation of City Beautiful Movement constructs the foundation of such argument. Similar to other city planning under the influence of City Beautiful Movement, Burnham’s plan strongly emphasizes public facilities and aesthetic values regardless of serious social issues. This is a relatively serious issue to Manila compared with other American cities since Manila is less developed. The need of working class was overlooked and resulted in inadequate transportation and low-rent housing. In addition, there was a strong social economic disparity in Manila which gave rise to the corruption among local police and prostitution. (Shatkin, 2005)
Aside from the overall remark on Manila plan, the proposals within the Manila Plan also leave the trace of the colonial attitude.
First, instead of inheriting Intramuros as the civic center, Burnham chose to establish the new Luneta. This visually and physically distanced American presence from Spanish predecessors. (Veron, 2014) However, Burnham did insist on preserving the Intramuros as a historical heritage for the Philippines in spite of the objection from the officials. As for the new Luneta, it resembles the Washington Plan as a public park with several civic centers. These civic centers include a neo-classical domed Capitol and National or Government Group. The Capitol is reminiscent of its Washington counterpart and The Group featured a Hall of Justice, library, museum, exposition buildings and a post office. On the western side of the Group, Burnham projected as axial parkland corridor, taking from the Capitol’s centerline, to visually and physically link it with the seafront area – creating a Philippine variant of Washington’s Mall. (Veron, 2014)
Second, on top of the gridded street system, Burnham imposed the radiating boulevards to connect the civic centers – the political and economic importance of the American government. The wide boulevards not only stated the visual prevalence of colonizer’s power but also reinforced American colonial ambition as a means to achieve more political control. (Hines, 1972)
Third, Burnham proposed the development of waterways, namely Pasig River, as transportation of goods with both aesthetic and functional aspirations. However, when he stated the potential of “becoming Venice”, it also reveals American’s commercial interest in the Philippines. He addressed the commercial issues in relation to American imperialist enterprise: “Large manufacturing houses can serve their own interests without the inconvenience to the public by building river slips or branches of the estero (canal) system on their won ground…” (Brody, 2001)
To sum up, Burnham’s respect to local Philippine culture is limited to historical and aesthetic aspects, the essence of the Manila plan still shows his dominant attitude as a colonizer. The strategies and spatial implications of Manila Plan unveil the intention of American imperialism.
Hines, T. S. (1972) ‘The Imperial Façade: Daniel H. Burnham and American Architectural Planning in the Philippines’, Pacific Historical Review, 41(1), pp.33-53
Hines, T. S. (1973) ‘Modernism in the Philippines: The Forgotten Architecture of William E. Parsons’, Journal of Society of Architectural Historians, 32(4), pp. 316-326
Brody, D. E. (2001) ‘Building Empire: Architecture and American Imperialism in the Philippines’, Journal of Asian American Studies, 4(2), pp. 123-145.
Goodno, J. B. (2004) ‘Burnham’s Manila’, Planning, 70(11), pp. 6.
Shatkin, G. (2005) ‘Colonial Capital, Modernist Capital, Global Capital: The Changing Political Symbolism of Urban Space in Metro Manila, the Philippines’, Pacific Affairs, 78(4), pp. 577-600.
Vernon, C. (2014) ‘Daniel Hudson Burnham and the American city imperial’, Thesis Eleven,123(1), pp. 80-105.
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