With dense populations in urban areas and land prices going sky-high, there has been no way to go but up – build-up that is, with high-rise condos.
And condo prices, whether for purchase or rental, are still affordable to upper and middle-classes. Should government move in with low-cost condos, alone or in partnership with the private sector, expect even more Filipinos learning to live in the sky.
I say “learning” because culturally, we’re not quite ready for this kind of living. Condos can mean many lifestyle changes for Filipinos, primarily in relation to space. While there are large and luxurious condominiums, most units range from as tiny as 14 square meters (miraculously transformable to 18, if you choose to build a mezzanine!) to about 40 square meters.
Although there are some clear advantages to condo living – smaller units are easier to maintain and give a stronger sense of security and protection especially for the retired elderly – there are also drawbacks. For those who are still building a family, or who are used to larger living spaces, condo living can mean some adjusting.
For one thing, smaller spaces aren’t always safer. All kinds of accidents, especially those involving children, can happen precisely because space is so limited. Children become more restless and get into all kinds of accidents, including very serious ones. Be careful about those stacked household items, which can tumble down on the little ones. And be especially watchful with those windows, balconies and stairways.
Cramped spaces can also affect mental health. Right now, even urban slum dwellers have a sense of having their feet on the ground, important when one is under stress or needs to escape from some domestic squabble or a nagging in-law. It’s different up in a high-rise condo, where it might be difficult to find refuge or momentarily escape troublesome housemates. The elderly might also have second thoughts about condos; they might feel safer from intruders, but they also realize that they are now sequestered, locked inside their small condos.
Filipinos will have to learn to share limited space, within the unit as well as in communal spaces in the condominium complex. This will not be easy, considering how we take responsibility only for private space. I’ve seen fairly new condos rapidly deteriorate as residents bring in their bad habits of littering and indiscriminate dumping of garbage. Then there’s the notorious karaoke and endless parties that run well into the night.
It’s better to get a condo that offers facilities like function rooms for parties and other events, as well as amenities such as gyms and sports facilities, including swimming pools. The amenities can sometimes be so good that some upper-class Filipino families end up buying or renting a condo unit just to be able to use these amenities during weekends and holidays.
Again, problems of “terrestrial” living are sometimes transported into high-rise units. For example, condo residents might invite the entire clan over, as well as their clan’s friends and neighbors, to use the condo’s amenities.
Responding to all these problems, some condos are now imposing stricter rules and fines to get residents to become more responsible around shared spaces, including curfews for parties and limits to noise levels. Who knows, maybe it’ll be the condos that will teach us to be more socially responsible.
Condos could also foster closer ties among people. With people living literally next to each other, you have a choice of alienating neighbors with your bad habits, or building lifelong friendships, with neighbors you can depend on in times of crisis and disaster. When I lived in Amsterdam, I rented a condo/apartment unit in a working-class neighborhood where residents had worked out not just a sharing of facilities but also of child care, carpooling, even cooking.
There is potential, too, for condos becoming self-contained communities, as residents have easier access to most services and facilities that are needed for living, working and recreation. Local developers have seen the potential of renting out commercial spaces in condo buildings. What we need to see are more green areas attached to the condos. Also vital will be easy access to transportation – in Singapore, condos closer to the mass rail transit stations are more expensive, with many buyers willing to pay extra to cut down on commuting time.
Will easier commuting mean the disappearance of “Filipino time”?
I doubt it, especially because our public transportation is still inadequate. But simply having homes closer to schools, groceries, restaurants, as well as having in-house recreational spaces, can mean a few more hours each week of quality time to spend with family and friends.
Condos are here to stay, and if we choose to live in one, we just might find that living up there can mean not just a better life, but the good life.