Urban Studies Manila
Marco Garrido
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780190922481-0052


The focus of this article is on Metropolitan Manila (or simply Manila), a region spanning 619 square kilometers and comprising sixteen cities and one municipality: specifically, the cities of Caloocan, Las Piñas, Malabon, Manila, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Makati, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Quezon City, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig, San Juan, Taguig, and Valenzuela, and the municipality of Pateros. Metro Manila was constituted by presidential decree in 1975, but its constituent cities are significantly older. It is the Philippines’ largest urban area, with a population of about thirteen million in 2015, as well as the country’s economic core, producing 37.5 percent of the national gross national product (GDP). Socially and spatially, however, it is not at all like the rest of the country, given its relative wealth and spectacular inequality—the latter owing less to the extent of inequality than to its spatial organization, a particularly intensive form of class segregation where upper- and middle-class residential and commercial enclaves abut the informal settlements of the urban poor as a general pattern. This landscape took shape as a result of four processes: rapid population growth beginning in the 1950s and 1960s, monumental city-building under the Marcos regime, democratization, and urban restructuring in the 1990s and 2000s. These processes constituted what are perhaps the city’s two main social actors, the urban poor and middle class. These labels are more conventional than accurate. Most of the “urban poor” are not poor by official standards, and the term “middle class” is much too vague. These groups find definition relationally, particularly in space, as “squatters” (slum dwellers) and “villagers” (enclave residents). This division, while fundamentally spatial, elaborated around the divide between formal and informal housing, has become the most important social division in the city since the late 20th century. Hence this article considers each group in some depth. While Metro Manila’s importance to the Philippines is clear, lamentably it has been largely overlooked as a source of urban theory. Manila provides an example par excellence of “late urbanization.” Analytically, it belongs with a set of cities in Latin America and Southeast Asia having undergone rapid population growth in the mid-20th century, resulting in urban landscapes distinguished by precarious work and informal housing. Second, it represents a particularly vivid case of urban space and social relations being restructured by market forces. The commodification of land and labor has proceeded relatively unimpeded in Manila, and class dynamics have crystallized in space relatively uncomplicated by racial and ethnic, religious, and other lines of division. As a result, class contention is especially intense, and class segregation is extreme. We might see in this landscape one possible urban future.


Reed 1978 and Camagay 1995 treat Manila under Spanish rule. The focus of Robert Reed’s account is on the walled city of Intramuros. Maria Luisa Camagay documents the lives of working women in 19th-century Manila, including factory workers, domestic servants, and prostitutes. Her account upends stereotypical portraits of the Filipina as meek and servile, showing them to be assertive, entrepreneurial, and resistant to efforts, by the friars particularly, to “put them in their place.” Torres 2010 and Mactal 2009 treat the city under the Americans, both focusing on sanitation and public-health initiatives. Cristina Evangelista Torres also discusses the renovation of the public school system. Hollnsteiner 1969 reflects on the rapid urbanization of the metro area in the mid-20th century. Stone 1973 (cited under Problem or Solution?) focuses on the proliferation of squatters in the city and their various entanglements with politicians, public administrators, and the law. Laquian 1966 and Caoili 1999 discuss the politics and administration of Metro Manila in the 1950s and 1960s (Laquian) and 1970s and 1980s (Caoili). Manuel Caoili reviews efforts to reform urban governance, particularly during the martial law period. Kimuell-Gabriel 2015, Kimuell-Gabriel 2016, Pante 2019, and Garrido 2013 cover individual areas within the metro. Kimuell-Gabriel 2016 describes the transformation of Tondo from “genteel hometown” to notorious slum over the course of the 20th century, while Kimuell-Gabriel 2015 documents the plight of the women of Tondo. Pante 2019 provides a history of Quezon City; what is now the largest and most populous city in the metro region was once a residential suburb of the city of Manila. It stood as the capital of the Philippines for nearly three decades. Garrido 2013 charts the evolution of Makati from a swampland and seedy “Sin Town” to the commercial and financial center of Metro Manila.

  • Camagay, Maria Luisa T. Working Women of Manila in the Nineteenth Century. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1995.

    A detailed account of female factory workers, store owners, vendors, seamstresses, servants, and prostitutes in 19th-century Manila.

  • Caoili, Manuel A. The Origins of Metropolitan Manila: A Political and Social Analysis. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 1999.

    A consideration of the problems besetting Manila in the 1980s (housing, sanitation, governance, etc.) and efforts to address them under martial law. Originally published in 1988.

  • Garrido, Marco. “The Ideology of the Dual City: The Modernist Ethic in the Corporate Development of Makati City.” International Journal of Urban and Regional Research 37.1 (2013): 165–185.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-2427.2011.01100.x

    A history of Makati City as a corporate venture.

  • Hollnsteiner, Mary R. “The Urbanization of Metro Manila.” In Modernization: Its Impact in the Philippines IV. Edited by Walden Bello and Alfonso de Guzman, 147–174. Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1969.

    Rapid population growth in the 1950s and 1960s transformed the metro area.

  • Kimuell-Gabriel, Nancy. “Ang Kabaihan ng Tundo Pagkatapos ng Digma.” Daluyan: Journal ng Wikang Filipino 2 (2015): 110–148.

    Describes the lives of Tondo’s women from the end of World War II to the start of martial law in 1972. Title translates to “The women of Tondo after the war.”

  • Kimuell-Gabriel, Nancy. “Tundo: Pagkatapos ng Paraiso (1902–2010).” Saliksik E-Journal 5.1 (2016): 94–167.

    A history of the Tondo neighborhood in Manila over the course of the 20th century. Title translates to “Tondo: After paradise (1902–2010).”

  • Laquian, Aprodicio A. The City in Nation-Building: Politics and Administration in Metropolitan Manila. Manila: University of the Philippines, 1966.

    An examination of Manila in the 1950s in terms of services and infrastructure, administration, electoral politics, and reform initiatives.

  • Mactal, Ronaldo B. Kalusugang Pampubliko sa Kolonyal na Maynila, 1898–1918: Heograpiya, Medisina, Kasaysayan. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2009.

    A study of sanitation and public-health efforts in Manila under American colonial administration. Title translates as “Public health in colonial Manila, 1898–1918: Geography, medicine, history.”

  • Pante, Michael D. A Capital City at the Margins: Quezon City and Urbanization in the Twentieth-Century Philippines. Quezon City, Philippines: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 2019.

    A history of Quezon City, with a focus on urban-suburban and urban-rural dynamics.

  • Reed, Robert R. Colonial Manila: The Context of Hispanic Urbanism and Process of Morphogenesis. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.

    A treatment of the Spanish walled city of Intramuros and the Indigenous and Asian outcast populations living outside the walls in Extramuros.

  • Torres, Cristina Evangelista. The Americanization of Manila, 1898–1921. Quezon City: University of the Philippines Press, 2010.

    Discusses the provision of health and sanitation infrastructure and education under American colonial rule, and the dynamics of the colonial relationship.

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