Rational Technology for July 23, 2006
Davao City--Like a famous monument that's too close to home to be admired, the Jacinto campus of Ateneo de Davao University has escaped my attention for the longest time. Lying just behind our pharmacy, it's disappeared into the background because of an excessive familiarity. That's probably the reason why I didn't pursue my degree in the school. But time and distance have a way of refreshing your perspective, and that's what I'm experiencing on this visit.
Not that it should be much of a surprise. For one thing, the campus has become the center of rapid commercialization. In the immediate vicinity are dormitories, restaurants, boutiques, shops, convenience stores, and Internet cafes, many of them springing up only within the past three years. Around the area are three major constructions, each one set to become a multi-story combination dormitory/commercial space.
The campus makes for a good case study of how a university can be the catalyst for renewed commercial development in its surrounding area. For several decades, changes in the neighborhood around the campus came in small increments. Then, in 2002, Ateneo inaugurated the thoroughly modern seven-story Finster Building. That's when the major changes started to happen.
From the outside, the Finster Building hardly looks like a university building. Ateneo brochures will no doubt point out the Finster Building's state-of-the-art multimedia-ready classrooms, research facilities, laboratories and ampitheater. Not so obvious from the promos, but quite visible from the street, is the row of commercial shops on its first floor. There's an NCCC convenience store, a Philippine Airlines ticketing office, a Netopia Internet cafe, and a beauty salon. This commercial area is just outside the confines of the school and therefore publicly accessible.
The city has also done its part. Finster's facade is along Roxas Street, and the local city goverment developed this into a generous eight-lane main road. It's an investment that's paid off. Try as they might, neither the jeepneys plying Roxas nor the cars parking on the curb can't really hog the road: it's just too big. And it's just as well. Roxas, via the Finster Hall, has become the main entrance to Ateneo, and that's where students take their rides.
Ateneo's commercial space combined with accessible parking and smooth-moving traffic has in turn attracted other commercial developments along Roxas. Establishments otherwise displaced from such a prime spot have also brought life to the other streets surrounding the school. Several blocks around the old Jacinto main entrance are now the site of dormitory/commercial space, a common enough combination in this area. It helps that there are two other nearby colleges also exerting demand for living space and services.
Development in these neighborhoods are a bit more haphazard, though. It's partly because many of the buildings had already been built prior to the resurgence. The rows of makeshift stalls housing barbecue joints and photocopying services highlight a typical problem: how do you prompt modern development in land subdivided among several owners who don't have the desire or the means to build new structures?
Other remnants of old habits in this part of the neighborhood are the "trisikads" that lie in wait for passengers. These are slow-moving, always take up a lot of space and their drivers are unmindful of the traffic they cause. Sounds familiar? It doesn't help that the roads here are narrower, made even more so by double-parked cars.
Still, these two problems are not insurmountable. Davao, of late, has shown considerable political will that's directed at positive developments in the city.
And what of the campus itself? You might be surprised to know that its land area is actually significantly less than any of the major universities in Dumaguete. Still, it houses 8,000 undergraduate students and a little less than a thousand students in the Law and graduate programs. Despite that, the school doesn't seem crowded, what with good use of high rise buildings. It still manages to have a small basketball court/stadium, a chapel, and a relaxing central garden.