Friday, August 18, 2006

City Competitiveness

In the business world, competitiveness is a qualification that typically applies to a company, a measure of how it performs against others in its category. In today's globally interlinked economy, that measure is also applied to countries, usually as the aggregate of its commercial activity, its manufacturing production, and its intellectual capital output. But economically, a country is also the sum total of the competitiveness of its cities, and that's the rationale behind the Philippine Cities Competitiveness Ranking Project (PCCRP) of the Asian Institute of Management.

At first glance, city competitiveness may seem to be an exclusively economic barometer. The measure that stands out is the attractiveness of the city to potential investors, both within the city and without. But a city is not quite like a company whose purpose is an increase in shareholder value. A city is where people also where live and work, where they invest a lot of emotional attachment, and where they make their home not just with a view for their lifetime but for the generations to come after them. City competitiveness is tied closely to the happiness and satisfaction of its people.

In the previous incarnation of this column, I covered the results of the city competitiveness rankings which came out in early May of this year. That report ranked Davao as the most competitive city in the metropolitan category, and correspondingly, in the country as well. And how did Dumaguete fare? Let's just say that we could have done much better. We didn't make it into the top ten list of the small cities category, a distinction enjoyed by nearby Tagbilaran.

How did this state of affairs come about? Why, despite our vaunted position as university town and BPO destination, did we rank below our close neighbor? It was with questions like these that I and several other members of the Dumaguete community from academe, business, government, media, and civil society attended the PCCRP workshop held at Silliman University this week. Leading the activity was Prof. Mario Antonio Lopez of AIM, working together with the local team headed by Prof. Wilma Tejeros.

Some of the findings pointed to things we already know about, in fact, are issues the citizens have been raising for the past several years: unreliable and costly electricity, poor interconnection between telcos, heavy traffic, and the growing incidence of crime. Some of the findings were also eye-openers: that Dumaguete, comparatively, is an expensive place to do business in, that our local inflation rate is high, and that correspondingly, the prices of our basket goods also becomes high. Some findings were also alarming: the types of graduates we are producing do not match the needs of the local economy, ostensibly because our best and brightest students have their eyes set to opportunities outside of the city.

Some findings, on the surface, seemed contradictory unless one knows the peculiarities of the city. According to the study, we have a good road network and an acceptable vehicular density; however, our traffic management is poor. Of course, that's because of the pecularities of the stop-and-go traffic and whimsical habits of our tricycle drivers. According to the study, we have a good ratio of policemen to the population; at the same time, the incidence of crime and resolved murders is high. Draw your own conclusions.

The findings of the study and the proposed resolutions that the participants arrived at are too lengthy to cover in one column in much detail; they will have to be fodder for future columns. Three items, though, made their impression and should serve as the common thread of discussion for the weeks to come.

First, the need for a master plan, one that outlines the vision of the city independent of who sits in city hall. A city master plan is not one that lasts for a year, or even three years, or even six. It's a long-term plan, one determined not by political leaders but by the various stakeholders in the city.

Which is not to say that the city does not have a master plan. It does. It was drafted last year, and presented in the forum. But the fact that many of the workshop participants were seeing it for the first time also points to its deficiency, and therefore, the second impression: It's a plan that must be transparent and known by everyone. Every citizen should hold close to the heart, because it marks the roadmap for what the city is going to be. It's a plan that requires the ownership and commitment of everyone. And since a plan is only as good as its implementation, it also therefore requires regular checkpoint of the city scorecard.

And finally: the need to plan and realize a Metro Dumaguete. Dumaguete is one of the smallest cities in the country. Though we might hold pride of place among the towns and municipalities of the area, we cannot grow in isolation. In order to achieve economies of scale, we need to work with Valencia, Sibulan, Bacong, Tanjay, Bais, Siaton, Bayawan, and even Santander, Liloan, and Siquijor in addressing commoon issues. The degree to which our neighbors make progress is the same degree that we ourselves progress.

Ultimately, it's a matter of vision. As Prof. Lopez pointed out, a city becomes the way it is as a product of its vision and the manner in which the forces within the city interplay. Taking this view provides a new perspective on governance: governance is no longer what a government does, but rather, what a community wants it to be.