City of Manila

Of Binondo’s “New Chinatown”

There has been so much talk about the need to revitalize the City of Manila. With so many plans being done or still in that “pipeline hell” to answer that particular need, there is one particular plan that has generated much interest and controversy at the same time. To say the least, it is an interesting development plan to look out for as this one aims to put a different face to the overall makeup not only of downtown Manila, but also the popular shopping district of the Binondo-Divisoria area.

Dubbed as “Cityplace,” this is a residential/commercial development project masterminded by Megaworld: the same developers behind Eastwood City, McKinley Hill, and Newport City. It is also strategically located along the busy thoroughfare of Reina Regente Street, just a few steps away from the Binondo center and the beloved Chinatown area there.

Cityplace in Binondo. note that one street (La Chambre) is being pedestrianized as part of the development

But as interesting as this concept of a “new Chinatown” to be a catalyst of sorts for Manila’s development, how it was conceived was a subject of great controversy by itself. You may not imagine it now, but the area where Cityplace Chinatown now stands used to be the site of, not one, but two public high schools: the Raja Soliman High School and the Jose Abad Santos High School which stood for about 50 years now. During the term of Manila Mayor Lito Atienza in 2006, an agreement was made between the Manila city government and Megaworld which transferred the title of that property to Megaworld in return of Megaworld handling the construction of the school buildings where the 2 schools will be transferred to. (albeit no longer located near other anymore as was the case before) The rationale behind the transfer according o then Mayor Atienza was that the area was no longer conducive to learning with the growing traffic and sprouting of the shopping places nearby (AKA the “numbered” shopping malls like 168, 11/88, etc.) and the move will benefit the students and teachers that it will be a better environment where they will move to.

the New Raja Soliman High School located in Urbiztondo Street in San Nicolas district, one of the two schools constructed by Megaworld as part of its deal with the city government in return for the construction of what is now Cityplace

Expectedly, it drew protests among some of the students and teachers, heritage advocates, and even politicians like Alfredo Lim who was a senator that time. In fact, he vowed to stop this deal if ever he would become mayor. (elections were up the following year and it became a contentious issue) But fast forward to 2008 and Lim is now mayor, who is also singing a different tune now as he agreed to the deal, provided Megaworld will “help” in the construction of a district hospital in Binondo, located near the school complex of Jose Abad Santos High School, which would become the Justice Jose Abad Santos General Hospital.

one of the residential towers at Cityplace

As of this writing, the project itself is not yet fully completed but the core components of the development are already in place it seems. There is the residential component made up of the twin towers and the commercial component comprised of two sub-components. One of them Cityplace Square mall which caters to the lower-end segment of the market. (thus being the direct competitor of 168 and the other numbered malls in the area)

Binondo and Chinatown history along the walls of Cityplace Square
typical of the nearby low-end shopping areas nearby it is competing with, Cityplace Square stalls are of the usual spaces with curtained metal grills that secure them

Then there is the flagship of the area, the Lucky Chinatown Mall. Cheesy the name may be but it is one classy shopping mall that is the first of its kind in the area known as a bargain shopping haunt. The trademark Megaworld touch in its commercial complexes is very evident in this mall.

The exterior is also taken into consideration as well as there as under construction at this time is the Cityplace Walk which gives the vibe of an outdoor shopping experience especially along the shops of the still-to-be-completed Cityplace Square 2 which sports an architecture similar to the buildings in the “Chinatowns” of Hong Kong or Singapore. (kinda ironic if the project aims to be “respectful” of the heritage of our Chinatown which looked nothing like what the Chinatowns of HK and Singapore look like) Now I’ve also heard originally there was a plan for a hotel and a BPO component for the area but the hotel component at least is already scrapped. No word on the BPO’s who will be based here as well.

reminiscent of a Hong Kong street scene

In any case, it is interesting to see how Cityplace will be like once it is fully developed, whether it will be able to live up to its vision of giving a new face to Manila and Binondo in particular or will it end up to be just another chokepoint in the city’s overcrowded development. We shall see how this will turn out.

Acknowledgements as well to Megaworld, Skyscrapercity, and Ivan About Town

© The Urban Roamer

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