Simultaneously old and new, classic and modern, the City of Manila is redefining how a city plans for its future success.
From an outsider’s perspective, the term “Manila” is commonly used to refer to the whole National Capital Region (NCR) or Metro Manila. But strictly speaking, the City of Manila itself refers to the old capital founded by Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi in 1571 around the area what is known today as Intramuros, arguably the center of this sprawling metropolis, its cultural core, and the country’s seat of government.
Old and culturally rich, Manila has always played a significant role in Philippine history. It was already a trading center (thanks to its strategic location and a natural deep-water harbor) and a seat of power during its precolonial days, and it has witnessed the integration of different cultures through the centuries and how the past and the present influence the direction of its future.
Manila is home to colonial-era structures, such as UNESCO-inscribed San Agustin Church in Intramuros.
Binondo District, for example, is a bustling commercial center and is home to what is described as the world’s oldest Chinatown and perhaps the country’s very first central business district. Intramuros, the former seat of power during the Spanish times, boasts cobblestoned streets, a UNESCO-inscribed Baroque Catholic church, and old government buildings that remind us of the years past. Ermita and Malate, on the other hand, are formerly quiet residential communities that feature high-rise office towers, luxury hotels, and a vibrant nightlife.
Touted as the world’s oldest Chinatown, Manila’s Binondo District is the city’s main commercial and business district.
But even as Manila goes through significant revitalization, it has managed to maintain its historic charm. There are plans to revive well-known structures, rehabilitate its former tourist draws, and infuse the city with charm both old and new.
One of these projects is the rehabilitation of the Manila Metropolitan Theater (MET), a Juan Arellano-designed performing arts venue that boasts Art Deco architecture. After its ownership is transferred to the National Commission on Culture and the Arts, it reopened in December 2021 – exactly 90 years after its inauguration.
Another high-profile revival project in the city is the rehabilitation of properties operated by the National Museum of the Philippines, most notably the National Museum of Fine Arts, National Museum of Anthropology, and National Museum of Natural History. These neoclassic structures located right next to Rizal Park house centuries old artifacts and important works of arts, including the Neolithic Manunggul Jar, Laguna Copperplate Inscription, and Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium.”
And just recently, Manila opened the newly redeveloped Arroceros Urban Forest Park. Touted as the city’s “last lung” and its only nature park, this 2.2-hectare second-growth forest located on the south bank of Pasig River boasts more than 3,500 trees of diverse species.
Beyond the aesthetics, Manila remains a major center for commerce. The city has certainly stood the test of time, with its businesses continuing to thrive, solidifying the city’s attractiveness to local and foreign investments. In fact, in the 2021 Cities and Municipalities Competitiveness Index prepared by the National Competitiveness Council of the Philippines, Manila ranks as the second most competitive among all highly urbanized cities in the Philippines. The city ranks first in terms of government efficiency and infrastructure, fifth in terms of resiliency, and seventh in terms of economic dynamism.
A great example of a successful homegrown business in Manila is the pioneering hardware company of Co Ban Kiat (CBK) Hardware Inc. Incepted in 1920, it has seen itself overcome industry cycles and eventually recover from different economic circumstances. Their two office buildings, both located in Binondo – the modern A. CBK Building and the classic CBK Building II – stand as a fusion of the historic past and modern excellence.
The modern A.CBK Building was built as tribute for and in honor to the legacy of the current chairman’s father, Mr. Atilano Co Chin Hua. Alongside this new development is the classic CBK II Building. The later serves as a reminder for the family of where it all started and how each of their successes is attributed to it. According to Jan Vincent Cobankiat, the company’s Executive Vice President: “Binondo is the birthplace of our company and store. It is our duty and responsibility to maintain that connection with where we started. We want to set an example to encourage building owners to restore and create new properties in the community. In this way, we can rebuild Binondo and bring it back to days of glory.”
Indeed, Manila is experiencing rebirth. And there is nothing more worthwhile than to invest in a place where our hearts and ventures keep going back to.