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Alisa in the City

Editor’s Note: Below is an excerpt from a Sage Magazine blog entry “FESers in Cities” which featured the experiences of Yale University’s Forestry and Environmental Studies students in different cities around the world during the summer of 2013. The excerpt features our Urban Adaptation research intern Alisa Zomer.

“The streets in midsummer. There they lie! The sun beating down upon them all day long, until the stones are individually as hot as frying pans; and the gratings, as you inadvertently set your foot upon them, appear to be of the proper temperature to repeat the martyrdom of St. Lawrence on an unfortunate victim.” (The New York Daily Times, July 27, 1852)

This line appeared in a recent piece published in the New York Times on the lost journalistic art of capturing the visceral experience of city-living and extreme weather. Urban areas are the fastest growing human habitat with over 60% of people living in urban areas – that’s more than 3.5 billion people!)

To investigate these rapidly expanding urban ecosystems, a crew of Yale masters students set out across the globe to study, intern, and survive in cities. As part of our work with the Land Use and Urban Coalition at Yale (LUCY), we sent out a questionnaire to FES students working in cities in order to get a snapshot of their summer lives, from Beijing to Manila, San Salvador to Toronto, New York to New Haven… If we missed you, please add your thoughts and stories in the comments section!


Name: Alisa Zomer

City: Metro Manila, Philippines

Population: 12+ million

Average temperature and humidity: 85 F / 27 C; Humidity: 85% (August – not the hottest month)

Quirky city fact: Metro Manila is not a traditional “megacity” and is actually made up of 17 local government units that act as different cities and are separately governed. Makes planning kind of hard.

Summer work: Independent research on urban climate change adaptation in Metro Manila – a political science study of the obstacles and opportunities.

How has the city defined your summer? It’s a good thing Filipinos are known for their ability to laugh and make fun of just about anything. Located along the (drum roll) “ring of fire”, the Philippines is at the top of all the environmental hazards lists, including earthquakes, typhoons, and monsoons. In addition to these “natural” disasters, I would add traffic to the list of hazards that plague this country. When I arrive to an interview after two harrowing hours in commute drenched in sweat, choked by exhaust, and aching from stop-and-go whiplash, somehow my carefully studied research methods fly out the window. Each interview completed is a milestone and just arriving (on time or not) is a small victory. Ridiculous traffic is the normal state in Manila and Filipinos sure know how to make the best of it – with laughter.

How do you stay cool in the city? A handkerchief to wipe the sweat or a fan are your best weapons against the heat in Manila. Urban Filipinos flock to the malls to enjoy free air conditioning in the evenings and weekends. I hate malls, but have learned to embrace my inner-mall fanaticism for a moment of cool relief. There are no less than five malls right next to my office, one named after Muhammad Ali’s infamous fight “ The Thrilla in Manila”, and all of which I have shamelessly come to know intimately.


Mangosteen: a local favorite of Alisa’s

Biggest urban environmental challenge? Flooding? Air quality? Waste? It’s honestly hard to know where to start, but my gut says that the biggest urban environmental challenge is people and competing interests. Those in power blame the poor informal settlers for clogging up waterways and exacerbating flooding. The poor blame those in power for the seemingly endless cycle of poverty and lack of opportunities for jobs and housing. And those in the middle, sometimes take sides, but mostly are working hard to stay above the fray. The solution involves more integrated planning, which requires cooperation across the 17 local governments. And, we all know that working together hard, so perhaps some people power is needed to bring real change to the system.

Favorite city hangout (and why)? Fred’s Revolucion in Cubao Expo. Located in the last remaining indy hub in Quezon City, Fred’s is the place to be for a post-work San Miguel, fresh mango daiquiri, or bangers and mash of all varieties. Themed on a pseudo-marxist riff, the bar is the hangout of choice for hipsters and environmental NGOs workers. Just a few weeks ago I had a casual beer with F&ESer Rex Barrer and the Philippine Climate Change Commissioner (#NBD). It doesn’t hurt that Fred’s is located right below my host organization, Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (iCSC), and one of the owners happens to be the iCSC director. By 4:30 PM the music starts and you can ring a bell to get a drink brought to your desk – once for beer, twice for whiskey. Yeah, it’s more fun in the Philippines.

Read the rest of the blog here.

Photo credits: 1st Photo – Reina Garcia; 2nd photo – Alisa Zomer