Leaving big cities–Part of the new normal?

A young couple in London was interviewed in a recent CNN Business article about their decision to move out of the city—something unheard of practically a few months back. As the article explains, many people have tolerated the smaller living spaces combined with the noise and pollution, in exchange for the vibrant culture and lifestyle that London provides. But the Covid-19 pandemic has restricted exactly those things, with many social activities and businesses limited in capacity. Hence, such an upheaval has prompted many city dwellers to consider living elsewhere. 

In New York City, a comparable urban exodus appears to be taking place, according to a New York Times article. Instead of the lack of culture and an active lifestyle, young couples in New York talked about how unemployment and subsequent lack of opportunities brought about by shuttered businesses have made the Big Apple lose much of its luster. As the article puts it, moving trucks lining the streets have become a common sight across many blocks of Lower Manhattan. 

Will something similar happen in the Philippines? According to a May 2020 market outlook by online real estate marketplace Lamudi, more from Metro Manila were inquiring about properties outside of major urban areas and central business districts (CBDs). Before the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) was implemented, only 25 percent of survey respondents were interested in non-CBD areas. This has since jumped to 83 percent in May, where 50 percent were exclusively searching for non-CBD properties. And the top 3 most-searched provinces were Batangas, Bulacan, and Cavite. 

This uptake in property inquires outside of Metro Manila could be pointing indirectly to how the Covid-19 pandemic has made city life even more difficult and untenable. The demands of social distancing and self-quarantines could be pushing NCR residents to move out into the provinces—or at least give it some serious thought. 

Indeed, the pandemic has laid bare many things in our country that need improvement or rethinking. And among these include the long-standing imperatives to decongest our urban spaces, develop the countryside, and stimulate economic activity across a bigger swath of the country. We could achieve these goals faster if we entice and enable more of our people to work online and get into digital careers. 

As the articles above mentioned, people are leaving the big cities, relocating to nearby provincial areas or returning to hometowns in part because of the advent of work-from-home jobs. A majority, if not all, of these WFH jobs are enabled by the Internet, and require that people have digital skills.

This is exactly why the National Digital Careers Act or SB 1469 which we filed needs to be passed and enacted as soon possible. The NDCA bill outlines what educational, upskilling and reskilling programs we need to get our people ready to take on digital careers, as well as what legal documentation should be in place to protect them as digital workers. 

There is of course the issue of Internet connectivity that still needs to be addressed. So, as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, we aim to ensure that in the coming years, the government will invest more and act more decisively toward fulfilling its mandate to deliver Internet connectivity to more citizens and finally bridge the so-called digital divide. 

I have always believed that we should build up our digital infrastructure across the country, in every nook and cranny and not just in major cities. Because in doing so, more of our people will have the opportunity to work as digital workers from the comforts of their own homes, wherever that is. That, in turn, could help us decongest overpopulated areas like the National Capital Region.  

If more of our people are looking to leave Metro Manila and other major urban areas like Cebu or Davao City, then we as a country should look into supporting “remote work” arrangements such as WFH. We should be enticing more people to take on digital careers, while making sure that we take decisive steps to improve connectivity all over the country.

Sen. Sonny Angara has been in public service for 16 years—nine years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and six as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws. He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.  

 E-mail: sensonnyangara@yahoo.com| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara



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