The Chickens Come Home to Swim

flooding

Clean up the trash.

Upgrade the sewage system.

Pick up your trash. Don’t throw plastic into the rivers.

Rationally apply Urban Planning. Enough of “spot zoning”.

Don’t vote bozos into Congress.

Vote for bozos who provide winning solutions and demonstrated these in the past – not because they are “winnable”.

Everything that can go wrong, has gone wrong.

When nature came knocking at the door, people paid for these preventable mistakes with their lives.

This is an I TOLD YOU SO moment.

The chickens have come home to swim, in Manila.

Comprehensive Development Plans

The Philippines practices Urban Planning and each city has a Comprehensive Development Plan (CDP) crafted. Implementation is another matter though.

Coming up with a CDP is an involved process which entail a series of public hearings where the public provides its inputs to the CDP. In areas where the citizenry are uninvolved, the process practically institutionalizes the local elite’s dominance of the domestic market for goods and services. They can direct the development so that if they happen to have properties adjoining the area then there will be an appreciation of the value of the property.

However, the practice of “spot zoning” has rendered lots of CDPs inutile.

Spot Zoning

Wikipedia defines “Spot Zoning” as

“the application of zoning to a particular area within the jurisdiction of a government.Such a change may have a legitimate use, such as when a community wishes to have more local control of land use. This may occur in a rural county which has no zoning at all, where a village or hamlet may wish to maintain its characteristic feel and historic appeal (often to protect tourism), without adding another layer of local government and taxes by creating a municipality. The county designates the boundaries (often that of an already census-designated place) and maintain regulations through the county commission instead of a separate town council.

It may also be invalid as an “arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable treatment” of a limited parcel of land by a local zoning ordinance.[1] It is an invalid exercise of authority, if spot zoning is not a right conferred upon the body by the state’s zoning enabling statute, because it deviates from the plan set out by the enabling statute.[1]

The Planner’s Web website provides more details on spot zoning

Most planning commissioners have heard the impassioned cry that a particular rezoning decision will constitute an invalid “spot zoning.” This allegation typically arises where the community is considering the rezoning of a single lot or small parcel of property held by a single owner and the rezoning will permit land uses not available to the adjacent property.
Because spot zoning often focuses on the single parcel without considering the broader context, that is, the area and land uses surrounding the parcel, it is commonly considered the antithesis of planned zoning. While rezoning decisions that only affect a single parcel or small amount of land are most often the subject of spot zoning claims (as opposed to rezonings of larger areas), a locality can lawfully rezone a single parcel if its action is shown to be consistent with the community’s land use policies. As I will discuss shortly, courts look to the community’s comprehensive plan, or to other planning studies, in determining whether the rezoning is, in fact, consistent with local land use policies.

Of course, whether a particular rezoning constitutes an unlawful spot zoning depends largely upon the facts surrounding the zoning decision and upon the judicial decisions of each state. However, courts commonly note that the underlying question is whether the zoning decision advances the health, safety, and welfare of the community. A zoning decision that merely provides for individual benefit without a relationship to public benefit cannot be legally supported. Where a particular zoning decision is not supported by a public purpose, the zoning decision is arbitrary and may be subject to invalidation as unlawful spot zoning.

Although courts throughout the nation differ in their specific approaches when reviewing spot zoning claims, the majority consider:

  1. the size of the parcel subject to rezoning;
  2. the zoning both prior to and after the local government’s decision;
  3. the existing zoning and use of the adjacent properties;
  4. the benefits and detriments to the landowner, neighboring property owners, and the community resulting from the rezoning; and
  5. the relationship between the zoning change and the local government’s stated land use policies and objectives.

This last factor — the relationship of the rezoning decision to the community’s land use policies and objectives — is perhaps the most important one. As a result, when a planning commission (or governing body) initially considers a rezoning request it should determine whether the request is consistent with the comprehensive or master plan. Many communities’ zoning codes also require a separate planning study that examines the merits of the proposed rezoning. This further ensures that any rezoning is consistent with the community’s land use objectives, and not a case of spot zoning. The bottom line is that courts will give considerable weight to evidence that the locality’s rezoning decision reflects thoughtful consideration of planning factors.

It should be noted that there is one situation where a rezoning decision that does not conform to the comprehensive plan may nevertheless be upheld. That is where there is evidence showing significant changes in the community since the adoption of the plan that would justify a rezoning of the property. This is especially true where a review of other factors, such as benefit to the community and the size of the rezoned parcel, indicate that the rezoning was not merely intended to confer a benefit to the property owner.

source: http://www.plannersweb.com/articles/wid060.html, accessed 9/29/09

“Spot Zoning” is a lucrative business. Firms lobby legislators to pass the spot zoning ordinance. In the process, the bounty is distributed to all who vote in favor of the spot zoning legislation. This allows the likes of pig farms, coconut oil refineries, activated charcoal plants to operate within areas which are clearly zoned as residential.

If one were to review all the spot zoning ordinances, one will see the active players. Allegedly, the offer is made to the senior legislators, both the majority and minority floor leaders – and the leadership of the City Planning Office – all the way to the mayor/governor. This process is replicated many times over – through generations, through administrations, throughout the archipelago – no exceptions.

Looking to the future, the dynamics of “spot zoning” and homelessness need deeper examination if lessons are to be learned.

The Familiar Road Ahead

As people come to grips with the catastrophe and the fact that lives could have been saved, one can just imagine the wave of fingers assigning blame – the Blame Game. The Blame Game is a familiar group activity in the corporate world, here’s how it is played:

  1. Start by identifying a serious problem, the more imminent and avoidable, the better.
  2. Point your finger directly at someone who has nothing to do with the problem.
  3. Think of an unfounded, false accusation that implicates him.
  4. State it loudly and unashamedly. This is called Passing the Blame.
  5. Watch that person shrivel in terror.
  6. Play then passes to the person you’ve pointed at.

The object of the game is to keep the Blame Session going as long as possible. Remember that no one is ever allowed to offer an actual solution to the problem. You earn bonus points for blaming people not at the meeting while keeping the Blame Session alive. When any player is unable to Pass the Blame, the Blame Session ends. At this time, the players choose a Scapegoat.

One brief word of advice: If this game is an accepted part of your corporate culture, decide now to leave. Look for another job, or whatever it takes to get out. But do get out.

One Scapegoat to Take The Fall

“Someone Must Be Punished”, whether through demotion, redifinition of responsibilities, or exile to some concern of no value or importance. Termination is the toughest measure and used only rarely; though in a Fear-dominated culture the ScapeGoat usually does get sacked.

Failures have many causes. Too often the sins of all those involved are concentrated into the persona of a single individual, as though this figure, once “fixed”, will take away all the ills that have befallen the undertaken. It is essentially a ritual for the appeasement of external or public concerns. However, its traditional use is the punishment of a symbol in place of the review and re-engineering of more fundamental challenges.

When society lives by a culture of seeking scapegoats, the consequences can be disastrous. Placing the focus on finding someone to blame may let the real culprit go undetected. Genuine mistakes can keep on staying under the radar and graver results may occur.

Blame and Disempowerment

J Timothy King’s blog points out that in a recent research conducted by Raj Persaud, author of The Motivated Mind revealed that ““Blaming what happens to you on external forces encourages a victim mentality that frequently leads to inactivity and self-loathing.” When you blame others for your problems, it’s becomes more difficult to take on those problems, and even harder to solve them. According to Persaud’s research, this has a number of effects:

  • A victim believes he has no control over his own future. He feels helpless to change himself or the world around him. Why bother trying to control the future if you can blame it on someone else?
  • A victim takes the easiest way out. Why work hard if happiness is the result of forces beyond your control?
  • A victim seeks short-term gratification. He engages in opportunistic behavior. Why plan for the future if you can’t change it?
  • A victim does not face challenges and does not solve problems. Why bother doing something if your problems are caused by someone else? If your problems are out of your control?

As a result, placed in a Culture of Blame, enthusiastic and creative individuals may become:

  • Discouraged — You feel unappreciated and do not want to go out of your way to improve the future. You may even be told outright that your initiative is unwanted.
  • Dismayed — You lose your sense of direction. The choices that have always made you fruitful and happy are now being looked down upon.
  • Disengaged — You stop trying to do your best. Why bother if you’re just going to get in trouble for it?
  • Demoralized — You no longer even care whether you can make a difference or whether you can be happy.
  • Depressed — From Depression.com: “Some people say that depression feels like a black curtain of despair coming down over their lives… People who have low self-esteem and a negative outlook [like those mired in a Culture of Blame] are at higher risk of becoming depressed.” I’ve actually experienced this.
  • Departed — In a figurative sense, this can be the result of depression. You’ve simply lost touch with yourself. In a literal sense, I believe this can actually be healthy. Leaving a bad situation can be a step in the right direction.

Instead of assigning the blame for a problem, we can look hard for all the other reasons that may have created the problem.  If we want to work on solving the problem, we focus on ALL the issues that caused it. We can learn about what we did/didn’t do and what we can do to fix the part under our control. For the most part, we are made to believe that blame leads to punishment. And we fear punishment, so the blame is deflected as a first resort. Due to this fear of punishment, we gripe and bellyache about things beyond our control instead of making a difference in the areas where we can.

Some things you might encounter in a culture of blame:


  • “It’s not my fault.”
  • “Whose fault is it?”
  • “He did (such and such), which caused (some really bad thing).”
  • You don’t know what others are working on, what they think, what they feel, or what they need from you.
  • No one commits until after the issue is moot.
  • No one ever tries anything new.
  • Fear of getting caught on a technicality (because some people actually do).
  • That you can control your own destiny is seen as a idealistic, childish belief.

On the other hand, in a Culture of Examination, you’ll find:


  • “How did this happen? How can we make it less likely to happen again?”
  • People take pride in their work, and they’re not afraid to have it critiqued.
  • Constructive criticism.
  • A focus on results, not on technicalities.
  • Creativity and initiative.
  • An unshakable belief in future possibilities.

Source: J Timothy King’s Blog – “Why Leaders Never Assign Blame”

Blame disempowers and will not be helpful to the “victim”.  It also affects morale and productivity. It is difficult for people to be innovative, courageous, and ethical in a workplace where a culture of blame exists because so much effort is exerted to protect one’s ass. This does not mean that people will not be held accountable because any serious wrongdoing and unethical behavior needs to be dealt with judiciously and promptly. Blame for blame’s sake is counterproductive. However, taking appropriate responsibility empowers and lets us know what we need to do to fix things.

So how does a culture of blame take root? It can be due to a climate of fear instilled by a bullying boss or authority figure. Sometimes it’s because of a culture of “happy talk” or “blue sky” – people just want to hear the good news. When that’s all the “boss” wants to hear, people tend to keep away from passing the bad news. Or if “shooting the messenger” is widespread, people will keep silent and there will be no real accountability.

When there is a gap between what’s on the table and what’s not being said, then there are serious issues for an organization or a society for that matter. These are very ripe fields for a culture of blame to take root and flourish, because there is no tolerance for reality. And if it’s a harsh reality, then someone must be blamed.

Recognizing an Organization that Lives by a Culture of Blame

  • There is an element of denial, hand-in-hand with a zealous can-do attitude. The chief executive officer may only want to hear about successes and become distressed when news of problems arises.
  • In some cases, a boss who blows up over issues can keep underlings mortified about letting bad news filter up.
  • There is no tolerance for mistakes, however minor, and those who make them are reprimanded or shamed in some way.
  • In a blaming culture, there is scant positive feedback for the things that go well but there is swift negative feedback for the smallest of errors.
  • There are no rewards or recognition for taking calculated risks; therefore, most employees shy away from more challenging, high-risk issues, minimizing their exposure to fallout.
  • There’s a lack of courage among middle managers for standing up for decisions, opinions, mistakes and defending staff. Staff know this and feel vulnerable.
  • The paper trail is enormous. Several people or units sign off on every decision in order to spread the responsibility as thinly as possible.
  • No one wants to be on the hook.This can manifest itself in too many committees, excessive bureaucracy and confusing organization structures.
  • Usually the scapegoat is someone at or near the bottom of the hierarchy, as more powerful players become quite adept at avoiding blame themselves.

Source: Mary Pearson, Article on Globe and Mail, Published Friday, June 25, 2004

A Culture of Blame vs a Culture of Examination

The story of the little train that could demonstrates the superior results that can be generated from examination and movitivation. We have an intrinsic behavior to look for a scapegoat and we will find ways to justify why the person being singled out should take the blame. In this instance, blaming the employee will lead to passing the buck, and starting the blaming game. In doing so, we lose sight that the culprit could be a defective process or a defective input to the process. Thus, no matter who took on the role the result will always be flawed because the methodologies are defective in the first place – it was doomed right from the start!

The primal challenge therefore entails shifting from a culture of blame to a culture of examination. Assigning the blame is easy, motivating the stakeholders to become accountable for their future is where the crux of the matter lies. Apparently, people do not feel safe enough or confident enough to look truth straight in the eye enough to effect good.

And so the task of transformation continues – encouraging people to take a deeper examination of the issues that confront them in their daily lives and to resist the temptation to blame.

Ondoy is a catastrophe. Still, there is a bigger catastrophe that underlies Ondoy. The culture of blame has disempowered our capacity to do the right thing. We have surrendered our ability to change our political and economic institutions by playing the blame game. Our capacity, as a nation, for denial, for half-truths, for mediocrity, for idiocracy, for compromising our convictions, for not thinking things through – have now come back to haunt us not just in a the form of a rude awakening – but a deadly one at that.

What can we do right this time around? Are we willing to snap out of denial and look at the harsh realities that confronts us, and make the necessary well thought out  adjustments?  Unless we have fish gills, the next mega cyclone to hit us will not care how resilient we are – or whether bayanihan is alive or not – or if bayanihan is a behavior that is uniquely Filipino (please stop me from barfing).

Yesterday, the chickens came home to roost… este…swim. Tomorrow, the chickens could be in submarines.

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10 comments

  1. Nobody is ever truly prepared for disasters. That is Nassim Taleb’s thesis in his book The Black Swan. But let’s not confuse being unable to foresee disasters with being totally helpless in our efforts to mitigate their effects.

    The kind of rains that Ondoy dumped on Metro Manila, would’ve swamped even the best laid out stormdrain systems and the most modern disaster response regimes. But then, maybe a city with better stormdrain systems and more professional state services would’ve had come out of such a disaster with, say, 50% less destruction and/or, say, with 80% less deaths.

    There is so much pride and back-patting related with saving lives and relieving grief in the aftermath of this disaster. But if we use as an example the arbitrary figures I cite above, 80% less deaths (presumably as a result of better infrastructure, less garbage in our drains, and a more professional emergency response system) translates to 190-odd deaths prevented. Damage was mitigated by managing risk.

    Where was the risk management evident amongst a people who for centuries have lived in a region of the planet that gets hit by a handful of cyclones year in and year out? Even one tenth of the rainfall dumped by Ondoy already results in flooding in areas like Malabon and Espana.

    Even on a normal day, ambulances and fire trucks struggle to get to the people that need them because of Manila’s normal traffic.

    The obvious signs that Metro Manilans lead precarious lives were already there long before Ondoy struck. Losing focus on those banal realities because of several days of “heroism” and “bayanihan” is like leading a life of debauchery 11 months in a year and then congratulating yourself for a week or two of self-flagellation or bisita iglesia during the Easter season.

  2. What is the role of spot zoning in flooding?

  3. GabbyD:

    Spot zoning reclassifies individual properties with a classification that is different from other properties in the zoned area. For example, a factory is built in an area that is zoned for residential purposes.

    This creates more traffic, more loads, more trash disposal issues, more sewage issues than is allowed for a zoned area.

    The construction of new buildings and new roads increases the extent of impervious surfaces. During rain storms, the increased imperviousness accelerates the discharge of surface water runoff and raises flood peaks in the lower reaches of river catchments (also called watersheds).

    Replicate the process and you have a situation where a community’s carrying capacity for floodwaters is overwhelmed.

  4. B0:

    Exactly, having the right infrastructure and mix of services can mitigate casualties.

    Also, urban planners have decades ago, recommended that “magnet” facilities (i.e. offices/facilities that generate high traffic volume need to be relocated from the inner city to other areas in order to redirect the flow of traffic and urban sprawl. Alternatively, these offices can be spread out in a wider area – a branching strategy, so that clients need not be limited to just one location but have more options.

    The flow of traffic affects the flow of commerce – and with it, the developments that put an additional stress on the city infrastructure, including the storm drains.

  5. Indeed, it’s time we focus on preventive measures to augment the heroic breakdown measures we are so quick to slap the “bayanihan” label onto.

    I created a simple ‘systems diagram’ of the key factors that contribute to chronic flood-related disasters in the Philippines here. It’s never too late to prepare along these lines even if they are temporary measures, as long as a long-term plan to develop more sustainable solutions is formulated as soon as the storms subside and we all get a chance to regroup.

  6. The Messenger · ·

    Spot zoning? Why bother?

    As the ice melts, the sea levels will rise dramatically–sooner than you think.

    This map assumes 14M rise. Some are predicting 20M.

    http://flood.firetree.net/?ll=14.5198,121.2698&z=8&m=14&t=3

    Manila is lost. Move to higher ground people.

  7. Spot zoning isn’t a solution.

    Go uplands or become the Asian Vienna.

  8. hyden Toro · ·

    To find faults , point fingers and seek somebody to blame will not help us. It is too late
    for us to remedy the situation. We have to grit our teeths, bear up the consequences of what we
    have done to Mother Earth.

  9. This is a great post. This Culture of Blame study touches on a lot of things. I think a lot should read it. Our challenge is to get out of this blame culture. Thanks.

  10. B0:Exactly, having the right infrastructure and mix of services can mitigate casualties. Also, urban planners have decades ago, recommended that “magnet” facilities (i.e. offices/facilities that generate high traffic volume need to be relocated from the inner city to other areas in order to redirect the flow of traffic and urban sprawl. Alternatively, these offices can be spread out in a wider area – a branching strategy, so that clients need not be limited to just one location but have more options. The flow of traffic affects the flow of commerce – and with it, the developments that put an additional stress on the city infrastructure, including the storm drains.

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