The 8th Safest City: Artificial or Real?

Iloilo City is hailed as one of the safest city in Southeast Asia as it landed in the 8th spot in the Top 10 list. This is according to the online survey site called Numbeo. The result was neither confirmed or assailed by the newly-elected chief executive. In fact, reports from local media and bloggers revealed that he was elated by the findings. 

Ilonggo netizens were also quick to embrace the good news considering the fact that four cities in the Philippines made it to the “prestigious list”. Not in the order of ranking, the cities that were included are the following: Davao City, Makati City, and Cebu City. Interestingly, these urban centers stood side-by-side with cities in Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Indonesia. 

The report emphasized that the Numbeo result provides a good baseline data which could be useful for investment and tourism promotions for Iloilo City, especially that it provides an information related on the living conditions of cities and countries that were surveyed.  

As an emerging economic hub in the Visayas, the survey result offers an excellent value proposition for those who are eyeing to visit the city to map prospects for investment. It is also a brilliant promotions material for tourism, particularly on MICE events (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) for it is now a major priority of the local government.

The question however is this: Did the Numbeo result reflect the reality on the ground? Did it capture the elements of a multifaceted issue like urban safety or it merely glossed over the matter by riding on the perception being created by Numbeo?  

From a communications perspective, the immediate approval by netizens confirms the effectiveness of using the marketing and communications method called value proposition and framing.The effectiveness of these methods are well-tested in the corporate setting. It however poses numerous risks, especially if urban safety is not a major priority by the LGU in terms of investments and program implementation. 

First, the risk of using the value proposition approach without real evidence. Value proposition offers a promise of a value, may it be a product or services, to a potential end-user or a consumer. It communicates a benefit that can be derived from a product. It also justifies the value for money, thus the price tag.

In this example, peace and safety is the valued product. Recognized as a major concern of any would be investor or visitor to the city, the Numbeo result is a product which serves as a buy in. It conveys an invitation to a company, an organization, or travelers to come to the city because it is a safe city. I bet you, this will emerge in the MICE promotional materials of the city government. 

Urban safety, however, is a difficult product to promote because of its complex nature. This is a type of product whose effectiveness is dependent on systems which are tested by real-life events or informed by simulations from similar real-life events. In particular, safety entails human security. 

While Numbeo is an online platform recognized as a website with the biggest database on the cost of living and living preferences of urban dwellers all over the world, the accuracy of its data remains questionable, because it is dependent on perceptions. The result showed that the crime rate meter for Iloilo City is moderate and safety is high when you walk around during daytime. 

Yet there is no third party who validates or audits its data sets. As such, its survey results while useful, may shape perceptions that are not grounded from reality. That makes it risky for the city government to capitalize on the result and use it as a value proposition.

Without presenting real indicators from the end of the LGU, the Numbeo result only creates an artificial expectation and it speaks volumes of the level of internalization and self-actualization of our LGU leaders as far as transparency, accountability and good governance is concerned. 

Second, the risk posed by benefitting from framing. By this time, a certain number of people has come to believe that Iloilo City is indeed a safe city.It may possess the condition and a general characteristic of being a safe city, but these conditions may change sooner than later with all the development that is taking place. 

The purveyors of economic development for Iloilo City may have taken advantage of the over-all peacefulness of the city and by taking into account that Ilonggos are not violent people by nature. But development creates new challenges. Economic progress increases population and this alone creates a natural pressure on cities as a result of the growing demand for housing and quality services on healthcare, power, water, and transportation.

The experience of advanced countries will help crystallize these risks. Foremost of which, wealthy urban centers serves as a mirror of the widening income divide among its people. It makes “safe cities” an attraction and also a target of unrest and terrorist activities. 

This is the reason why the framing of Iloilo City as a safe city presents a potential security risk. We are aware that the LGU possess a very low-capability to address the many threats to security without necessarily underscoring terror attacks. The way the LGU responds to flooding from hours of continuous rainfall alone demonstrates its regretful level of preparedness in spite of the infrastructures that were put in place.

In addition, Iloilo City’s inability to provide security proportionate on the number of delegates attending a MICE event is an example by itself. The lack of system and protocol on safety and security have showed in a manifold of ways.I have received feedback from friends who have attended conventions that the organizers of events have observed lenient safety and security system and which are not compliant to international standards. 

Bearing in mind that safety also deals with infrastructures, some of them have likewise expressed disappointment on the substandard facility of the Iloilo Convention Center. They have raised issues of ICC’s not compliant on the required international standard for convention centers – from acoustics, to kitchen size, to exhibitors space. They ended up coughing out more funds to cover for additional costs.

There are pillars by which governance of safe cities are measured like, for instance, the one being used for Safe Cities Index. There are guideposts that can substantially help determine the level of safety of cities apart from Numbeo. At the very least, the city government could have accepted the Numbeo result with a caveat so that the public will approach it with a grain of salt. 

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