Like most cities in Asia, the large urban centres of Manila and Cebu are characterized by substantial differences in wealth, power and status. While the small business and political elite live in opulent gated communities and condominiums, there are many more poor people living in squatter settlements in self-built housing. Yet with economic growth over the past two decades, both cities have also seen a growing number of people variously positioned in between, and accommodated in new ‘middle class’ residential subdivisions and apartment buildings, as well as by new giant shopping malls and other such consumer amenities.

Focusing on the built environment, this project explores the shifting social relationships between these different layers of people, in reference to such matters as disputes over land and architectural aesthetics, differences in the socio-spatial organization of neighbourhoods and the boundaries between them, and the manner in which people across these different layers engage with each other, for example through family connections, leisure activities, and service or charitable work. The point of the research is to better understand the changing nature of urban social, cultural and political life in two major Asian cities, in particular to consider the ways in which these changes are played out around the built environment and through relationships of inequality.