Conjuring a Capital City: The Spatial Evolution of Quezon City, 1939-1976


Michael D. Pante

PhD defended at: 

Kyoto University


This dissertation presents the historical geography of twentieth-century Quezon City. It covers the rise of Manila’s suburbs from the late nineteenth century to the prewar years, Quezon City’s founding in 1939, the postwar decades that saw its rise (in 1948) and fall (in 1976) as national capital, and the 1986 EDSA People Power, which symbolizes a new era in the city’s history. It is not a mere narration of local historical events, as it traces Quezon City’s spatial evolution against a changing sociopolitical backdrop, especially in relation to the city’s stature as the nation’s purpose-built, planned capital. This work tackles not just the cartographical changes in Quezon City’s territory, but also its various geographic features—e.g., the friar haciendas and prewar subdivisions, the emergence of residential segregation through consumption variations, secluded school campuses, even its impermanent barricades—and how these details inform and respond to social transformations. Historicizing these morphological features buttresses the dissertation’s main argument: that Quezon City was a borderline capital, a phrase denoting the city’s status as the nominal center of the country and its literal place right outside Manila’s boundaries. Such positionality influenced the diverse—and often competing—facets of the city’s historical geography: as a sanitized suburb, as Manila’s dumping ground for informal settlers and vice, as a reproducer of conformist subjectivities, as a haven for crime and rebellion. This schizophrenic geography made Quezon City a buffer zone mediating between Manila and the surrounding hinterland. As the interface between city and countryside, Quezon City developed due to the urban–rural overlaps of sociohistorical forces crucial to the formation of the contemporary Philippines, e.g., colonialism, revolution, agrarian unrest, decolonization, migration, and authoritarianism. Not quite Manila-centric, this dissertation is twentieth-century Philippine history from an off-center point of view.