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Taylorsville Journal

Cochran’s trip to Philippines gives him new perspectives on homelessness, mass transit

Oct 31, 2018 03:37PM ● By Jana Klopsch

Taylorsville City Councilman Curt Cochran (L) dines with a group of eBay-contracted phone center employees in the Philippines. (Photo courtesy Curt Cochran)

By Carl Fauver | carlf@mycityjournals.com

For three weeks earlier this year, Taylorsville City Councilman Curt Cochran was out of Utah and the United States, thanks to his quality analyst position with eBay. While he was gone, Cochran said he also had the opportunity to “quality analyze” life in the Philippines, to a small extent.

“The Philippines are very densely populated — particularly Manila,” he said. “Spending a few weeks there, I saw homelessness and traffic problems that make what we have here in the Salt Lake Valley look much easier to manage.”

The most recent World Urban Areas index produced by Demographia lists the Manila urban area the fourth-largest city on the planet, with a population of 24.1 million people and a density of 15,300 people per square kilometer.

That density is roughly 25 times that of Salt Lake County, which is 1,472 people per square mile. 

Cochran said he observed lots of social challenges, even in the less crowded areas of the Philippines where he spent most of his time.

“I flew from Salt Lake to Portland to Tokyo to Manila,” he said. “We then travelled about two hours northwest, near a city called Pampanga. Further north, I also visited another large city, Angeles.”

In and around Angeles, Cochran saw poverty and homelessness that put the Taylorsville challenges into perspective. And even that was minimal to the more than 3-million people living in the slums of Manila, with no electricity, sanitation or ready access to drinking water.

“I saw the real Philippines near Angeles — shanty towns and poverty,” he said. “You just look around and say, ‘Wow, is this the norm?’ You just want to scoop them up and get them out of there. We’ve had our problems (homeless encampments along the Jordan River) for quite some time. And they have gotten worse since the downtown (Salt Lake) shelter was closed. I don’t like having to move those people out. And I don’t like simply pushing the problem into another city. But we regularly hear about people being accosted along the river trail and we have to deal with it.”

The other primary challenge Cochran observed during his three weeks in the Philippines was traffic.

“I was a supporter of mass transit before I left, and it only got stronger when I was there,” he said. “I ride FrontRunner to work nearly every day, and I support the BRT (bus rapid transit) line now being developed to run from Intermountain Medical Center on State Street (5100 South) to Salt Lake Community College (4600 South. Redwood Road). I even have a niece who lives and gets around in the valley with no car at all. That can be a challenge, but she’s proving it’s possible.”

The councilman said his trip made him understand even more the critical importance efficient mass transit plans will have as growth continues in the Salt Lake Valley.

“We definitely don’t want what they have,” Cochran added. “When I rode in cars, I felt like I could reach out and touch the driver in the next lane. And road conditions? If our streets got anywhere near as bad as they are there, (constituents) would be calling me non-stop.” 

Cochran said one of the more popular modes of transportation in the Philippines are “taxis” that consist of a motorcycle with an enclosed sidecar.

“They also have tons of motorcycles (without sidecars) and scooters,” he said. “But the government actually discourages people from using those because they are so often used in the commission of crimes.”

A nine-year eBay employee, Cochran was one of five people from its Draper office to spend three weeks in the Philippines, training employees of a new third-party call taking company (VXI Global Solutions) how to handle eBay customers.

And following his soggy sojourn (“It was the rainy season; I only saw the sun once”), Cochran returned to Taylorsville more bullish on America than ever before. 

“Some of the people I was training nearly begged me to find them a job here (at eBay’s Utah office),” he said. “They know how much better we have it here. And so do I. We have traffic and pollution and homeless problems to deal with, but our issues are nothing compared to theirs. I have always felt very fortunate to live in the United States.”

Cochran said he loves learning about new cultures (“That’s why I asked to be the city council representative on the new Cultural Diversity Committee”).

But after his first-ever visit to the Philippines — and previous trips to Mexico and a few other locales — he said this is the only country he wants to call home. 

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