WAY back in 1977, Metro Manila was presented with an urban plan, and prior to that in the early 1900’s Daniel Burnham had a beautiful plan as well. Thirty eight years after, we still ask ourselves where this beautiful city is now. Where are the river transport systems that resemble Venice and Paris? Where are the frescos along the sidewalks that inspired Paris’ civic interaction? Where are the subways and transits which can move more than 20 million citizens like that of Tokyo today?
I want to share with you an excerpt taken from the MMetroplan published in 1977 by Freeman Fox and Associates:
“The Metro Manila region is by far the largest single urban area in the Philippines with a population of six million. It produces nearly one-third of the nation’s Gross National Product, and by value, accounts for close to a half, both of all secondary activity (manufacturing and construction) and of all tertiary activity (government, commerce, and services). The center of Government has the main international port, the only regularly operating international airport, and it is the center of both higher education and cultural activity.
The problems of Manila are to some extent unique in the Philippines and daily apparent since Government, the church and a large proportion of the nation’s population live with them. However they are by no means the Philippine’s greatest problems. The fact that there is such a strong need for people to migrate to Manila in the first place is probably the country’s s single largest development problem. Opportunities for social and economic advancement outside Manila are relatively limited, and until such time as that relative difference is reduced, continued migration towards Manila can be expected. However, priority is now being given by Government to rural development policies in different parts of the country.”
After 38 years we are still confronting the same issues that were identified– traffic development management, decentralization of Manila by way of new growth centers, and flooding, among others. Back then Light Rail Transit were proposed to intersect Taft Avenue all the way to Shaw Boulevard and the proposal for integrated bus system which was already an infancy of a PPP (Public-Private-Partnership) like setup.
It’s easy to belittle the impact of proper urban planning but in a macro level it becomes a systemic problem. A road without proper sidewalks becomes a less preferable route for people to walk through. A single street without a proper bus or jeepney stop becomes a chaotic loading and unloading zone, unperturbed by the beeps and anger of other vehicles, and consequentially bottleneck congestion. Multiply this to the whole city of Manila and what we have is a circus.
The proper thing to do, even though it is difficult to implement, is to create new zoning measures that promotes compact mixed-used and pedestrianization. We need to shift our car-oriented streets to a more holistic use where walking and biking is preferred. We need to make sure education and economic opportunity will be at par in different regions and cities. We also need ensure that economic gain does not trample on human development and environmental sustainability.
The MMETROPLAN on addressing hazards
After the tragedy of Ondoy, there were questions raised if ever there were a lax in the side of urban planning from preventing extreme flooding. The answer is no because the 1977 MMetroplan was very specific on the areas that are potentially prone to flooding. The areas identified were Tondo, Manila, Pasay, Mandaluyong, Pateros, Rosario and Cainta. If we take a look at the flooded areas during Typhoon Ondoy, it is the exact same areas that were identified 38 years ago. Meaning, decades ago, there was already a forecast regarding the reality of this problem and there were actually recommendations made. In the plan it recommended: “further development in these areas should be restricted.” The study has also warned on the lack of adequate facilities for the treatment and disposal of sewage. It even predicted that severe water pollution will continue in areas such as Laguna de Bay and Manila Bay.
One of the most important parts of the recommendations that we sent Malacañang in 2010 after the devastation of Ondoy and the earthquake in Haiti is the need to update Daniel Burnham’s 1905 plan for Metro Manila, the 2004 MMEIRS Report, and the 1976-1977 Mmetroplan. he government must promote flood-proof, fireproof and earthquake resistant measures by designating open spaces as evacuation places in urban areas, develop and strengthen urban facilities which can be used as comfortable disaster-proof living zones by creating individual citizen awareness for disaster prevention and response.
Among the adaptation and mitigation measures proposed by Palafox Associates is the regular deepening of silted lakes, rivers, creeks, and other waterways, coupled with pollution abatement measures and proper solid waste management. This way, our water bodies can hold more floodwater and reduce flood levels. In line with this, the hills and mountains near the catch basins should be reforested to help absorb more floodwater.
Problems no matter how basic cannot be buried in the depths of our concerns. We are too focused on economic growth without stopping for moment to reflect if it is sustainable or not. Yes we are experiencing an economic boom but currently at what expense? There should always be a balance between sociological, environmental, and economic needs.