‘Better connected, vertical cities’

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ISSUES of environmental degradation, inability to adapt to the negative impacts of climate change, food security concerns, inefficient urban mobility, and the “uglification” of streets and neighborhoods, are all results of apathetic and dispassionate actions of individuals, organizations, and government agencies deciding on the built environment. If we take a step back and look at the bigger picture of congestion and sustainability, it is really a basic problem of integration and being conscious on how one’s small action greatly affects society as a whole.

Last July 7 in the Asia CEO Forum, I gave a talk, together with my daughter Urban Planner Karima Palafox, on how to actively confront this issue through transit engaged mixed-use developments and tourism development as drivers of sustainable cities and inclusive economic growth. This also promotes the humanization of our streets.

We discussed how cities such as New York, London, Paris, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Bogota in Colombia, Madrid, Dubai, and Singapore were able to achieve converting their old cities into an urban landscape of renewed human interaction, revitalized economic activity, better urban mobility and preference for walking and biking. Creating an integrated transport system and encouraging mixed-use vertical urbanism not only prioritizes pedestrians but also significantly shortens the hours lost in traffic. We also discussed how these actions led to sustainability— a process for succeeding integral human development and economic needs and wants while efficiently preserving the natural environment and ecosystem.

We also shared the Urban Plan we developed for the city of San Juan in becoming more inclusive and sustainable, and why it was distinguished in Berlin as a sustainable city of the future. Our plan for the City of San Juan includes the development of an integrated transport system and incentivizing vertical developments that cater to a mix of uses, including places to work, learn, shop, dine, and worship, etc.


In our talk, we described several drivers for a sustainable city, but for this article I will only focus on transit-engaged mixed-use development.

Transit engaged mixed-use development
The concept of solving congestion is fairly simple, but notoriously difficult to implement. Its goal is to lessen the travel time of citizens, encourage walking and biking, and integrate regions to create counter magnets by leveraging opportunities in other areas. Prioritizing private vehicles as the mode of transportation sets a domino of consequences ranging from misuse of environmental resources, “uglification” of cities, to systemic congestion.

The tendency when the number of cars increase is to widen and create new roads. Commonly, trees and sidewalks are removed to accommodate them. Looking at the economic output of the automobile industry, it will continue to increase over the years. Also, by adding more roads, it would lead to the development of urban areas that are formed out of proximity and not of strategic planning; this concept is referred to as Urban Sprawl. The negative result of urban sprawl is that it increases the incidence of traffic congestion; people live far from where they work; and agricultural areas are converted for other uses, which threatens food security.

With Metro Manila’s 16 million population traveling in its streets daily, there is a need to develop a holistic, integrated urban mobility plan. Currently, the cities only have two major modes: Private cars, and an inefficient bus, train, and jeepney operation. Included here is the development of EDSA as the super-regional mall corridor of the country.

Imagine a car occupies at least 2.5 meters of road space while carrying an average of two people, while a 12.5 meter bus and 18 meter super bus can carry about 40 and above passengers per travel. If we have 700 cars per hour, only 1,400 passengers per lane per hour can be accommodated.

Car-centric to transport centric
It is obvious that the discipline of buses and jeepneys had become unbearable. Adding to that, anecdotal research tells us that Filipinos walk 400 meters a day only. Perhaps it is because we are spoiled by “stop anywhere” tricycles, pedicabs, jeepneys, buses, and the like. There is a need to create a Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT) like that in Colombia and Mexico. We should also adopt the multi-mode transport mindset of Singapore, South Korea and Japan, where they developed and widened walkways to encourage walking, bike lanes, a higher capacity train system, and clean river network systems. The objective of these countries is simple and similar to ours; to move millions of people as fast as possible with the shortest route while maintaining it to be healthy, enjoyable, and safe.

By 2050, the Philippines will need to add 100 new cities to accommodate the influx of additional 54 million Filipinos, 70% of whom will live in urban areas. It becomes urgent that we individually start evaluating our value and outlook for all the members of society, then begin to campaign for a more inclusive and sustainable city.

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