LAST April 17, a gathering of international professionals, industry economists, real estate investors, planners, businessmen, entrepreneurs, and enthusiastic guests held a forum to discuss the future cities of Asia-Pacific, the Asean and the Philippines. The Philippine chapter of FIABCI (Federation Internationale de Administrateurs de Beins et Conseil Immobiliers), in coordination with FIABCI Asia- Pacific, hosted the 19th FIABCI Asia Pacific Regional Secretariat Summit at the Manila Mariott hotel in Pasay City.
The 21st century will be the “Asian Century.” From the century of nations, the Asian century will be known as the “century of cities.” In the old world system, trade and dialogue of cultures used to dominantly converge in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic. But today there is a shift. With the booming population and the emergence and rise of new markets and industries in Asia, the Asia Pacific being at the strategic center in all its vastness is fast becoming the world’s center of trade.
By 2050 the world would have added around three billion more people and the Philippines would have added 54 million more Filipinos. Soon 200 new cities will emerge in the Philippines, and with light of a world context, tens of thousands of cities will rise within our lifetime. Seventy percent of the world’s population will live in cities and Manila alone, one of the fastest growing cities in the world, is adding 60 persons per hour. Infrastructure, growth center development and integration had never been more necessary. Population growth, congestion, climate change, and economic stability at the moment are hanging in the balance. What will be the future of our cities? Will our cities survive using its current methods? From the Flintstones to the Jetsons, however dreamlike it is, the future is getting nearer and becoming very much real. This article will be a three-part series as we explore and imagine the cities of the future, and get a glimpse from the post-cards of our future.
The evolution of cities
From port-oriented cities during the 16th century or better known as the age of discovery, a Portuguese explorer by the name of Magellan convinced the King of Spain to give him five ships to circumnavigate the world. He was off to prove that the world was not flat, as the ancient tales depicted and told. After numerous turmoils, deaths and uprisings, in 1521 on board the Trinidad, the Galleon that Magellan commanded, he saw the islands of Samar and would forever be known as the person who re-discovered the Philippines.
During the industrial age, the world moved, especially Europe and North America, to a railway-oriented city. Instead of using caravans to bring goods to far areas, the invention of trains made trade easier and integration more accessible. But in the 20th century, the inventions of the scientific revolution had delighted the world, horseless carriages were invented, and soon enough with the Ford-T model, the 20th century had become a freeway-oriented city. Traveling had never been easier, faster and cheaper. No need to travel in caravans, stopping to quench the horses’ thirst and fear the night as Genghis Khan like Bandits loomed around the corner.
Cities like New York started building mega highways, accommodating a hundred thousand cars per hour and the streets were filled with these motorized vehicles. Today at the information age, the global age, the emergence of an aerotropolis and the renaissance of megalopolis had started to emerge in Asia. In the late 70s, I was one of the privileged few who were able to design and plan Asia’s pioneering Aerotropolis city of Dubai, bringing it from the third to the first world in less than 15 years.
This story of the navigational feat of reaching out to the rest of the world gives us a glimpse of how our cities are built. It is built in the light of transportation and integration (trade routes). A city is never confined to itself, and it slowly expands and multiplies as it traverses near and far areas depending on its reach.
A look into our future cities
Traffic congestion is the most direct problem that we encounter every day. But it is quite interesting that speakers such as world renowned economist Dr. Bernardo Villegas and Chief representative of JICA- Philippines Mr. Noriaki Niwa both affirm what I and other planners think, that traffic is only a symptom of poor planning and lack of integration rather than the problem itself.
Because of the booming economies of Asia, especially the Philippines, tens of thousands of new cars are added to the streets every year. And commuting, biking, and walking are to many Asians, most especially Filipinos, unpleasant and unsafe activities. The streets are dense with exhaust fumes, have very few trees, are dirty and, this is the most unpleasant thing of all, are the scenes of goings-on that make Philippine cities have a high crime rate. Even if the cities add more roads and highways every year, outrunning traffic density is impossible because the current city plan encourages the people to need cars. While the 20th century thrived in this orientation, the question of sustainability arises.
For the next article, I will discuss the ideas presented during the 19th FIABCI Asia Pacific Regional Secretariat Summit on how walkability, infrastructure, integration and growth center developments intend to create more sustainable, livable and smarter cities. The concepts of megalopolis renaissance and emergence of aerotropolis are slowly gaining popularity as they address the future needs of our cities.