METROPOLITAN Davao is one of the fastest growing cities in the Philippines. According to the 2013 economic research of the Urban Strategies Group of the University of Asia and the Pacific, Davao City ranks second in the index of market potential for cities. The index has three dimensions, namely market growth, market spending capacity, and business and commercial support.
But Metropolitan Davao is only a part of a grander vision for the region of Davao. It is but a centerpiece for the emergence of the Davao Gulf megalopolis.
I believe that the realization of the full development potential of the Davao Gulf megalopolis is one of the missing pieces that will bring the Philippines to the top 20 economies of the world.
Emergence of Davao Gulf megalopolis
Geographically, the Davao Gulf area (more than 300,000 hectares) is much bigger than Manila Bay (over 200,000 hectares). The Davao Gulf can house the biggest seaport of the country and become the trading gateway to Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines-East Asia Growth Area (BIMP-EAGA) and to the Oceania continent, especially with Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea.
The total land area of all the cities and municipalities around the Davao Gulf is 868, 598 hectares. This includes the municipalities of Panabo, Carmen, Tagum, Island Garden of Samal, Mabini, Maco, Pantukan, Banaybay, Lupon, San Isidro, Governor Generoso, Davao City, Sta. Cruz, Digos, Hagonoy, Padada, Sta. Maria, Malita, Don Marcelino, and Jose Abad Santos.
The Davao Gulf megalopolis is 16 times the size of Singapore, four times the size of Hong Kong, and twice the size of Dubai. We need to realize that there is more to our country beyond Metro Manila and start considering what other regions have to offer.
Metro Davao as an integrator
Metropolitan Davao plays a unique role in Mindanao. It has the influence to jump-start in integrating key cities of Mindanao, as far as Cagayan de Oro. Apart from being one of the key proponent of the Mindanao Rail, it has the capacity to become a center for value-added and post-production, especially for agri-industrial produce. It is ideal for Metro Davao to be the center for value-adding services because of its fully functioning seaport, its seaport’s capacity to expand, and because of the Metro’s capacity to give high-quality education.
It can spearhead Mindanao, along with key cities such as Cagayan De Oro, General Santos City, Zamboanga, Cotabato, Surigao, and Butuan, among others, in developing new agri-industrial business and economic value-chains.
With the expected improvement of the Davao International Airport, it can expect a drastic increase in domestic and foreign arrivals. Davao offers a lot more than her famous durian and banana plantations. One cannot miss going to the Samal Islands, and visiting the indigenous communities such as the Manobos and Bagobos. Moreover, Mount Hamiguitan in Davao Oriental was named a UNESCO world heritage site. It can be expected that the 8.3 percent gross domestic output during 2016 will steadily increase, as foreign direct investments and new economic opportunities would soon emerge.
A more walkable and bikeable Metro Davao
In last week’s column, I wrote that in 1905, visionary architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham designed Manila according to the principle of the City Beautiful and City Efficient, taking inspiration from the bay of Naples, the canals of Venice, and the rivers and wide walkable boulevards of Paris. During that time, Manila was one of the best planned cities and other countries looked up to it. However, after World War II, it seems that Burnham’s plan was forgotten, and Manila has instead taken inspiration from the 70-year-old mistake that is the car-centric planning of Los Angeles.
Metropolitan Davao needs to act fast before it transforms into the next Metro Manila. No metropolis should copy the urban design of Metro Manila. Whenever I visit cities and municipalities around the country and ask the locals what is their dream and vision for their community, the response that I often receive are these: we want to be the next Makati; we want to be like Manila with all of its business opportunities. With this I respond by asking them if they want to have the “traffic grabe” of Metro Manila, as well as three-hour commutes, less family time, rising housing costs, un-walkable streets, poorly lit neighborhoods, and smog-filled air? I go as far as asking them if they want to have their own EDSA.
Metro Davao needs to develop a comprehensive transportation and mobility plan, widen sidewalks, and avoid developing more gated subdivisions in the central business district to avoid strangulating traffic, which is now happening in Makati.
The Metro can also develop its water transportation by inter-connecting cities across the Davao Gulf and entry to downtown Davao through the Davao River. The Metro should utilize all possible modes of transportation that are people-centric. In this manner, the Metro can develop a mass-transit system with the likes of South Korea and Japan.
The leaders of the Davao Gulf megalopolis area should also realize that waterfronts have amenity value and are considered as prime real estate in developed nations. The waterfront should not be treated as back of the house but as areas of value and social space.
I believe that the next six years will give our country an opportunity for genuine reform and change. Mindanao is taking a major step in the right direction by prioritizing projects that will improve connectivity, convergence, context, corridors, and networks. Instead of putting up walls, the Philippines is building more bridges. Improving peace and order as well as promoting unity in diversity will also be crucial for growth to be inclusive. With this, bringing the Philippines well into the 21st century—a globally competitive country—will soon be in the horizon.