THE most walkable city will be the most profitable, as well as the safest, healthiest, and most livable. The reasons are simple, and we can take a cue from the logic of the design of shopping malls. In a comfortable walking environment, like that of strolling along a mall, it takes a person at least 10 to 15 second to go by a shop. Compared, let’s say, to a person running, like a pedestrian who is afraid of being held up or “madukutan” or like a person riding a car with a minimum speed of 20 kph, that person will only have 3 to 5 seconds to look at the shop. Another logic of shopping malls is to make walking as safe as possible so that the windows of the shops will be able to maximize the attention of a pedestrian, unlike in an unsafe sidewalk or someone who is driving in a car, the attention is elsewhere.
I have friends who barely walk going around Manila, or other Philippine cities, but when they are in the mall, I am surprised that they walk an average of 10,000 to 12,000 steps, and these friends are in their not so young years, or as I often joke, in their recycled teenage years. This phenomenon could be a case study for urban planners, architects, and even business owners and those working for government. The challenge is, how do we replicate the same conditions for our streets and for our neighborhoods. It does not take a Harvard education, or any high institutional training to realize that shopping mall owners have spent the most amount of time and money studying pedestrian walking behavior. We need to adopt the same principles to our sidewalks, to our neighborhoods, and to the entire planning of the city.
In past decades, European cities have applied these to their cities, most especially when they were trying to recover the economy from the impact of the World War 2. France and Italy have retained their old age tradition of walking cities and alfresco dining. East Germany, after the fall of the Berlin wall, first felt the resurgence of small shops along the road, commonly known to Filipino’s as “bangketa.” Bazaars and flea markets were spurring the local economy back on track. For all walkable cities in Europe, these cities have strong local economies and strong sense of identity. In London, pubs selling craft beers, and other artisan shops are proliferating.
It didn’t take long for Asian cities to follow. During the 1990s, even if Japan was the second biggest exporter of automobiles, Japan has one of the best mass transportation systems and the most walkable cities like Tokyo. Just a few months ago, I brought the most hardworking employees of Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture to Japan and Hong Kong so that they could observe the impact of walkable cities and how design works. It is such a pleasure to walk in the cities of Japan and Hong Kong, whether it is along the main urban cores or in the rural areas.
In the year 2000, South Korea, just in time for the FIFA world cup, had restructured its mass transportation system. As a follow-up, the 11km Cheonggyechon elevated expressway highway, which resembles the elevated highway along Magallanes, was removed. It is now known as one of the most beautiful green spaces and parks in the world. The once aging downtown of Seoul, South Korea, experience economic resurgence and became the symbol of innovation, walkability, and sustainability.
In the past few years, China as well learned how to plan cities and it’s certainly not the model of Beijing. Shenzhen is shaping up to becoming one of the better planned, mass-transport and pedestrian-oriented cities of China.
Reimagining Philippine Cities: Building businesses around walking
The health and wellness revolution has yet to take off in the Philippines. Left and right gyms and fitness centers are popping up, and it must be that profitable considering the number of stores went up in a short amount of time. At night, not only Ayala Triangle are filled with joggers, as well as Marikina Sports Stadium, Clark parade grounds, Philippine Sports complex, among others. Because of lack of active spaces, or the being deprive of the mere activity of walking home, more and more citizens opt to go to these confined places.
Imagine of making EDSA as the longest walkable green linear park in the country, imagine Binondo and Divisoria as walking streets only during the weekends, imagine if more Philippine cities will be pedestrian centric and not car centric, this will spur strong local economies and the idea of having more malls may disperse into neighborhood districts.
Philippine cities today are copying Metro Manila, even the obsolete and erroneous architectural and planning mistakes of the megalopolis. The reason that the transportation woes of Metro Manila are difficult to resolve is that Metro Manila continues to follow a 40-year-old mistake of car-centric planning, which was made famous in many American cities during the post-World War II period–cities such as Los Angeles, Hollywood and Beverly Hills. In a country like the Philippines, only around 5 to 10 percent of the population can afford cars, so why allocate most of the road to this small percentage of the population? On the other hand, car sales are expanding faster than new roads are being built. Until when will this be sustainable? Car consumption has risen to 30 percent, but does the road capacity increase by 30 percent as well?
At EDSA, more than 70 percent of road space is used by private cars. Coupled with the issue of poor terminal design, open access, and an inefficient train system, EDSA will implode, most especially if the 300,000 new automobiles will increase even by a few hundred thousand. By 2020, EDSA may move at two kilometers per hour during rush hour.
The most disruptive innovation for 2018 will be walking, and building businesses around it.