FIFTY years ago, New York very much resembled Metro Manila today. It was a car-oriented city which used 70 percent of its roads for cars, narrow sidewalks, and “eskinitas” that parallel the dark back alleys of Brooklyn. Houses and residential blocks were bulldozed to give way for highways and freeways.
But today, New York has transformed. It is a walking city filled with street life and is becoming a symbol of the green revolution. Faced with tremendous challenges of food and energy security, citizens themselves began converting their homes and rooftops into gardens which grow urban organic produce. Today the government gives enough incentives to show its authentic support for the conversion of New York into a green city. But more than incentives, a state that faces the sea and a river, the government strove to build enough infrastructure to prevent or minimize the impact of flooding.
New York started its green revolution in the 1960s as it rallied for a greener and a pedestrian-oriented city. It was only in the late 1990s and early millennia that the rest of the world, especially Asia, and South East Asia have started adopting it. For our part, Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group participate in the “2030 challenge,” which aims to design carbon neutral buildings by 2030.
A green city emphasizes ecological balance among social equity, natural environment and economics. It makes sure that production is moved to a sustainable level and at the same time maintaining control of the rising carbon emissions of the city and the rest of the world.
On the other hand, because of technology a concept has emerged: Smart cities. It is making use of technology to compliment the green conversion and to render it as economically sustainable. Smart cities integrate technology with green concepts.
The Green Urbanism movement
In his book “The Principles of Green Urbanism: transforming the city for sustainability,” Steffen Lehman highlights 15 core principles toward an integrated approach to green development. Green Urbanism seeks to reduce carbon footprints in communities and destinations. It ensures that the community achieves a balanced lifestyle where there is work, play, live, and worship.
Greening our cities involves lessening our vulnerability to the effects of climate change by considering the site context in the design. It should take into account the rising sea levels, storm surges, tsunamis, wildfires, flooding, and other possible disasters. Reducing our waste through effective waste management also helps in clearing our waterways, thereby allowing floodwaters to flow out of the city. Green, open spaces should also be maximized as areas for recreation, providing clean air to the city, and as potential refuge during and post-disaster, among others.
Efficient use of energy as well as production of renewable energy is also a feature of green urbanism. It seeks to lessen carbon emissions and our dependency to fossil fuels. This principle also aims to make industries cleaner through green building practices and sustainable purchasing. Cooperation from local and national government is also needed to incentivize green practices and developments. Other important aspects of green cities include low-impact public transportation systems, affordable housing and mixed-use developments, food security, and public health.
Converting Metro Manila from the home
Conversion could be difficult because it entails letting go of things that we are familiar with. Despite new technological breakthroughs, new ideas, perspectives and techniques, old habits still prevail. But there is a saying “changing the world starts with changing the self.” Converting Metro Manila will need to start from the home.
In the household level, the biggest waste comes from the air-conditioning and from the toilet. The air-con takes up 70 percent of the energy bill, and this is the same for malls and buildings. A simple shift of changing old models and buying an inverter type can save the up to 30- 45 percent of energy. Imagine if at least 10,000 household and all malls and buildings will change. Energy consumption of the city will greatly decrease, and the construction of more coal-powered and diesel-powered plants will not be needed. This will significantly decrease carbon emissions.
Converting Metro Manila at a regional and city level
One of the things that the government can do is to promote national sustainability and green programs. If needed, the government can also implement higher standards as a pre-requisite and not just as an incentive. Meaning, the government should create a national sustainability plan and green building code.
The government should also realize that converting car-oriented cities to pedestrian-oriented cities not only yield a healthier and more beautiful city, but also with high economic gains. Countries such as South Korea and Singapore, and lately Bogota in Columbia, have proven that the city could start with urban mobility and mass transportation infrastructure. Mixed-use developments should also be encouraged over urban sprawl wherein low-density houses and closed gated communities are developed. In time, this kind of development becomes a problem in the flow of traffic and the maximization of land.
Certainly, converting Metro Manila into a greener and smarter city is not impossible. It only takes visionary leadership, political will, good design, good planning, and good governance.