• Improving the livability of our cities

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    THERE is a worldwide trend, according to a United Nations study, that more people are living in the urban areas. By 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population would have been living in a city. In the Philippines, Metro Manila is growing by 60 persons per hour and is identified to be one of the fastest growing cities in the world in terms of population, according to a Harvard study in 2000.

    Today, the latest of census of 2010 shows that Metro Manila has 11,000,000 citizens. But if we consider the daytime working population, citizens who travel from nearby areas of Bulacan, Cavite, Laguna, Pampanga, and Tarlac, we have a working population of 16,000,000.

    People opting to live in urban areas is not a bad thing. As a matter of fact, it would help the country more by being able to use the land efficiently in the rural areas to improve food security, preserve the natural environment, put up other necessary facilities. By 2020, Manila Megalopolis will have at least 20 million people.

    The three questions that we should ask to determine if our cities are really built for people are: What is the quality of living? How does the city respond and react to the changing weather and climate? Last but not the least, is our city consuming natural resources efficiently for economic and human development? These three questions are encapsulated by three themes: Livable, Resilient, and Sustainable cities. All three concepts are founded on the common ground that people are at the center of the city and that going green and sustainable are essential. The idea is to embrace the three themes as we build new cities and rebuild new ones. Here are the principles that we should use as guide when we build our cities to become more livable.

    Becoming a more livable city

    1. Urban mobility and mixed used development
    Among the most crucial things that the city should immediately address are urban mobility and the efficient but humane development of living quarters. The main objectives here are travel time and road density. What the people need is the ability to go to places in the least possible time. As he saves time, he is able to spend it on other things like leisure and more time for family and friends. So, it is important to strictly layout a mass transport system such a Bus Rapid Transit system, an improved MRT system, and proper loading and unloading zones for jeepneys and tricycles. In this manner, the need for private vehicles does not become a priority. The construction of more roads will also not be necessary and it can be allotted for bike lanes and open spaces instead. We should consider all 20 modes of urban transport.

    On the other hand, mixed-use development creates a community where everything is within reach – places to live, work, learn, play, dine, shop, and worship, among others. Imagine how much people are traveling from Bulacan and Quezon City everyday just to work in Makati. The strain that this causes is the increased usage of the roads, hence the impact of more traffic

    2. Develop more affordable and mixed-income neighborhoods
    Cities should also be able to accommodate people of all income levels. Affordable, mixed-income neighborhoods enable the poorest of the poor, the middle class working professionals, and the rich to have equal access to amenities/privileges that the livable city provides. Elsewhere in the world, 80% of developments are for people who “can afford” and 20% are allocated for the urban poor. Many of those who avail themselves of low-cost housing within the city are senior citizens who want to be able to live near their grandchildren, while the parents (working professionals) are busy with their jobs. These types of neighborhoods are not just mixed-income, but cross-generational as well.

    In their essay, “The Neighborhood, the District, and the Corridor” for Peter Katz’s pivotal book The New Urbanism: Toward an Architecture of Community (McGraw-Hill, 1994), Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk say it perfectly, “The choice is ours: either a society of homogenous pieces, isolated from one another in often fortified enclaves, or a society of diverse and memorable neighborhoods, organized into mutually supportive towns, cities, and regions.”

    3. Create more green developments
    People interacting with nature is growing more distant each day. Sidewalks are stripped of plants and trees, and open spaces are converted to more residential and commercial developments. Increasingly, developments are contributing to more carbon emissions which is not helping curb climate change.

    The city needs to reintegrate nature to the lifestyle of people and the government can encourage this by creating a national sustainability plan or a national green plan. Contractors and developers should be mandated to find materials from a nearer radius instead of importing. Through this effort, material selection is integral to their building design. They should also promote a more green and sustainable design that would lessen energy and water consumption. Research also shows that interacting with the environment, such as walking and biking, improves a person’s health and perception of a more satisfied life.

    As we build and rebuild our cities, we should ask ourselves: Are people the priority of our cities? Everyone deserves a better quality of life. In the end, development is not worthy of the name unless spread evenly like butter on a piece of bread.

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