Metro Manila’s decay: Finding opportunity for the rest of the country

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ARCHITECT FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.

THE urban core of Metro Manila has started to decay, and the only hope for it to start to regenerate is if the adjacent cities and provinces will become well-planned counter-magnet developments. If you compare a city to a human body, the heart is the central business districts areas; the roads, waterways and transportation system are the arteries; and the green spaces and parks are the lungs. The storm drainages and the sewage treatment plants are the kidneys. Looking at Metro Manila as a human body, the mega-city needs a double heart bypass, a lung transplant, and a kidney transplant.

But make no mistake, the decaying of Metro Manila emphasizes the country’s decade-long erroneous national budgeting allocation. It should no longer be treated as a primal city or, as many call it, “Imperial Manila.” It is time to reallocate the bigger part of the national budget away from Metro Manila, and towards the other regions, most especially the Visayas and Mindanao.

The most important lesson that cities should take note of is to not copy the mistakes of Metro Manila.

Signs of urban decay
1. When traffic management is no longer enough to resolve and ease extreme traffic congestion.


There are simply too many vehicles plying the streets, going beyond the actual vehicle road capacity. This is a classic lesson for urban-regional planners and policymakers; if you plan a city to be car-centric, the continuous increase in the volume of vehicles will outgrow the growth of road development. Metro Manila, after World War 2, has copied the planning principles of Hollywood and Beverly Hills, Los Angeles—a car-centric, subdivision growth-dependent city. After the OPEC oil crisis in the 1970s, Los Angeles has been trying to correct its car-centric model, and it took them more than 40 years to at least mitigate the negative impact of car-centric cities, such as mile-long traffic congestion, car-dependency, and unbalanced real estate growth.

2. When the cost of housing and real estate is no longer affordable to majority of the employees working in the central business district areas.

Many policymakers and businessmen thought that it is an ideal city plan to create a train system to bring people to and from work, while in fact this type of spatial planning is a corrective measure for being unable to fix the spatial and physical development of a matured city. The daytime population of Makati is approximately around 11 times the nighttime population. It means that the few access points of the Makati central business districts would need to accommodate millions of people and passengers, and the main access points are EDSA, C-5 connector roads, Buendia-Taft, and Makati Avenue.

3. When solid waste is growing faster than the holding capacity of dumpsites, and water waste, especially medical waste, has nowhere to go.

4. When the cost of education grows faster than labor wages.

5. Decaying infrastructure, narrowing of sidewalks and decrease of green and open spaces

6. When freight and goods can no longer move.

Developing well-planned counter magnets
In the immediate vicinity of Metro Manila, the Bulacan-Pampanga megalopolis development, Eastward-Taguig-Laguna development, and the Batangas-Cavite megalopolis development are the immediate growing urban cores.

In the Visayas and in the Mindanao area are: Metro Cebu, Metro Iloilo, Davao Gulf megalopolis, Metro Cagayan, Metro General Santos, and Metro Zamboanga, among others. Here are essential tips to take note of when planning these cities:

1. The city should be pedestrian-oriented and human-centric. The No. 1mode of transportation is walking, then biking, mass-transportation, watercrafts, airports, ride-sharing, and the last should be private cars. The city should have wider sidewalks with landscaping as buffer zones from the moving traffic, well-lit neighborhoods, and no double parking of vehicles on sidewalks.

2. Low-density zoning and gated subdivisions should be heavily penalized when the area has been already identified as a central business district zone. Previously low-density zoned houses should be encouraged to go vertical to accommodate the growing housing demand of the central business district and to stabilize the prices which is heavily affected by supply and demand.

3. Develop good education centers and schools, and make sure to involve the universities in solving social issues. Most of the researches are done by the universities.

4. Develop good healthcare and hospitals to prevent patients traveling hours to a hospital, and to avoid over-congestion of patient care.

5. Give generous tax incentives for developments that promote sustainable and green development. This is the best way to encourage developers to go beyond the minimum/obsolete standards of the law. This has been done in Singapore, South Korea, Dubai, London, Paris, and other well-developed countries.

6. Develop core competitive advantages that no other city or region can replicate, and government should help develop and promote that advantage.

Moving forward
More than the efforts of government, the business community and civil society have equal roles and duties to fulfill in solving the social ills of our community. I also believe that genuine change starts with ourselves. Even the smallest and simplest of actions can spark the remaking of our society.

After traveling to more than 72 cities and helping out 39 countries, I have found that there are five ingredients of success for globally competitive cities. These are strong political will, visionary leadership, good planning, good design, and good governance.

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