WHEN an employee needs to travel two hours just to go to work, in the eyes of an urban planner, this is a big problem. There are two general insights from this: he is priced out and cannot afford to live nearer his work, and it is the best work he could find because his locality does not offer that same opportunity. If we multiply this sentiment to a million and more people, we will see the reality of citizens from Bulacan and Laguna traveling all the way to Quezon City and Makati to work. And even those from Quezon City and other parts of Metro Manila who travel back and forth to Makati. The result is dreadful traffic all over the metropolis.
But as we dig much deeper into this common issue of traffic we will find a deeper problem that Jose Rizal described as a “social ill” or “social cancer.” It is an issue of social inequality and inequity. During the Spanish occupation, town planning followed the approach of separating the Intramuros (or inside the walls) for the ilustrados, and Extramuros (or outside the walls) for the indios and sangleys.
If we look at our city from a bird’s eye view, we still see the segregation of social classes. The rich live within gated communities near Central Business Districts while the average employee lives much farther from places of work.
It is in no doubt that the zoning of social classes is a cultural problem in the Philippines, and it has been a perennial problem through the centuries. But I believe that architecture and urban planning may help alleviate the situation through the creation of mixed-income homes.
Let me share my ideas and insights regarding the issue. By 2050, the Philippines would have added 54 million more Filipinos. Around 70 to 80 percent of the population will be urban, which means we would need 200 more cities. Aside from creating new cities, we should also be equipping our existing cities to accommodate more people.
Why do citizens want to live in gated communities in the Philippines, while citizens in New York and London have moved to mixed-income townhouses and apartments?
After the EDSA revolution the first concern was and still is security. Because of high crime rates, the more well-off citizens are willing to pay more. Another is the size of the lot. Having a bigger lot is both an investment and speaks of one’s social status. This problem is not unique in the Philippines. This was actually the same problems that New York and London faced. So how were they able to somehow dilute some of the issues of social income disparity? They made sure that the development of houses will have the same design but pricing schemes are sensitive to the different classes. Part of it is that they made sure that it is architecturally pleasing and safe.
In Massachusetts, government was able to pass an “Anti-Snob Zoning Act” which encourages the development of affordable and multi-family dwelling units in towns otherwise dominated by single-family homes. This is done to address the demand for affordable housing, which should comprise at least 10% of the total number of residential developments.
There should be a balance of both function and aesthetics. People will always long for a beautiful affordable home.
The Philippines should adopt the pricing scheme of London. Our practice of mix-income housing is limited to segregated lot spaces, instead of themed beautiful homes that can be accepted by both the rich and the economically-challenged.
Another solution is the emphasis on compact and mixed-income buildings over low-rise residential homes in the urban areas. The reason that house prices are surging is that there is a high demand for space.
Aside from land zoning, in-building zoning should also be considered in urban areas. Mixed-use buildings, which integrate commercial, residential, and office spaces, should be preferred over single-use buildings. This will encourage maximization of space and can slowly cure the superiority complex of social classes.
Mixed-income as well as multi-family homes could create relevant impact. By going vertical or high-rise, we can avoid urban sprawl that could potentially eat up farm and forest lands.
On a social perspective, we prevent families from being apart because the father and/or mother have to leave the family behind to work in the city. He or she might only be able to see the family during the weekends or even less frequently. Also, senior citizens or grandparents who rely on pensions could be able to afford to live in the city, near their children and grandchildren.
We should start looking at the idea of designing buildings, houses and cities that promotes social cohesiveness and community building. As early as now, we should start promoting mixed-income housing as one of the means towards social equality and improving the livability of our cities.