Open public spaces


    Sustainable cities can help developers create more viable communities
    AMID today’s growing urban development in the Philippines, ensuring sustainability among its major cities is quite a challenge for developers, communities, and the government. This increasing urbanization has also been attributed to main city drawbacks such as the lack of green and open spaces, depletion of resources, pollution, and overpopulation.

    Urban dwellers
    More than half of the world’s current population, in fact, is composed of urban dwellers. Overpopulation, according to the World Health Organization, is highly concentrated in the world’s less developed regions. By 2050, the organization predicted, 70 percent of the said population will have migrated to the cities.

    Similarly, in the Philippines, urban population has increased to more than 50 million over the past five decades. Which could reach to 102 million by 2050, or more than 65 percent of the country’s total population, according to the World Bank Group (WBG)’s “Philippines Urbanization Review.”

    Sustainable cities are usually tagged with a vista of natural open spaces, reduced waste, having a sense of community, integrated transportation plans, and environmental diversity.

    “The Philippines is one of the fastest urbanizing countries in the East Asia and Pacific region,” the report read. “[The] urban density overall is high, particularly in Metro Manila, one of the region’s fast growing mega cities.”

    The organization added that urbanization had correlated with economic deficiency and growth in the Philippines, as concluded in other countries. “Evidence from today’s developed countries and rapidly emerging economies suggests that urbanization and economic growth go hand in hand,” it said.

    Noting that the Philippines has not profited from urbanization as much as other countries, the organization added: “There are a number of underlying structural issues affecting urbanization in the Philippines in various ways.”

    In spite of the problems that make urban areas less livable, however, maintaining sustainability among cities can actually help developers create more viable communities for citizens. Also labeled as “eco” cities, or settlements designed to have minimal impacts on the environment, sustainable cities feature managements that focus on reducing the usage of energy, food, and water, as well as minimizing the generation of heat and pollution.

    Govt initiative
    Sustainable cities are usually tagged with a vista of natural open spaces, reduced waste, having a sense of community, integrated transportation plans, and environmental diversity. As most experts put it, the first step to attain sustainability is to recognize a city’s real size, and harmonize it with its social and economic potentials.

    Arcadis, the Amsterdam-based design, engineering and management consultancy, has listed the European cities of London, Copenhagen, Berlin, and Madrid as similar to the Asian cities of Seoul and Tokyo when it comes to being among the world’s best in sustainability, owing mainly to their excellent public transport systems.

    “Europe dominates the top of the index… many of these European cities benefit from established and well-used metro networks such as London’s Underground, strong bicycle infrastructure in cities like Amsterdam and Copenhagen, and high shares of commuters using public rather than private transport,” it said.

    Arcadis related the cities’ cleaner air and greener mobility systems to their lower emissions incentives and sensitivity with the environment. “Cities such as Zurich, Paris and 18 other European cities reflect these characteristics and sit in the top quartile of the Planet sub-index,” it added.

    To help the Philippines’ striving cities achieve and maintain these characteristics, the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) recently presented a nationwide initiative that aims to support the development of open public spaces. With a budget of P2.5 billion, the initiative complements the Duterte administration’s massive infrastructure development program dubbed “Build, Build, Build.”

    This is also part of the country’s long-term national policy directives that aim to give citizens access to safe, accessible, and green public spaces. The program is also aligned with the planning and strategies of the National Urban Development and Housing Framework, exhibiting the government’s stand on the role of public spaces in the successful creation of sustainable cities.

    Breathing spaces
    An active collaboration with the local government units is a must to realize the DBM project, especially on the construction of breathing spaces within their respective establishments. This could be done, the DBM said, by enriching open spaces in public buildings and upgrading the streets, waterfronts, and plazas, as well as improving the connectivity and accessibility of spaces by constructing bicycle lanes and walkways. Not only are the foregoing measures aspects of sustainable living, they likewise help preserve the cultural heritage and identity of a city, according to the WB Group.

    Also, the primary strategy that most communities explore today is the installment of open spaces in public establishments. Aside from giving convenience to citizens, such as providing a suitable area for them to socialize and practice an active lifestyle, public spaces have proven to be useful for disaster resiliency and emergency response. This plan can also be beneficial for communities that have become more vulnerable against man-made disasters through the years.

    A public open space and green infrastructure can also be combined as a strategy for critical flood risk management, especially for urban areas, such as Metro Manila, which experience flooding frequently.

    Walkable cities
    Initially, several cities and provinces in the country have inspired the creation of a government-initiated assistance program. The Iloilo Riverside Esplanade, for instance, won for the Iloilo province a spot in the 2014 list of five most walkable cities recognized by the national government. The success of the Esplanade had stemmed from the collaborative efforts of the provincial capital of Iloilo City, its residents, and some renowned leaders to rehabilitate the Iloilo River and relocate more than 1,000 informal settlers.

    The People’s Park, in Davao City, in the meantime, used to have insufficient maintenance before its transformation into a popular recreational area that boasts an oval racetrack for joggers, a lush greenery, man-made bodies of water, and various artworks that reflect the culture of the province’s inhabitants.

    The Iloilo Riverside Esplanade and the Davao City People’s Park are two examples of public spaces that help promote a healthy lifestyle and, at the same time, serve as avenues for socializing and community building. They also attract investors and create more jobs for the residents, the DBM said. One of the program’s objectives, therefore, is to make day-to-day urban living better for everyone.

    The Philippines, indeed, should adopt urban-planning principles that are parallel with its cities’ needs and capacities. Through efforts made by the LGUs and their stakeholders, highly urbanized cities may also concentrate on technological innovation and transportation efficiency, as well as on increasing its labor productivity.


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