Planning and design of economic zones

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ON March 16, 2021, it will be 500 years after Magellan discovered the Philippines. On Monday, March 16, 2016, I will be a guest speaker at the American Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines to talk about “Philippines at 500, Philippines 2021 and beyond: Vision Plan and Manila Megalopolis 2021 towards 2050.” I will be sharing my development vision for the Philippines, which will hopefully be instrumental in bringing the Philippines well into the top 20 economies of the world by the time the country reaches its 500th “birthday.”

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The vision plan 2021 puts forward a strategy to create urban development corridors by clustering major cities as urban growth centers to act as counter magnets to Metro Manila, spurring new investments nationwide and redevelopment opportunities in the other cities, creating jobs and economic opportunities for the urban poor in the provinces. A Manila Megalopolis 2020 vision that I put forward in my Harvard term paper back in 2003 showed how the Philippines could create pockets of efficiencies and strong regional economic activity by connecting major transportation nodes to decrease rural immigration to the already congested Metro Manila.

The role of economic zones and how to design them
Aside from decongesting Metro Manila, economic zones are vital to the growth of our nation for they encourage international trade and contribute to the overall Gross Domestic Product. In our country, the Philippine Economic Zone Authority (PEZA), though Republic Act No. 7916, is the government agency tasked to promote investments, extend assistance, register, grant incentives, and facilitate the business operations of investors in export-oriented manufacturing and service facilities inside selected areas throughout the country proclaimed by the President of the Philippines as PEZA Special Economic Zones. I also believe PEZA is the most efficient national government agency today.

In our involvement in the master plan and design of economic zones and business parks in the Philippines, Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture have come up with four essential considerations. First, know the current products and employment of the local population and use the information to their benefit. For example, if the major income source is agricultural, then post-harvest facilities would be good to incorporate in the plan.

Second, an ecozone must have efficient transportation links. It would not work if connections to air, land, and sea are lacking. According to transport and infrastructure planning expert Sigurd Grava, who wrote the rather comprehensive “Urban Transportation Systems: Choices for Communities” in 2003, there are actually 18 modes of urban transportation systems: walking, bicycles, motorcycles and scooters, automobiles, paratransit, taxis, buses, bus rapid transit, trolleybuses, street cars and light rail transit, monorails, heavy rail transit (metro), commuter rail, automated guideway transit, waterborne modes, special modes, and intermodal terminals. Add to that our seaports, airports, and other transport modes, and we have 20 modes of transportation.

Another point to consider is designing the streets in the human scale. In relation to transport, it is necessary to prioritize walking and biking within ecozones. As such developments usually occupy big plots of land, this could be a bit trickier to execute so it would be best to work with master planning experts.

Last, but definitely not the least, ecozones should have a mix of uses. It cannot all be industries and offices. There should also be places to live, dine, play, shop, and worship, among others. Mixed-use developments also provide for different incomes, generations, and housing types.

A new economic zone, masterplanned by Palafox Associates, is soon to emerge in South Cotabato as PEZA grants economic zone status to Richmond Land’s 59-hectare project. Located in Polomolok, a first-class municipality in the Philippines, the property is envisioned to be a manufacturing and information technology hub with places to live, work, play, shop, dine, recreate, learn, and worship.

The property will be named as the Mindanao Economic Development Zone. It is a mixed-use development taking inspiration from the form of a tuna (native fish), for which the province is very well known. The master plan includes provisions for a hospital, business park, university town square, hotel and convention center, commercial, and transport terminal. It will also have its own facility for waste water treatment. The development is also designed to prioritize the pedestrian through walkability and bikability. The area’s proposed 30-meter-wide roads are large enough not only to accommodate private and public transportation but especially for tree-lined bike lanes and walkways. Pedestrian green bridges will connect the priority areas within the ecozone.

Through the creation of the economic zone in South Cotabato, as well as future economic zones to be made, it is expected that the quality of life in different localities will improve and, at large, contribute to the sustainable growth of the Philippines. Hopefully before our 500th anniversary, our country will achieve its aims to enhance the economic opportunity and provide a strong social support structure for people throughout the country.

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