Planning and designing smarter cities

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A 2000 Harvard study shows that Metro Manila is one of the fastest growing metropolises in the world at 60 persons per hour, due mainly to in-migration. Delhi, India’s largest city and one of the most populated in the world, grows at 47 persons per hour.

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Metro Manila is a spectacular view of migration. Tens of thousands walk along the pedestrian walkways of Ayala Avenue, hurrying to lineup in designated waiting sheds for a bus, jeepney, or UV express. On the other side of the Megalopolis, hundreds of thousands of people walk along invisible sidewalks, often in the middle of car-laden roads. During downpours, after office hours means wading in the flood. Moreover, the queuing at the MRT extends beyond the station itself, most especially in Taft, Ayala, and North Avenue station. It is a movement of about 16 million people in a less than 50 kilometer radius, a shuffle of travel among work, home, school, worship and recreation.

There is a disparity of urban planning among the cities and communities in the Megalopolis. Some communities have begun initiating pedestrian-centric environments like the Rockwell Center, while most cities and communities do not even have sidewalks for pedestrians. The consequence is that many people are walking in the middle of the road, waiting for public transport, and thus obstructing flow of traffic. The average citizens cannot also afford to live near their places of work or the Central Business Districts (CBDs). They opt to live in farther areas and travel by car. One of the biggest consequences of poor planning is the amount of time citizens lose for family and recreation.

Sustainability and smarter design
According to a study by the United Nations, 70% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas by 2050. Population projection for the Philippines by that time will be about 150 million. This means, by 2050, about 105 million people will be living in the cities. In order to accommodate the rapidly growing population, the Philippines will need 200 new cities.

The Asian Development Bank’s Asian Development Outlook back in 2013 stated that one of the ways to sustain balanced economic growth and energy security in our country is to build “smart and green” cities.

The term “Smart City” emerged around 2004 from the Smart Growth movement of the late 1990s and became an indicator of different characteristics to measure the performance of cities towards smart mobility, smart environment, smart economy, smart governance, smart living and smart people.

Smart Cities are now widely viewed as the sound solution towards inclusive growth. If we are to develop smart cities in our country, good connectivity is crucial—how we can live, work, shop, dine, learn, worship, with healthcare, wellness centers and 24-hour cycle activity centers as closely as possible to each other. We must improve the mobility and connectivity in our cities and our country by creating smart urban developments.

One of the priorities of smart cities is pedestrianization. This includes the development of sidewalks, and putting an emphasis on walking and biking as the first two modes of transportation. In reality, there are 20 modes of transportation, which includes mass transport and private cars, but the foundation is pedestrianization. All modes of transportation are integrated to encourage this.

What needs to be done?

Since we do not have the luxury of starting from scratch, we need to draw inspiration from other cities and countries that have been moving towards smart development such as Bogota in Colombia, Curitiba in Brazil, Singapore, South Korea, and Japan.

These cities and countries have established a bus rapid transit, reliable trains, and an overall sustainable urban traffic management. This encourages people to use mass transport because it saves them at least 50% of travel time, than riding in cars.

Building more skyways is like cheating on your diet by loosening your belt. During rush hour, the average speed in EDSA is three-kilometers-per-hour, while the average walking speed is five-kilometers-per-hour. The key is to allocate more share of the road for walking, biking, and mass transport. In our projects, we always propose the rule of thirds for the design of roads: 1/3 for pedestrians (walkways and bicycle lanes), 1/3 for moving traffic (public and private transport) and 1/3 for trees and landscaping.

Moreover, another important solution is creating a national green sustainability plan for cities, and strictly implementing them. Local government units must be required to adopt sustainable policies. We need to give more incentives to buildings that will contribute in conserving energy, and sidewalk redevelopment, among many others. Conservation of energy is encouraged so that there will be more room for ecological preservation and sustainability. There will be a healthier environment where people live in a constant relationship with nature.

In the collaboration between Palafox Associates and the city government of San Juan, we created a plan to transform the city from vulnerability towards a safer, smarter, and more sustainable city. Among the proposed plans and policies include encouraging mixed-use developments, strict implementation of easements, preservation of green open spaces, application of Floor Area Ration instead of building height restrictions, and traffic management and improvement strategies like elevated walkways, tram system, motorist notification and advisory, and parking policies. If San Juan City follows Palafox Associates’ plan, the city will become a smart city by 2023.

For smart communities and cities to flourish, there should also be emphasis on its leadership and governance. It should be conducive for active involvement of citizens in decision-making and solution-finding processes, and collaboration between fields and institutions.

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