“Make no little plans: they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work. Remember that a noble logical diagram, once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever growing insistence. Remember that our sons and daughters are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and beacon beauty.”
—Daniel Burnham, Urban planner and architect
IMAGINE Ayala Avenue without cars. At the heart of Ayala Avenue is a modern tramway like that of Freiburg Germany. It looks like a monorail train traveling at a speed of 15-40 kph depending on pedestrian crossing areas. At the center, there is also a dedicated road space for bicycles. The remaining 70 percent right of way of Ayala Avenue are for pedestrians only.
Imagine Ayala Avenue as a long linear park with a mass transit at the center. The sides can be used for well-designed pop-up shops with the likes of Las Ramblas Barcelona. Passengers coming from EDSA by bus or MRT are dropped off at an intermodal transit that is well-designed with alternative energy, ample natural lighting, and mass-transport signages and way finding. And they have the option to ride the electric tram, bike share platforms or walk.
One of the most memorable experiences that many Filipinos who go to visit places like Hong Kong, Seoul and Singapore is the ease of traveling within those cities. Even a first-time visitor can easily find his way around the city. Sidewalks are clean, wide, well-lighted at night, and are safe. No signs like “bawal umihi dito”, or “bawal magtapon ng basura”. No security guards requiring you to open your bags when riding the train or entering the mall, and most especially, walking is a pleasing activity.
From the standpoint of an architect and urban planner, these things are not revolutionary, they are the minimum. Mass transit, walking, biking, cleanliness, and safety are all basics. Metro Manila city planning and architecture need to go back to the basics.
Transportation and mobility
Vehicles are multiplying faster than roads are being built. On the other hand, in central business districts, it is no longer possible to widen and increase the capacity of the roads.
Philippine cities today are copying Metro Manila, even the obsolete and erroneous architectural and planning mistakes of the megalopolis. The reason that the transportation woes of Metro Manila are difficult to resolve is that Metro Manila continues to follow a 40-year-old mistake of car-centric planning, which was made famous in many American cities during the post-World War 2 period—in cities like Los Angeles, Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
In a country like the Philippines, only around 5 to 10 percent of the population can afford cars, so why allocate most of the road to this small percentage of the population? On the other hand, car sales are expanding faster than new roads are being built. Until when will this be sustainable? Car consumption has risen to 30 percent, but does the road capacity increase by 30 percent as well?
At EDSA, more than 70 percent of road space is used by private cars. Coupled with the issue of poor terminal design, open access, and an inefficient train system, EDSA will implode, most especially if the 300,000 new automobiles will increase even by a few hundred thousand. By 2020, EDSA may move at two kilometers per hour during rush hour.
In 2015, approximately 288,000 vehicles were sold. In 2016, approximately 417,000 were sold.
Many Metro Manilans are wasting at least six hours of precious time in traffic each day. This also translates to about P2.4 billion of lost economic income a day, according to the study of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). If this persists in Metro Manila, residents will waste 40,000 to 100,000 hours of their economic life in traffic.
Today, after work at about 6p.m., it takes one hour just to get out of Makati’s Central Business District (CBD). And another two hours just to get to Cubao. That is a speed of 3 to 5 kph per hour! Walking is much faster. Like natural calamities, such as typhoons and earthquakes, traffic can be considered a man-made calamity.
Most people who work in the Makati CBD, Ortigas Center, Bonifacio Global City, Quezon City and other major activity centers are priced out of the housing market. They live as far away as Laguna, Bulacan, Rizal, and Cavite.
A paradigm shift
When I attended a conference in Boston,it was mentioned that “big houses or low-density houses inside exclusive, gated communities situated in high-density central business districts, rob others of the opportunity to live in the area.” In progressive cities, leaders in business and politics live in condominium units in the city, and have their houses in the suburbs.
The late Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew adhered to this practice. The Kennedys, the Rockefellers, the Clintons, and the Trumps live in apartments in Manhattan.
Shifting of mindsets and transformations are well within reach. Take South Korea, for example. The Koreans were able to transform the Cheonggyecheon stream from a polluted waterway covered by an elevated highway into a green, linear park for pedestrians. That kind of transformation will take, however, strong political will, visionary leadership, good planning, good design, and good governance.