METRO Manila used the wrong planning model of post-war Los Angeles and before the 1973 OPEC oil crisis—a central city with politically motivated zoning plans and inefficient transport systems that favor the upper 5 percent of the city by prioritizing private vehicles over organized mass-transits.
Housing in the cities of Makati and Quezon has become too expensive for its laborers, pushing them to live as far as Laguna, Rizal, and Bulacan. During peak hours in the morning and the evening, EDSA and C-5 is a standstill because of unbearable traffic congestion and over-capacity in traffic density. A 10-kilometer ride becomes a two- to three-hour travel. Six hours of family time a day is robbed because of unbearable systemic traffic congestion. Quality education and health care are mostly incomparable by standards in Imperial Manila to other regions, except for a handful.
The urban-planning principles, land-use zoning, and deed restriction that Metro Manila uses are obsolete. And I fear that cities in other regions are copying the urban laboratory of “how not to do it.” Complaints get stuck with analysis-paralysis.
The remaking of our cities
After the OPEC oil crisis in the 1970s and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, cities around the world have redeveloped to be more democratic and inclusive. Zoning and transportation policies were significantly changed. Cities and regions were integrated to give access to quality housing, education, health care, and job opportunities to more people, and to prevent rapid in-land migration and population density in central cities. Mixed-use developments integrate places to live, work, shop, dine, learn, and worship.
The rulers of Dubai went around the world to hire the best planners, architects and engineers to bring Dubai from the third world into the first in 15 years, and to create a global gateway and a garden city out of the desert. I am thankful to have been name-hired, and the only Filipino and Southeast Asian in the team, from 1977 to 1981.
The main highlight for both federal nations are their urban and regional plans focusing on bottom-up initiations, efficient mass-transits, pedestrianization (i.e., walkability and bikeability), and integrating cities and regions to develop cohesive land- and water-use plans. Their cities were able to evolve from being seaport-, highway-, freeway-, and railway-driven to being airport-driven.
During my studies at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, I wrote a paper called “Manila Megalopolis 2020.” In that paper, I shared the importance of developing urban growth centers outside Manila, as centralized cities induces unsustainable in-land migration and city density, and unnecessary traffic congestion. The urban centers in the north, such as Clark-Pampanga, Zambales, and Bulacan, and in the South, such as Laguna, Batangas, and Cavite will act as counter magnets to the already congested Manila.
One of the important steps to do is build international airports in Clark and in the Batangas-Cavite area. According to a recent JICA research, there is overcapacity in NAIA and arrivals will multiply five times by 2050.
One of the fastest ways to develop new growth centers is by establishing more special economic zones and tourism zone in nearby cities of Metro Manila. This will greatly encourage more investments outside Metro Manila, as lesser taxes will be charged. Of course, these zones will be rendered useless if people will not be able to access these sites. That is why it is important to extend and develop high-speed railway systems going to these areas.
Bias for automobiles
It is said that about 500,000 cars travel through EDSA every day. But I believe about a million cars travel the streets of Manila. Nationwide, that’s about 2 to 3 million. With a population of 100 million, only 2 percent own cars. But why is it that roads for private vehicles are given more priority than the rest? All of us are pedestrians. That said, why should we give up our sidewalks for wider roads, parking, and vendors?
There is a need to redesign the streets and urban transport corridors of Metro Manila to accommodate more mass-transit and public transport, as most citizens use this. Also, there are several best practices elsewhere in the world showing that making the streets walkable and bikeable does not only promote health, but actually lessens traffic congestion and increases land values.
‘Postcards from the Future’
Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group will present “Postcards from the Future,” including “Philippines at 500: Philippines 2021 and Beyond,” on June 24. Such revolutionary ideas and global best practices in Urban Planning, Architecture, Infrastructure, and Real-Estate Development can help bring our country well into the 21st century.
Let us help the incoming Duterte administration remake our country into a truly globally competitive nation and be in the top 20 economies of the world by 2021.