Rethinking city planning and development


Planning is balance. It is a balance between land use and transportation, between jobs and housing, and integrating places to live, work, shop, dine, learn, worship, and enjoy leisure, entertainment, healthcare and wellness. Cities and communities should be walkable and bikeable. Walking, biking, and public transport are the priorities. Use of the car should be the last priority.

Foreign critics had publicly mocked the Philippines for its malling culture. Inside these establishments are a well thought out experience of comfort and order, while outside is chaotic scenery of traffic and poor pedestrian facilities. Every couple of kilometers, you will find a regional mall. For every three to five kilometers, you will find a super-regional mall. Ideally, super-regional malls should be nine kilometers apart so that traffic flow can be better managed. We might as well call EDSA as the super-regional mall corridor of the Philippines.

What we need is a clear development vision for the city.  In the broader perspective, we can start by designing the entire city for people. All developments such as construction of buildings, the creation of businesses, mass transportation systems, and the landscapes of our walkways, among others, are all for the development of all citizens and visitors. For the part of government, we can start institutionalizing impact development fees.

Impact development fees

In Europe and North America, they have instituted a law that some business centers here in the Philippines adopted: development impact contributions and fees.

In business centers such as Rockwell, Bonifacio Global City (BGC), and Makati Central Business District, all building owners are required to pay dues to the recognized association so that there will be funding for security, maintenance of roads and public spaces, building elevated walkways and underpasses for safer walking environment, appropriate bus stops, functioning traffic lights, urban landscape, and advance training of traffic enforcers. In short, business owners agree that it is part of their responsibility to make the community they are in a more livable place to be.

For every change in the land use, zoning, or building floor area ratios, landowners and developers realize a bonanza in land value appreciation. Part of this “bonanza” in land value increase must be contributed to the community. Progressive countries implement this as land value appreciation charges or impact fees. The Makati Commercial Estate Association adopted the development charges for every increase in floor area over and above the original zoning or deed restrictions. Cebu Business Park and BGC implement this as well.

There is a rationale why development is controlled in a specific pace. It should be based on how big or tall their building is, how much traffic in generates, how much impact on the natural environment, how much carbon emissions they emit, and how much land value appreciation because of the change in use and density.

In other cities, such as San Juan, we proposed in the plan efforts to emulate the elevated walkways of New York, Shanghai and Hong Kong. Soon, buildings will be required to have an interconnected walkway. This is a good way to prepare for flooding, safety, and security. Also, these walkways will be connected to the LRT stations and future monorail stations that will be built.

Pedestrian-oriented development

If you are a developer, you will know that traffic costs you money. A person riding a car only has three seconds to look at a store, as compared to a pedestrian who has eight to 10 seconds. Pedestrians are more likely to stop and window shop. With more cars, there will be less people walking.

The most progressive cities in the world are walkable and bikeable. Tourists spend more time in walkways than in museums and shopping malls. Cities should not be for cars, they are for people.

In all of its complexity, sustainable cities basically are cities that promote human development. The environment is there to provide each person all the urban amenities we need and the protection necessary for public welfare, public, good, public health, and a mitigating factor to the negative effects of climate change. Economics on the other hand is important because it gives an empowerment of choice and value to work. In all developments, the triple bottomline approach – People/Social Equity, Planet/Environment, and Prosperity/Economy – must be the guiding principle. We should add Culture, History and Heritage, and Spirituality. I once wrote in my term paper at the University of the Philippines in 1973 and continue to share in my speaking engagements, “Development is not worthy of the name unless spread evenly like butter on a piece of bread.”


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  1. Those malls were erected not in your standard Mr. Palafox. After EDSA revolution 1, ang mga ganid na businessman, kanya kanya silang tayuan ng mga building along EDSA kahit wala sa batas.. as far as i know , EDSA hiways were reserve for all government institutions para iisa nga naman ang puntahan ng mga tao.. Nauna na nga dyan ang NIA, DPWH and the rest to follow. Pero sinira lahat ng yellow regime ng mga Aquino family at ng mga kakutsaba nila sa business na siyang kumokontrol ng economy ng banssa…Ito dati ang plano ni dating pangulo marcos, pero binaboy ng mga elitistang dilawan ang planong ito.. This is the fault of EDSA 1 revolution kaya nagkaganyanang ating hiways etc…