AS we shape our cities, so do our cities shape us.
Since its founding in 1571, Manila has grown into a densely populated city, with over 12 million registered residents (with, however, a population of more than 20 million in the greater urban area), 37 percent of whom live in slum areas. As Manila moves towards a time of rapid change brought about by economic opportunities that the city promises to bring, government leaders and developers struggle to keep up with the increasing influx of Filipinos migrating from all over the country to settle and try their luck in the historic city. As such, the once dubbed Pearl of the Orient became a potpourri of urban decay, pollution, overpopulation, in-migration, obsolete infrastructure, among many other challenges.
A Manila Megalopolis 2020 vision that I put forward in my Harvard term paper back in 2003 showed how the Philippines can 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 Concept plan 2020 maximizes the locational advantage of existing urban centers and focuses on the development of urban corridors and growth centers clustered around, for instance, the former US military bases in Subic and Clark, and the opening of new gateways leading to and along the length of the country’s Pacific Ocean coastline. It is important to identify regional growth centers as counter magnets to the rapid urbanization and in-migration to Metro Manila.
Principles for smart, green, and livable 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. The Aedes East—International Architecture Forum in Berlin labels a city as “smart” when investments in human and social capital and traditional transport and modern ICT communication infrastructure fuel sustainable economic development, a high quality of life, and a wise management of natural resources through participatory action and engagement.
This is further elaborated by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) and Centre for Liveable Cities, both in Singapore, through the use of ten principles. In their study of Singapore’s urbanization experience, they were able to come up with principles that have helped Singapore to be highly ranked in many liveablity surveys despite having a highly dense population.
These ten principles are: planning for long-term growth and renewal, embracing diversity or fostering inclusiveness, drawing nature closer to people, developing affordable mixed-use neighborhoods, making public spaces work harder by assigning multiple uses, prioritizing green transport and building options, relieving density with variety and adding green boundaries, activating spaces for greater safety, promoting innovative and non-conventional solutions, and forging partnerships between the people, private and public entities.
A conceptual master plan for smart and green cities in the Philippines
Palafox Associates and Palafox Architecture Group recently had the opportunity to put forward a conceptual master plan for smart and green cities in the Philippines. The project aims to create smart and green cities in the country as an alternative and healthier option to the congestion in Metro Manila.
The planning of the smart and green cities focused on two key elements, namely: the area’s natural resources as the defining factors of development and smart urban development. Thus, much of the strategies involved are centered on the preservation of the biodiversity and low-impact development. On-site renewable energy, natural lighting and ventilation will be used to support the energy needed by the hospitals, schools, shopping malls, community centers, residential housing, and mixed-use commercial spaces that will be built within the developments.
To promote walkability and bikeability, pedestrian pathways and tree-lined bicycle paths will be implemented in the plan. Mass transport and better traffic management will also be encouraged. Public transit improvements include bus schedules, appearance, and ensuring the comfort of transit vehicles and stations. Efforts will also be made to widen the range of transit alternatives, such as extending commuter rail services and constructing new systems, such as light and heavy rail modes.
We also proposed to use building materials with recycled contents and locally produced materials to effectively manage the resources. Efficient plumbing fixtures and water-saving technologies and systems will also help reduce consumption of valuable resource. Rainwater harvesting, gray-water recycling, and creation of retention ponds or water reservoirs will be done to sustain the water supply within each development.
Other features of the proposed smart and green cities include high bandwidth Internet within the development, airport and seaport links, urban farming, and disaster resilience. All these and more are essential in fueling economic growth for each area, improving the quality of life, and effectively managing its natural resources.
For smart and green 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.