THE Philippines surprised the world with her unbelievable economic resilience and resurgence. Gross national product has been hitting an average of 6% and even had a quarter posting a 7.9% growth in August 2010 despite the global economic recession. Probably, the biggest factors to this economic surge are OFW remittances and the spending on proper infrastructure developments such as the RORO (roll on/roll off) which strengthened the movement of regional decentralization towards regional integration.
Regional decentralization is the spreading of political and social power to the local government units, so as to immediately identify their needs. Regional integration on the other hand is creating a synergy between local government units so that economic, environmental, and social development could be beneficial to all.
Though despite this international fame, comes a paradox between growth and actual urban development. There seems to be a lack of cohesion among social development, economic growth, and ecological sustainability. One can observe the obvious absence of each in specific areas.
Urban Centers such as Metropolitan Manila may be the biggest contributor to economic growth posting at least 33% of the Philippine GDP, though Metropolitan Manila is also the city which is wasting the most time of people caused by traffic. Citizens may be earning more money relative to the other provinces, but they are spending less time with family and lesser time for leisure activities, which are vital in the development of persons.
Another absence in the urban areas is the care for the environment. There is no sense of shame to spit, urinate, or even throw trash in public. The same can be observed from drivers who open their windows and just drop pieces of trash on the road, even along major thoroughfares. Rivers are so polluted, that even the practical idea of converting them as fare ways, ala Venetian canals, seem unreasonable to some. This disparity among the social, ecological, and economic aspects has dire human consequences, and few are readily observable– lack of cultural appreciation for a clean environment and undisciplined outlook towards the usage of the streets. But the most glaring of all are the puzzling poverty areas between Central Business Districts (CBDs).CBDs are like islands of efficiencies with oceans of poverty and squalor in between. Economic growth is yet to translate to social development and ecological sustainability
In all of its complexity, sustainable cities basically are cities that promote human development. The environment is there to provide each person all the materials we need and the protection necessary for 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. Like what I always say in my speaking engagements, development is not worthy of the name unless spread evenly like butter on a piece of bread.
Where to look?
Cities such as Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, and New York, have changed their mindset towards urban areas. From production-centric, car-centric, and industry-centric, among others, these countries have shifted to a more people-centric or human-centric society. They had placed a focus making people the heart of all activities.
Tokyo and Seoul developed its mass-transport city over adding more roads for cars, so that millions of people can travel faster and more efficiently compared to the current traffic congestion that Metropolitan Manila is currently experiencing. Despite public opposition before on removing major highways (Seoul), and relocation of establishments for transport infrastructure, the government persisted.
For Singapore and New York, they developed more bike lanes and well-maintained walkways. Singapore limits car use, and people are encouraged and motivated to walk because of the pleasing environment with wide sidewalks, safety, and maintained pocket parks. In New York, Times Square was regained to be a pedestrian area. Generally, roads are transforming into pedestrian plaza in the Manhattan area, and it increased social activity in the area.
The intention here is not to increase the speed of vehicles, but to decrease the travel time of people, promote health and to encourage more social activities. This results in cleaner and more environmentally sustainable cities with increased economic development. It creates a psychological and cultural effect on how people should live.
It is great to know that Iloilo has begun a movement to pedestrianize Calle Real, and Intramuros in Manila has started establishing walking routes. Though most pedestrianization efforts are mainly inside heritage areas, there is a need to develop along major roads, especially in urban areas.
Plan the city for the primary usage of cars, it will become a city for cars. Plan the city for the sole purpose of economic growth and monetary gains, it will become a city for money. Plan the city for the integral development of people, then the city will become humanely sustainable.
The most progressive cities in the world are walkable and bike-able. Tourists spend more time in walkways than in museums and shopping malls. Cities should not be for cars, they are for people.