PRESIDENT-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte will have his hands full for the first 100 days of his administration, as this is the most crucial in setting the tone of his leadership. Metro Manila, and the rest of the emerging metropolises in the Philippines such as Metro Ilocos, Cebu, Iloilo, Davao, Clark, Subic, Balanga, Laguna, Batangas, Puerto Princesa, Zamboanga, and Cagayan De Oro are racing against time and rapid urban population growth in addressing sustainable urban and regional planning issues. These emerging metro areas are now replicating and copying the mistakes of Metro Manila.
While the most obvious problem is the worsening traffic and housing conditions, the underlying consequence is the inability of cities to maximize business operations and ultimately become attractive to foreign direct investments. Traffic is usually caused by inefficient infrastructure, centralized planning, lack of mass transits, citizens being priced out in living near their places of work, and prioritization of private vehicles over pedestrians, among others.
Leaders in progressive cities and countries around the world have visionary leadership, strong political will, and commitment to good planning, good design, and good governance. These qualities are also needed in order to come out with results even in the first 100 days of office or the immediate action plan. Here are some recommendations that I believe can be implemented immediately:
The implementation of Bus Rapid Transits with strict loading and unloading time, and proper waiting platforms. A few years ago,
Bogota in Colombia and Seoul in South Korea had the same traffic problems as Metro Manila. And realistically, building subways and trains is costly and takes so much time. Both countries, which are now boasting one of the best transport systems in the world, turned toward reinventing the bus system.
Right now the EDSA route, Ortigas-Cainta foute, and the Quezon City route can accommodate a bus rapid transit system. The things hindering efficiency of the current bus system is the lack of a strict loading time system, which results in the clogging of bus stops. Waiting sheds are also not safe and conducive as illegal vendors crowd the bus stops. Waiting sheds are also not level to the bus platform, making it not friendly to children, women, elderly and persons with disability.
2. Create jeepney rapid transits in downtown and district transportation.
There should be dedicated loading and unloading stations as well. This can actually reduce traffic, increase travel speed, and increase earnings of jeepneys by removing the bayad-per-ikot system to barkers, and increase gas efficiency by traveling in an optimal speed.
3. Revive the sidewalks by instructing cable companies to properly place their posts and wiring of cables as these become obstructions to pedestrians.
Remodel overpass walkways, as many are poorly made. Wrong sizes of stairs, which are slippery and not well lit; on ‘t allow illegal vendors in those areas. In central business districts, there should be dedicated bike lanes that private vehicles are not allowed to access.
4. Mass-transit systems should be built outward from the city.
According to the latest JICA report, only about five kilometers of train lines were built in the last decade. In order to avoid urban congestion and centralized city development, train lines should be accessible to other cities, to induce urban growth development.
Airports and ports
5. Upgrade and utilize the Clark, Laoag, Cebu, Davao, and Zamboanga airports as these will greatly decrease the overused and undersized Manila international airport.
This can also boost the development outside “imperial” Metro Manila through the creation of urban growth centers as counter magnets to the primacy and attractiveness of Metro Manila to migrants. Enticing foreign direct investment begins at the experience in the airport.
6. The Batangas and Subic Ports should be utilized as well.
Currently, most goods are dropped in the Manila Port, which is already suffering from over capacity. New pricing schemes and the cleansing of the customs can greatly affect the balance of truck operations delivering goods.
Spatial development and vertical urbanism
7. Our central business districts are strangulated by low-rise residences in gated communities.
This is a major mistake in urban planning theory as it clogs the streets, and floor areas are not maximized. Gated communities should be mandated to open their gates to traffic, at least during peak hours.
8. Give incentives in creating urban farms using the top floor of buildings in houses.
In Manhattan New York and European cities, food security and health are high-priority concerns of the city. The solution is to give significant tax incentives to establishments that will transform their roof decks and walls into urban farms, plantings crops such as tomatoes, kangkong, potatoes, lettuce, basil, and other herbs. Imagine Metro Manila adapting the Green Agenda of New York, it is for certain that there will be healthier locally grown food choices available in the area. Open spaces and parks could also be used as urban farms, instead of selling these “lungs of the city” to private developers.
As I have emphasized in my previous articles, the Philippines is a rich nation. Our leaders will not be starting from scratch. We must maximize our country’s many advantages and potentials and, at the same time, protecting our environment from degradation. While immediate action is necessary, plans should not only be short-term and opportunistic, they should also be long-term and visionary.