PEOPLE who work in the central business district (CBD) areas of Metro Manila are rental-burdened. An employee working in the CBD on an average day would need to spend at least 40 to 50 percent of his salary, if he decides to live near his place of work. Employees who work in the CBDs but decide to live in more affordable places, would need to live farther north and south. Living in more affordable areas will at least cost the employee around 20 to 30 percent of his salary on housing, but he will need to give up 80 percent of his leisure and family time because of extreme traffic congestion. The housing situation becomes more complicated if the employee has a family.
Those who live in even more distant areas would need to use a private vehicle or public transportation. In a Harvard study I did in the early 2000 titled, “Manila Megalopolis 2020,” the Makati Central Business district was found to be experiencing a wide nighttime and working-time population disparity. The working population of Makati was 11 times bigger than its evening population.
The Makati and BGC central business districts, for example, rely only on two major road corridors, with few entry and exit points. The volume of cars and people during rush hour exceeds the handling capacity of the roads, and it is worsened by the lack of a good mass transportation system.
Roots of traffic
There are many contributing factors to the extreme traffic congestion of Metro Manila. It has a car-oriented planning wherein 80 percent of public road is only used by 5 to 10 percent of Filipinos who can afford private cars. There is a lack of mass transport system which encourages people to buy more private cars. The major road corridors like EDSA, have disregarded the basic principles of road hierarchy. For exits, there should be a dedicated service road (which was followed until the early 1980s), parallel major roads, and loading and unloading should not be allowed, among others. There is also a concentration of super regional malls within a nine-kilometer stretch, whereas in other countries, super regional malls are not allowed to be clustered nor given direct entry and exit points along highway corridors.
Traffic also increases when employees cannot afford housing near their places of work. One of the culprits of this phenomenon is gated low-density subdivisions that strangulate the central business districts and major road corridors. The demand for living quarters are high but the supply remains low and expensive because of exclusivist planning methods, which has been made obsolete in the US, ever since the OPEC oil crisis in the late 1970s and early 1980s. After World War II, because of the booming economic industry of the American and Japanese in automobiles and freeways, Metro Manila adopted the car-centric city planning principles of Los Angeles Hollywood and Beverly Hills.
The World Bank-funded Metro Manila Transport and Land Use plan of 1977 was meant to prepare Metro Manila to become the model city of the millennium. I was fortunate to be senior planner of the project. Before climate change adaptation, sustainability, city and regional-wide transport planning, hazard overlays, and human-scale development became internationally known, the MMetroplan 1977 had already considered these in the planning of Metro Manila. By 1981, we had one of the first and finest LRTs in Asia. By 1992, we should have had eight lines built. The flooded areas of Ondoy during 2009are the exact same areas that were forecast to be flooded in 1977!
In short, the transportation crisis that Metro Manila is experiencing today was already foreseen in 1977. It was dubbed “do nothing scenario”. And to think, when I was name-hired by the Ruler of Dubai to help bring the city from the third to the first in less than 15 years, the MMetroplan was one of the models I brought with me.
Housing scarcity and rental burden
Our Philippine cities have modernized the very concept of Intramuros (inside the walls) and Extramuros (outside the walls). Gated low-density subdivisions, elsewhere in the world and most especially in First World cities and countries, have no place in CBD areas. The world leaders and businessmen in New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul Korea, and other European cities, live in apartments when they are in the downtown CBDs.
Just recently, I participated in Joey Lina’s discussion of the Lina Law at a forum, and how it was misunderstood. The law states that 15 percent of the development should be made available for urban dwellers; it does not necessarily mean that it would be free, but rather make it affordable. There is a repeated sequence in our country wherein homeless urban dwellers are provided housing, but these are located in the outskirts. Furthermore, it is sad to see that this housing developments do not provide dwellers with even the most basic services and facilities, such as potable water, electricity, and sewerage facilities. The chosen sites also are located far away from their places of work, leaving these people no choice but to squat, or endure the burden of everyday commute.
With the wide disparity in housing supply, price, and job availability, coupled with poor transport and mobility planning, Metro Manila is a car-oriented city with obsolete planning and development principles. I believe that every Filipino deserves to have comfortable housing in friendly cities and communities that are well-connected, accessible, walkable and bikable, safer, better, lighter, convenient, and clean. These should be mixed-income, cross-generational mixed-use developments where there are places to live, work, shop, dine, learn and worship, with opportunities for healthcare, recreation and leisure, with a 24-hour cycle activity center.