Uglification of our cities


DECISIONS are made on the built environment by some politicians, their favored contractors and some profit-centered developers. Good architecture and good urban planning are becoming of lesser importance in the urban development of our built environment. More than ever, there is a pressing need for the Philippine government to establish a National Green Building Code as soon as possible, if we are truly concerned about mitigating the growing problem of environmental degradation and avoiding negative impacts of climate change.

According to Dr. Nirmal Kishnani, “The business case for Greening–that a Green building is a better investment with quicker returns–fails to find an audience in parts of developing Asia where the challenge is not just cost and investment but also quality of life and livelihood. “

But beyond the natural environment, our cities and citizens are facing a much deeper problem. There is correlation between lack of Green Architecture, Green Urbanism and sustainability to epidemic uglification of our cities. Our cities are in danger of losing their sense of beauty, most especially Metro Manila. The overall aesthetic design and efficient function are corroding and billions of pesos are lost on inefficient transport mobility and lack of infrastructure to address direct impact of environmental conditions on health, education and work.

Our cities are losing their creative and contemplative elements significant to human development, which are fundamental to architecture, urban planning and design. With these concerns, the National Green Building Code that we should propose and develop must not only focus on individual building practices but also create a holistic city sustainability plan and economic incentives for collaborative energy efficiency, pedestrianization requirements, mobility infrastructure and aesthetic and cultural impact incentives.

Patchwork and isolation
The challenge that the Philippines is facing is that there are only tidbits of individual efforts and the government has no incentive plan to encourage the business community and the households to adopt it. For countries such as the United States, India, Hong Kong and Singapore, generous holiday tax incentives motivate a significant portion of the households and businesses to adopt Green Principles and certification.

In reality, there shouldn’t be a problem in creating the National Green Building Code, as there are abundant amounts of references that could be adopted. There is the US Green Building Council and the BCA green mark of Singapore, which is just a fundamentally tropicalized and adopted version of principles used by American and European countries. The conditions of Singapore are almost similar to ours.

There are also localized versions made by private initiatives such as the Green Architecture Movement (GAM) and Building for Ecologically Responsive Design (BERDE) of the Philippine Green Building Council. There are also efforts by few local government units such as Quezon City that developed Green Building requirements. But holistically, it is not enough if it is not nationalized and implemented properly.

Understanding uglification epidemic
The streets of our cities are visibly dirty and waste produced by citizens, households and buildings are collectively unsustainable. With the consumption of 16 million people daily in Metro Manila, where do we think our waste goes? Some are already in our rivers and on our streets. Also collectively, households and buildings are also not adopting efficient energy practices, safety measures, good indoor quality and proper waste segregation.

The cities are also non-walkable, as research suggests that Filipinos have a walking rate of only 50-400 meters. Meaning, for every 50 meters, our jeepneys, taxies, tricycles and buses unload and load passengers. It causes a systemic disruption of traffic flow and mobility inefficiency. There are also no proper loading zones, and passengers walk along roads, not on sidewalks (as our sidewalks are barely a meter wide, teeming with vendors, of uneven leveling and, in some instances, even non-existent). The roads and sidewalks are also regularly excavated, making them a chaotic site.

The direct correlation between Green Architecture and Green Urbanism and uglification is the habitual practice of poor waste management and inefficiencies of our consumerist outlook. The holistic usage of the city is too individualistic, as if each is unaware and apathetic toward the bigger concept of community and society. An appreciation of Green Architecture and Green Urbanism demands an integrated approach to sustainability, and this is something that the potential National Green Building Code can impose.

The epidemic of uglification is a result of apathy toward the ecology–people, culture, religion, environment and economy. The real understanding of green architecture and sustainability is not entirely focused on energy, material, water and waste efficiency. These are but tools in an attempt to uplift the quality of life of all peoples.

We should stop looking at Green sustainable practices as mere marketing tools for economic agenda. While it is a generous consequence, the real intent is the sociological impact of our actions. It may be aptly named as the Green Agenda, but underneath it is really the re-humanization of our cities. The National Green Building Code should be used for the re-humanization of Metro Manila, and the country. Thirty years from now, 50 million Filipinos will be added and 200 new cities will emerge. Seventy percent will all live in urban areas.


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