The division between public and private places has been stark. Public spaces are rarely safe or well-maintained, while the private realm is isolated, with built barriers and walls to separate it from the public. The “Not in my backyard” attitude or NIMBY seems to be the sentiment of many. For the longest time, the same sentiment has beleaguered the integration and implementation of crucial infrastructure projects, and impeded the implementation of zoning ordinances for urban and regional policies.
In my belief, infrastructure does not only constitute physical development. The thinking and the operations behind infrastructure projects are as important as the physical development. There are five types of infrastructure: Progressive, Hard, Soft, Green or Sustainable, and Institutional.
Progressive infrastructure is long-term and has crucial ecological and economic impact. These are international airports and seaports, international schools, world-class hospitals, and organized mass public transits.
Hard infrastructure supports the functionality and efficiency of progressive development. These are the roads, bridges, elevated walkways, post-harvest facilities, flood control infrastructure, power, water, sewerage and other physical utilities.
Soft infrastructure involves the ease of doing business, no red tape, proper implementation of procurement procedures, check and balances in building the projects, transparency of government transactions, freedom of information, fair business competition, and just application of the law (no special treatment), among others.
Green and sustainable infrastructure includes the essentials that will protect our cities from the new realities of climate change and what will make our cities healthier and livable. These are implementing strict policies in developing more open spaces and public parks that serve as the lungs of the city. In terms of energy efficiency, having more tree and parks significantly reduces “urban heat” which directly affects air-conditioning units and other cooling systems. These areas also serve as important evacuation areas during calamities such as fire and earthquakes; it is currently unimaginable where people will go if a calamity happens in Metro Manila. Part of green development is coming up with policies in giving significant incentives in developing building rooftops into urban farms, and using solar panel hybrids to promote renewable energy in urban areas. The point of taking green and sustainable infrastructure and development seriously is that it manages the depletion of our natural resources and it encourages innovations that will help us ease our consumption. There is a saying,“We borrowed the environment from future generations.”
Lastly, institutional infrastructure refers to the alignment of all government agencies to an “institutional memory” necessary to deliver projects and services beyond one’s term of office. This ensures continuity of projects and services from one administration to another, regardless of political affiliations.
Making Cities a Better Place
Cities are built for people. We should always keep this in mind, that whatever developments that we make it is for the benefit of people. Instead of encouraging more private vehicles and widening our roads, we should instead encourage walking, biking, public transport, and social interaction.
Instead of focusing on economic growth by creating more business districts, we should instead focus on holistic economic development by balancing housing needs, jobs, education and commercial development. The real gain for economic development should translate into human development, as it is the intentions why cities are created. It supports health, education, quality of living, jobs, housing, and spirituality among other needs that will help each person pursue life goals.
Culture and identity plays an important role in economic and human development as well. Our cities are built by beauty and not by pure utility. We have architecture, art, and aesthetics to help the city remind its citizens the values and characters that are essential to humanity.
We proposed that an elevated walkway and bike lane should be constructed in the entire length of EDSA, as this will make for a faster mode of transportation than riding a bus or car (2 to 3 hours for a 10 km travel). In all cities, elevated walkways should connect all buildings towards mass-transit stations and other modes of travel so people will not be affected by speeding cars and flooding.
Mass transits and pedestrians should be the priority of roads, not private cars. Bus Rapid transits, water transport, and extension of railways towards the North and South should be developed. We should give citizens a reason to embrace public transport, as what has been achieved in Seoul, Singapore, Boston, New York, Curitiba, London, Paris, Hong Kong, Berlin and Bogota, among many other cities that saw public transport as essential to democracy and economic development.
Gated communities should open their gates during peak hours to alleviate congestion in Central Business Districts. Low-density, single-family housing in central business districts should also no longer be allowed, as it rises housing cost or pricing out employees from the housing stock in the city. We should reduce the distance of home and work.
Government should ensure ease of doing business so that more investors will develop in other cities that will alleviate the primacy of Metro Manila.
At the end of the day, everything that we do is all towards finding meaning in our lives. The role of infrastructure is to make sure that every person will have an opportunity to pursue meaning, as no person should go hungry and will have all necessities to support subsistence. A balance among need, want, passion, and meaning, a better urban quality of life.