Vertical urbanism and sustainability

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ARCHITECT FELINO A. PALAFOX, JR.

Metro Manila today
ACCORDING to the Philippine Statistics Authority, in 2015, Metro Manila had a population of 12,877,253. This number places Metro Manila as the fifth most populous urban area, as well as among the densest metropolitan area in the world, surpassing that of Tokyo, Singapore, Seoul, New York and Paris.

By 2040, the region’s urban population may reach 141 million, and in 2050, 70 percent of the population are expected to live in urban areas.

Urban sprawl and traffic
Adapting an urban sprawl type of development, Metro Manila has already maxed out its capacity to the point that the quality of life of its inhabitants is compromised. There is also a lack of green open spaces, which are considered to be the lungs of the city. The lack of in-city housing and expensive real estate have also pushed workers to live outside Metro Manila, despite their workplaces being within the metropolitan area. To add to this, our public transportation and infrastructure are far from adequate, which is one of the factors for the heavy traffic congestion we are currently facing. Employees waste three to four hours of their everyday life going back and forth their workplaces. Furthermore, this lack of mixed income housing has caused an imbalance which is evident in the comparison of daytime and nighttime population of Metro Manila’s CBDs; Makati’s daytime population is 11.8 times more than its nighttime population. Rather than widening and adding roads, which is typical of a Los Angeles mode, we should adapt smart and livable models like Hong Kong, Singapore and Seoul instead.

Sustainability in vertical urbanism
Worldwide, buildings contribute to 30 to 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions and 25 to 40 percent of total energy use. However, building trends are now directed towards green architecture and carbon-neutral buildings, which reduces the environmental impact. Furthermore, adapting vertical urbanism saves on space, land, and utilities. A CTBUH research has shown that compared to Los Angeles, Washington and Boston which have a lower urban density, Hong Kong with a higher urban density, has a way lower annual gasoline use per capita by contrast. Tall mixed-use buildings and development encourages people to walk and bike more instead of riding or commuting, which reduces pollution. In addition, vertical urbanism allows owners and developers to save on the length of pipes for water and gas, as well as for electrical wires (Wood and Du, 2016). Vertical urbanism also allows for fast and effective waste collection, compared to urban sprawl where a garbage truck would have to travel several kilometers of road to collect a small amount of waste. This study demonstrates that vertical urbanism helps reduce pollution and traffic and increase mobility in the long run.


With the saved space due to vertical urbanism, there can be more space for green areas and public spaces. Many tall buildings have also adapted landscaping in the design of their floor plans, facades, walls, and roofs, providing more green spaces compared to just developing on the ground level. So vertical urbanism not only can help preserve green spaces, but also help enhance them.

In relation to health, studies have shown that people in Tokyo and Hong Kong lived longer since tall and mixed-use developments help to encourage walking. According to studies, people need to walk 10,000 steps a day to be healthy. And vertical urbanism allows destinations to be nearer, hence, making it walkable and bikable. The green spaces that vertical urbanism have made available also helps add to the quality of life of its inhabitants.

Vertical urbanism in PH
Given all existing developments in Metro Manila, it may be more ideal to start planning megacities outside Metro Manila. With 70 of the population moving to urban cities in 2050, there is a need to develop 100 megacities by then. To attract developments to the rural areas, connectivity plays an important role. Progressive infrastructures such as airports and seaports can help start the local area’s economy. Furthermore, a well-planned community can help raise the land value, like what happened in Rockwell and San Vicente. There is also a need for the government to improve its policies and incentives on green buildings, or developers will continue to be discouraged in investing in this kind of endeavors.

I think we would all like to live in master-planned and environment-friendly cities, communities, and buildings that are connected, accessible, walkable, bikable, safe, convenient, clean, that are cross-generational, mixed-income, and mixed-use, with places to live, work, shop, dine, learn, worship, healthcare and wellness, recreational and leisure, and some 24-hour cycle activity centers.

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