PASIG River is 25-kilometers long and the Grand Canal of Venice is only 3.5 km. Despite its being much shorter than the Pasig, the Grand Canal of Venice is one of the most important economic, transport, and heritage treasures of Italy. On the other hand, the Pasig River, despite its natural splendor became the very symbol of the disappointment that is Metro Manila. Elsewhere in the world, developed nations are waging wars and territorial disputes for waterfronts, coastlines, and rivers. They even spend billions of dollars to extend what little they have. In our own country, however, we are graced with natural wonders. The Philippines has the third longest coastline in the world, not taking into account the newly discovered 400 islands.
While many are upset about the state of the river, I firmly believe that there is hope. Whenever I drive past Guadalupe Bridge along EDSA, I imagine the Pasig River to be the future of Metro Manila. Elsewhere in the world, waterfronts are the “front doors of development” with high-value real estate, tourism, and transportation. Unfortunately, our country’s leaders and most of our people treat the waterfront as “back-of-the-house, garbage dump, or sewers” that “uglify” our communities and cities.
I also believe that the river’s present state reflects not the growth of our country, but its true health, development, and social condition.
Romance and economics
In Venice, the canal is also seen as a symbol of romance. Gentle rowing boats allow people to enjoy the view of Italy. Along the banks are nearby alfresco dining places and souvenir shops. The romance in Venice is alive, as well as the businesses along the canals. It helps attract Venice’s 22 million tourist arrivals yearly.
In ancient Manila, the Pasig River was not far off. Even Daniel Burnham way back in 1905 imagined Manila as somewhat like Paris. The Ilustrados and Spaniards built viewing decks in their houses that face the river. In Forth Santiago, you will find a special viewing deck. Not far off, a summer house which later became known as Malacañang, was built along the river. Merchants also brought goods and materials along the river making it a thriving transport route for goods. Where there is romance there are economic opportunities as well.
In general real estate and urban development theory, parks, ponds, waterways and greenbelts increase the value of land surrounding the area. The reason for this is that people are naturally drawn towards nature; most especially because urban areas lack spaces for nature today. It attracts pedestrian traffic and more time spent in the area. Apart from it being a convenient location for businesses, it is beneficial to the health of the people.
One of the best case studies to look at is the revival of then aging districts in Seoul, South Korea. An EDSA like highway was removed to give way to the revival of the Cheongyyecheon River. It attracted tremendous domestic and foreign tourism and injected new business opportunities in the area. It also became a symbol for national pride.
The Future of Metro Manila
To help ease out traffic congestion, we can take inspiration from Hudson River’s water transport system. From Laguna de Bay, one can actually reach the tip of Bataan through river transport! And it takes as much travel time for one to travel from Makati to Cubao — three hours.
If we want to generate new areas for business and to attract tourism, we should develop our waterfronts, most especially Pasig River, Marikina River, and San Juan River.
Pasig River can be a transport corridor with ferry boats, promenades, and walk-able and bike-able linear parks. It can potentially link communities and cities along Manila Bay, Laguna Lake, San Juan River, and Marikina River. Moreover, it can integrate our fragmented metropolis and alleviate traffic. By orienting developments towards the riverfront, we bring more eyes on our waterways and encourage inhabitants to turn towards the lake as proud custodians.
Integrated flood systems utilizing the rivers, lakes, and tributaries that can ease urban flooding as well. Water-holding capacities may be increased through dredging and planting trees. Dredging will help deepen these bodies of water and make them navigable. Green islands from dredged materials can be created on the bay, not only for mixed-use development along the waterfront, but also to act as wave-breakers in case of storm surges or tsunamis. Local government should also implement a 10-meter setback from river, lakes, and other waterways.
Development is not limited to our land; it includes the water and the sky. They are not just mere backdrops of buildings, but are ultimately part of our ecology. It’s time that we go back and follow the practice of our heritage as Filipinos, specifically as Taga-ilog or Tagalog. It was quipped that Manila used to be the Paris of Asia, and I believe that with good planning, good governance, good design, visionary leadership, and strong political will, we can surpass that expectation. As a country that is blessed with so much natural splendors, we should be leading the way in protecting our resources and act in a manner deserving of such gifts.