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A Manila megalopolis by 2020


My professors at Harvard University Graduate School of Design told us that the 21st century will be a Re-century to Renew, Redevelop, Re-use, Re-cycle, Re-engineer, Re-plan and Re-design our cities, communities, and towns. By the year 2020, it is estimated that the majority of the world’s megacities will be located in Asia. With a population projection of 20 million people residing in Metro Manila by the year 2020, there is a need to decrease the urban decongestion and promote pocket developments elsewhere in the Philippines.

While I was studying at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, I wrote a term paper entitled the Manila Megalopolis 2020 Plan, which aims to address the distortions of poverty, unemployment, urban blight, population congestion, and numerous aesthetically offensive districts within the national capital. The plan hopes to create a proactive rehabilitation-cum-development initiative that can span several growth decades.

Distinguished and Ever Loyal City
As we shape our cities, so do our cities shape us. Since its founding in 1571, Manila has grown into a densely populated city, with over 12 million registered residents (however, more than 20 million population in the greater urban area), 37% live in slum areas. As Manila moves towards a time of rapid change brought about by economic opportunities that the city promises to bring, developers and businessmen struggle to keep up with the increasing influx of Filipinos migrating from all over the country to settle and try their luck in the historic city. As such, the once dubbed Pearl of the Orient became a potpourri of crime, pollution, overpopulation, and corruption.

The country was colonized by the Spaniards for 300 years, ruled by Americans for almost 520 years, and occupied by the Japanese for four years. Since 1946, the form of government has been the Philippine Republic, including 20 years of dictatorship and a newly found democracy in 1986. After all these years, however, there has not been a single comprehensive plan prepared that covers the three quickly expanding regions. There should be a plan that rationalizes the directions of urban growth southward, northward, and eastward of Metro Manila and identify the growth centers and development corridors. The national government has long been stressing the need for countryside development, but investors are yet to be convinced of the opportunities in the cities, towns, and provinces surrounding Manila, particularly toward the north and east.

The extended metropolis
Indeed, while planning has been germane to Manila, ironically, previous initiatives have dismally failed in systematically managing its growth and charting the course of its urban development. In 1905, for instance, Daniel Burnham planned Manila for a population of 800,000. In 2000, Metro Manila became one of the largest megacities in the world with a daytime population of 14 million people and 10 million during nighttime. The Concept plan 2020 maximizes the locational advantage of existing urban centers and focuses on the development of urban corridors and growth centers clustered around, for instance, the former US military bases in Subic and Clark, and the opening of new gateways leading to and along the length of the country’s Pacific Ocean coastline. This plan seeks to generate new investments for the target regions and create redevelopment initiatives in the form of employment and economic opportunities to improve the quality of life of less-privileged Filipinos, especially those coming from the among the informal settlers within in the inner cities.

This innovative vision is certainly a challenge for government institutions to adopt and implement progressive policies, plans, and programs, designed to improve and recast the investment climate to support and maintain the long-term re-development of Metro Manila. Cities in more progressive countries are planned and reviewed annually or every five years, which does not happen in the Philippines, resulting in problems such as land conversions that leads to bureaucratic delays and graft and corruption. Had there been a system of preparing and updating urban plans, identifying places that are ‘urbanizable’ would have been possible. Development is not worthy of the name unless it is spread evenly like butter on bread. By creating development corridors, we can link and reconnect the fragmented society and country. The 21st century is supposedly the Asia-Pacific century. With this concept plan, planning initiatives will be made possible for an expanded metropolitan region. To quote Daniel Burnham: “Growth does not have to be stopped, but shaped by positive human action.”

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