Thursday, December 3, 2020

The emergence of the Pampanga Megalopolis


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The province of Pampanga is three times the size of Singapore and two times the size of Hong Kong. On the other hand, Clark is bigger than Makati, Mandaluyong, San Juan, and Fort Bonifacio combined!

Ever since 1998 when Palafox Associates master-planned the area of Clark (Angeles) extending to Subic Bay (Porac) and San Fernando, we have been promoting urban growth centers as counter-magnets to the primacy of Metro Manila. In my paper that I submitted to the Harvard Graduate School of Design in 2003, I shared that urban growth centers outside the national capital will address the urban ills of Metro Manila like traffic congestion, housing shortage, flooding, disaster vulnerability, rapid in-migration, urban sprawl, and other problems. It is urgent and necessary for the sustainability of Metropolitan Manila. Metro Manila is no longer sustainable, with a “do-nothing” scenario as we predicted in the 1976 World Bank-funded Metro Manila Transport, Land Use, and Development Planning Project (MMETROPLAN) where I was senior planner and team leader.

I also shared that to decongest Metro Manila we need three international airports for the Manila Bay Region. One in the CALABARZON area may be Cavite or Batangas, and the other is the full utilization of the existing runway of the Clark international airport.

Why Pampanga?
It has the necessary geographic features and infrastructure in place. Pampanga can be a megalopolis with urban growth and development triangle, composed of three metropolises: San Fernando-Lubao, Angeles-Clark, and Porac-Subic. In short, it has a fully functioning sea port and distribution center; an international airport; and easily accessible through the National Highway. We inherited billions of dollars worth of infrastructure from the Americans for the two largest US military Bases outside the USA.

Subic Bay Coastal Development
I have a curious question in mind: Why is the Subic Bay free-port not utilized while the port of Manila is overly congested?

The success of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Dubai are greatly hinged in the efficiency of their airports and seaports. If we utilize and increase the efficiency of the Subic Bay port and Clark Airport, they together would have the capacity to become the gateway to Central Luzon for goods and supplies. It also has the potential to be the gateway from Metro Manila. Warehousing is already a thriving business in Clark and Subic Bay port, and the recently constructed SCTEX has significantly decreased the amount of time travelling between Manila, Clark, and Subic. More importantly, the Clark Airport and Subic Bay have direct access to the rest of Pampanga, Central Luzon, and Metro Manila.

Apart from being a strategic location for operation and distribution, the Subic Bay area and its adjacent areas have a forest cover that is intact. Sustainable eco-tourism and indigenous and cultural education will become part of the identity of Subic and Clark. It also serves as an ideal drop-off point toward the coastal communities and beautiful shorelines of Zambales, Bataan, and ridge views of the waterfront and mountains.

There is high development potential.

Clark Aerotropolis and urban development
The runway is already built. The location is strategic. And the area is vast for urban development and expansion, large enough to create a bigger Singapore and Hong Kong. It has the potential to develop into a sustainable, green, smarter, resilient global gateway city.

What makes the geography of Pampanga, with Clark and Subic, unique is that it can become both an Agropolis and an Aerotroplis. The central district of Clark can develop more compact vertical urbanism with mixed-use and multi-use smart development, also using the best practices in Urban Planning, Land Use, Transportation, Tourism, Architecture, and Infrastructure. In reality, it has the potential to become the next financial and business center outside Metro Manila.

On the other hand, the surrounding areas of the soon central business districts are integrated with the agri-industrial lands and tourism areas of Pampanga. Maybe we should take inspiration from the best practices elsewhere in the world in terms of agri-industrial planning and urban development. With proximity to the farms, the price of food will be more affordable, and the markets will serve fresh meats and vegetables, reducing food miles, and creating a more sustainable, integrated urban-rural development.

It’s also time that we relocate some government centers outside Metro Manila. This alone will at least affect a million families to move towards more affordable housing, and better quality of living. Clark is a strategic location for government centers and Subic for embassies.

With the development of Pampanga, housing supply will be more than enough. But I recommend subdivision and gated communities should not be allowed in the central business districts, as this could significantly stagnate the CBDs like Makati CBD and Ortigas Center. Let us not repeat the mistakes of Metro Manila. Affordable housing can be possible, if there will be enough jobs, quality education, healthcare, and efficient transportation.

A second chance
There is now an opportunity for government to follow the recommendations of Urban Planners, Environmental Planners, and Architects on Good urban planning and Good design. In 1977, Metro Manila had the world’s most comprehensive Transport, Land Use development plan. The MMETROPLAN World Bank funded project was well ahead of other nations. We were planning eight LRT lines in 15 years. And the plan also served as an inspiration in the rapid urban development of Dubai which I shared from 1977 onwards.

Hopefully, the Pampanga Megalopolis will not repeat the mistakes of Metro Manila. A “do nothing” scenario just like what happened to Metro Manila in the past 30 years should again take place in other emerging cities and metropolis in the rest of the Philippines.



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