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Why Metro Manila Is An Urban Planning ‘Mess,’ According To An Expert

Why Metro Manila Is An Urban Planning ‘Mess,’ According To An Expert
Bikers use the side of Macapagal Boulevard in Pasay City on Aug. 22, 2021 as Metro Manila was placed under modified enhanced community quarantine due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Jesse Bustos, The Philippine STAR

While Metro Manila is considered the Philippines’ political and economic hub, its urban planning, however, is a “mess” due to its “discriminatory zoning” and lack of mobility, renowned urban planner and architect Felino “Jun” Palafox said on Friday, Oct. 29.

“Metro Manila used to be a good example of metropolitan planning until the mid-70s,” Palafox said in a webinar titled “Future of Mobility: Urban Planning, Sustainability, and Innovations in Transport to Move the PH Forward” organized by Pilipinas Shell.

“Today, even PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) candidates in big universities in the US and Europe, they come to my office [to ask] how to unlearn the mistakes of Metro Manila,” he added. “Metro Manila is now the model of how not to do it.”

What’s wrong with Metro Manila’s urban planning? Palafox cited one reason as the gated communities around central business districts, saying these areas make the region less walkable.

“We’ve been influenced by the intramurosextramuros of the Spaniards. Intramuros for the ilustrados and principaliainside the walls. Extramuros for the peasants, the indios,” Palafox explained.

In Singapore, he said the late former Singaporean prime minister Lee Kuan Yew did not allow his country to have gated communities. In the Philippines, gated communities are considered more safe and secure.

Another reason, Palafox pointed out, was the decision of the local government units of the capital region to “throw away” the Metro Manila Zoning Ordinance in the 1990s. “Open spaces were converted to sellable... If you put a high rise in an open space, you generate 4,000 cars a day,” he noted.

The transportation planning of Metro Manila, Palafox added, also deals with the “supply-demand of traffic.” “They are not looking at the demand side of the land use. EDSA has something to do with it,” he said, referring to the 23.8-kilometer thoroughfare stretching from the cities of Caloocan to Pasay.

“EDSA is functioning like eight roads: major artery, minor artery, major collector road, minor collector road, access road, shopping center access road and so on,” he added.

Metro Manila’s other mistake is “discriminatory zoning” – where employees in central business districts such as Makati City live five hours away from their homes such as Bulacan and Laguna, making the region’s traffic worse, Palafox noted.

With this, Palafox said his group is pushing for “mobility, mobility, mobility.” “We have been advocating that those who have less in wheels should have more in roads: one-third for trees in landscaping, because we need at least 10 trees for every car we own, to recover the oxygen from the carbon monoxide of your car. The one-third is for pedestrians and bicycles, and one-third for removing traffic lanes,” he said.

For Liveable Cities Philippines chairman Guillermo “Bill” Luz, one good example of a city with good urban planning is Iloilo, as the area has been promoting the use of bicycles instead of cars among its residents, thus having good mobility.

“A city like Iloilo…was not planned to be a biking city, but they started following these examples and opening up. They’ve got these bike lanes, they’ve got a lot of riders,” Luz said.

Luz added that New Clark City – the planned community currently under development covering the towns of Bamban and Capas in Tarlac – can learn from the urban planning mistakes of Metro Manila.

“They have the golden opportunity of starting from scratch, unlike other cities which are already built. So New Clark City has this advantage (of) starting from a clean slate and planning for it,” he said.

“At the end of the day, when we talk about mobility, we’re talking about getting from point A to point B. It’s not only moving people from point A to point B, but you have to move good, otherwise the economy is not going to grow. We’ve got to move the product, we’ve got to move the service,” Luz underscored.

‘It takes some bravery’ 

To promote mobility in the country, one aspect that should be answered is safety – not just on the roads but in terms of health as well, according to Keisha Mayuga, safe cycling and walking agenda transport lead for the Move As One Coalition.

Mayuga, a cyclist herself, said Manila's thoroughfares are not safe, saying that “it takes some bravery” to pass such roads.

Mayuga said the government could build bike lanes, bike parking and post-trip facilities as part of its “Build, Build, Build” program.

“There are actually studies – local studies – that say those are the top three infrastructure related hindrances that make people not want to bike, like there are no safe or proper bike lanes, there’s no shower in the workplace, and there’s also no bike parking,” she said.

Mayuga added that building bike lanes is cheaper than building roads, saying that a kilometer of bike lane is P3 million compared to a new road that costs around P20 million.

“You’re actually saving more than P20 million every time you build one kilometer of bike lane compared to if you build another lane of road,” she stressed.