MANILA has the third-lowest quality of life among 56 cities

MANILA has the third-lowest quality of life among 56 cities. Is this even surprising? Deutsche Bank (DB) recently released its eighth annual survey of living standards and global prices in more than 50 cities around the world.

Manila’s score was extremely low — only surpassing Beijing, China, and Lagos, Nigeria. There are 4.5 million Filipinos that are homeless, according to the Philippine Statistics Authority, and 2.43 million Filipinos are jobless. According to the Asian Development Bank, 21.6 percent of Filipinos live below the national poverty line.

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Aside from subsequent disease outbreaks, our country has the third-highest number of deaths because of air pollution, according to the World Health Organization. The Japan International Cooperation Agency reported that we have been losing P3.5 billion per day because of the crippling traffic in Metro Manila. In the same DB survey, the Philippines ranked eighth from the lowest in public transport.

Even if three of our major railways are working, people still find it extremely hard to commute. How much more if all three bogged down, as happened last week? As expected, thousands were affected by the malfunctions.

What is more disappointing is that these were all foreseen in the 1970s, and little was done about it. The World Bank-funded Metro Manila Transport, Land Use, and Development Planning Project (or the MMetroplan) was published in 1976.

I was a senior planner and team leader for the development planning of the MMetroplan. The MMetroplan was an inter-agency project of the government of the Philippines with Freeman Fox and Associates that provided recommendations to manage development and control where it takes place and presented planning advice for transport and other development opportunities.

The MMetroplan team said that with a “do nothing scenario,” Metro Manila would have catastrophic traffic and flooding; garbage and sewerage problems; lack of water supply, decent housing, and transportation systems; and will be vulnerable to disasters and other urban ills.

Previous urban plans, transport plans, and traffic engineering and management plans and studies were not implemented or updated. The 1976 MMetroplan may be the last comprehensive plan that encompasses transport, land use and development planning.

Planning occurs at varying levels — at the rural, urban or metropolitan-wide scale, and it is comprehensive, interdisciplinary, inclusive, resilient and sustainable. It is the practice of designing and developing strategies for immediate action, short-, medium-, long-term, and visionary development plans of communities and cities through public-private collaboration.

Plans must promote social equity and should benefit the majority, which can be done by facilitating public consultations to know what citizens need and what can truly benefit them; these also encourage inclusivity, citizen participation, and empowerment. Planning should be comprehensive in the area, time, land use type, and density and must include policies and projects for housing; transportation and traffic engineering/management; utilities and services for water, electricity, wastewater treatment, and solid waste management; disaster preparedness; and commercial, industrial and institutional developments. Moreover, guiding principles for planning and development must prioritize social equity or people first, planet Earth or the environment, then the profit or economic goals, culture, history and heritage, and interfaith spirituality.

In the MMetroplan, areas suitable and less suitable for development were determined. Unfortunately, areas that were identified as unsuitable for development and urban expansion like shore areas, riverbanks, esteros and those near active fault lines are those that have high population densities today. In 1976, it was already assessed that these areas were prone to flooding, and inadequate provisions for the treatment of sewage and disposal of waste would be a major cause of severe pollution.

In addition, health, education, welfare, water, sewerage, and other social and utility services would be difficult to sustain in those areas. In-city settlements or new communities that are equipped with social facilities, utilities, and services for all sectors of society and are conveniently connected to public transport systems can be a solution to this issue.

During the 1970s, Metro Manila was already experiencing traffic, transport and road problems. Of course, the situation then has exceedingly worsened to the conditions we have today.

The MMetroplan predicted that car ownership would dramatically increase through the years; high-capacity and efficient transport systems need to be established; and “serious congestion could spread throughout the urban area within EDSA leading to high direct and direct costs, wasted effort and wasted resources, and the economic and social disadvantages that the city offers could be lost and dissatisfaction could be widespread.”

These forecasts are an accurate description of the crisis we are facing today. Back then, the MMetroplan team already determined that the quality of the public transportation system has a direct effect on the quality of life in the metropolis, which is why we proposed high-quality and well-connected public transportation systems for both land and water, and other measures such as congestion pricing and efficient light rail transit systems, among others.

At Palafox, we follow the design principle of “1/3 for people, 1/3 for vehicles, and 1/3 for landscaping.” A complete street design aims to enhance traffic safety, promote efficient movement for all modes of transport, support environmental sustainability, and stimulate economic activity. We envision our cities to be well-connected, accessible, walkable, bikeable, safer, cleaner and healthier.

We want to shift away from the car-oriented system and introduce a more balanced integration of pedestrian and vehicular mobility with adequate green spaces. Following model cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, and Paris, we need to make walking and public transport as the preferred options for mobility needs — attracting people to patronize these more than using private vehicles.

By 2050, we must have already planned and developed 100 new cities to meet the needs of 148.3 million Filipinos.

We should not wait till then to master plan environment-friendly cities, towns, communities and buildings that are livable, walkable, bikeable, connected, safe, convenient and well-lit for mixed-income, cross-generational citizens, integrating places to live, work, learn, worship, shop and dine, with healthcare and wellness and 24-hour cycle activity centers.

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