Five urban development aspirations for Metro Manila

The effects of rapid urbanization are challenging Metro Manila's aspiration to become a global power city. These effects, including climate change, natural disasters, and unequal livability, job creation, and poverty reduction, are listed by UN-Habitat. However, Architect and urban designer Chintan Raveshia and urban planner and sustainability consultant Tony Chan, from Arup in Singapore, suggest that to overcome these challenges, urban development must also take into account the aspirations, changing needs and expectations of the people, and the national identity of the residents.

Finding the identity of the city 

Raveshia encourages responsible stakeholders to prioritize the question of a city's identity and how to foster pride among its residents. He cites Singapore as an example, where efforts to cultivate a sense of "lovability" have strengthened societal bonds, improved equity, community safety, and instilled a feeling of ownership among residents. Balancing liveability, efficiency, and lovability is key to success in the current climate emergency.

Meanwhile, Chan emphasizes that sustainable urban development should enhance people's quality of life. He advocates for low-carbon, human-scale, inclusive models that are just, secure, and promote quality of life for all residents. Additionally, he suggests exploring innovative ways to increase citizen participation and utilizing new technologies or products to support the overall vision and development goals.

What strategies could best suit Metro Manila's livable and sustainable future while preserving its identity, considering Singapore's land reclamation for affordable housing and integrated city developments and Melbourne's creation of accessible green spaces to encourage social interaction? Here are five urban development goals that Filipinos envision for the nation's primary political and economic center.

1. Accessibility across all social classes 

Despite being the Philippines' economic hub, Metro Manila struggles to maintain livable conditions for its residents across all social classes. According to the Global Liveability Index 2022 by The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU), Metro Manila ranks 105th out of 139 cities due to increasing population density leading to problems like traffic congestion, lack of green open spaces, high carbon footprint, unaffordable housing, and unequal income opportunities.

To address these issues, urban planners and developers propose mixed-use planning and coastal developments in the metropolis. This approach is crucial in achieving the 15-minute concept, where residents of all backgrounds can lead healthy, affordable, and sustainable lifestyles, as residential, commercial, and office spaces are integrated within a single development.

2. Open green spaces for a healthy and sustainable living environment

Recent studies have revealed that Metro Manila provides only 5 square meters of green space per person, which is lower than the World Health Organization's recommended standard of 9 square meters. The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted a global reevaluation of health, lifestyle practices, and environmental conditions, with the impact being particularly severe in Metro Manila due to high population density, cramped spaces, and limited park and open areas.

In addition to improving air quality and promoting biodiversity, green spaces also help regulate temperatures during hot seasons.

3. Enhancing Human health and wellbeing  

Cities that prioritize healthcare facilities, access to health coverage, and infrastructure that promotes a healthy lifestyle tend to foster prosperous societies. The planning, design, and execution of cities have a significant impact on people's lives, presenting opportunities and challenges to their lifestyles and overall well-being. Although there is progress in Metro Manila's health sector, rapid urbanization continues to pose risks in communities due to challenges like overcrowded neighborhoods, vehicular emissions, heavy traffic, pollution, and flood-prone areas.

4. Resilient community 

Resilience refers to the ability of individuals, communities, and systems to cope, adapt, and transform in the face of stress, shocks, and changing conditions. The City Resilience Index developed by the Rockefeller Foundation & Arup identifies relevant dimensions such as Health & Well-being, Economy & Society, Infrastructure & Environment, and Leadership & Strategy.

As the Philippines and Manila continue to grow, we face the dual challenge of adapting to climate change and changing development strategies that contribute to global warming. The Philippines is among the top 10 countries in the world most affected by climate change in the past 20 years, according to the Global Climate Risk Index. Being an archipelago, the impacts of climate change are immense, and Metro Manila's safety and resilience are also endangered by various natural disasters that persist every season.

However, well-planned and executed urban designs have the power to build safe and resilient communities in Metro Manila. Infrastructure such as proper bike lanes and walkable streets ensures residents' safety, accessibility, and comfort. Additionally, science and technology-based solutions that can build flexible structures, multi-use systems, and technologies can help residents adapt and prepare for changing conditions.

5. Global and competitive city  

Metro Manila is a rapidly growing region and a major driver of economic growth in the Philippines. However, to further realize its potential, it can learn from successful global models such as Singapore, Melbourne, and Hong Kong. These cities have implemented integrated urban planning, coastal developments, and sustainable infrastructure that have led to vibrant economies and improved urban lifestyles.

Adopting such models can provide increased job opportunities, better education, and a better quality of life for all residents of Metro Manila. This would not only contribute to the national and local economies but also create equitable and inclusive communities. Moreover, this would help attract more talent to the region and drive tourism and infrastructure development.

Building inclusive and sustainable growth centers 

It's important for cities to prioritize the needs and aspirations of their residents in order to foster a sense of community and make the urban landscape feel like a true extension of home. When all stakeholders are listened to and their concerns are addressed, well-designed and master-planned developments can energize communities and have a lasting impact on the future of Metro Manila by promoting more inclusive growth.

Cities that embrace their history, celebrate their milestones, and innovate for the future are working towards unlocking their full potential and becoming more competitive. Additionally, cities that prioritize the well-being and aspirations of their residents create a positive feedback loop that attracts more talent and investment, leading to even greater success in the future.

So, what kind of city do you aspire to live in?

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