Philippine New Urban Agenda: A development roadmap

Urbanization plays a vital role in the country’s economic development. Economic activities and job opportunities have centered around urban areas. Without efficient and proper planning, the increase in population will result in congestion, pollution, and other negative effects exacerbated by climate change. 

The 2016 United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development or Habitat III roused global efforts toward sustainable urbanization through the implementation of the New Urban Agenda (NUA). The NUA provides a blueprint to make cities spatially effective and identifies strategic actions for the implementation of Sustainable Development Goals, in particular, SDG 11, which is to make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.

In the February 14, 2023 presentation of DHSUD director Mylene Rivera during the launch of the Philippine Urban Development Forum, she highlighted the Philippines’ NUA and noted the need to transform urban areas from prime source of problems into cradle of solutions through the adoption of a development roadmap anchored on interconnected strategies of human development, global competitiveness, and sustainable development. 

Philippine New Urban Agenda

The PNUA’s theme is Better, Greener, Smarter Cities in an Inclusive Philippines and it reflects Filipinos’ aspirations for sustainable urban development.  Better Cities are intended to attain global competitiveness, while Greener Cities are meant to have environmentally sustainable, and resilient development. 

Smarter Cities highlight the need to be physically, spatially, and digitally connected, while an Inclusive Philippines aims to provide universal access to quality basic services in an equitable and participatory manner.

DHSUD, with support from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) and UN-Habitat Philippines, has spearheaded roundtable consultations with various stakeholders on the Philippine NUA agenda based on the six global action areas, namely: 

1. Urban Demography. Based on the 2020 Census on Population and Housing, 54 percent of 109 million Filipinos live in urban barangays. 64 percent are aged 15 to 64 years old and are of working age, while 31 percent are under 15 years old or young dependents. 

Building their capacities and life skills to become productive is critical in capturing the youth and work sector dividend and reinforcing the urban economy. 

2. Urban Governance. While local autonomy and decentralization have enabled LGUs to identify and implement their priority programs and services, assistance is needed to capacitate them in planning and investment programming, service delivery, performance monitoring; and strengthening community-driven planning and participatory governance.

3. Land and Urban Planning. The Philippines has started integrating climate change and disaster risk assessments in local spatial and sectoral planning. However, there is a need for integrated policies and programs like transit-oriented development, and integration of transportation in the Comprehensive Land Use Plans and zoning ordinances.

4. Urban Environment. The Philippines ranked first in the World Risk Index 2022 and struggles with calamities and environmental challenges. To address them, the following measures are recommended: increase green spaces to enhance environmental quality; provide adequate infrastructure designed to promote resiliency; increase investments in utility facilities and systems. 

5. Urban Economy. From 2019 to 2021, the National Capital Region, the adjoining Calabarzon and Central Luzon contributed the biggest share to the country’s gross domestic output. Unfortunately, economic growth is still hampered by inadequacy and inefficiencies of key infrastructures; the ability to develop and retain skilled workforce; the high cost of technologies; and the scarcity of local suppliers that can deliver quality materials and products.  

 Agencies need to work together to transform our cities into effective agents with diversified local revenues that will finance urban infrastructure and services, pursue technological development, and support sustainable economic development. 

6. Housing and Basic Services. The lack of available and suitable land for housing, high construction cost, low affordability of the poor, limited housing budget, and heightened by damage caused by natural disasters, have increased the Philippines’ housing need to 6.5 million.

To address the housing backlog, the Marcos administration aims to build a million housing units annually until 2028, and pursue in-city and near-city vertical housing development in urban centers through the Pambansang Pabahay para sa Pilipino (4PH) Program.  

As DHSUD endeavors to make affordable housing available through the provision of amortization support, the lead participation of the LGUs in the 4PH program, and the support of government financial institutions (GFIs) and private banks are essential.

Collaborative efforts and call to action

The Philippines’ First National Report on NUA will be submitted this year and will show the country’s implementation progress. 

As DHSUD takes on the leadership role in pursuing the PNUA, the challenge of managing urbanization will need the strong support of the NGAs, private sector partners and stakeholders. Indeed, we all need to work together to create sustainable communities.

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Henry L. Yap is an architect, environmental planner, fellow in real estate management, and one of the undersecretaries of the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development.