A New Year wish: The urban renewal of Metro Manila

I grew up in Quezon City and studied elementary and high school at UP Diliman and I could vividly remember that during the 60s, the wide and traffic-free Elliptical Road around the refreshing and thickly vegetated Quezon Memorial Circle was the favorite training and practicing area of would-be champion cyclists of the Tour of Luzon.

Not far from the QMC is the now highly congested Commonwealth Avenue which was practically a nowhere land then and was visited only mostly by people with personal businesses at the INC compound (Iglesia ni Cristo) or farther away east at the GAO building (General Auditing Office) which is now the COA (Commission on Audit).

Today Quezon Memorial Circle is very crowded, and Commonwealth Ave. is plagued with daily traffic along the whole stretch of the avenue especially from the Balara/Tandang Sora area to the Litex/Payatas Dump Site area, which is home to so many communities of informal settlers.

The steady increase of the populace from the 1960s up to the present, of the vast Quezon Memorial Circle grounds and that of Commonwealth Avenue due to urbanization is replicated in many areas of Metro Manila, especially along the banks of the now highly polluted Pasig River and other waterways.

The once tolerable presence of factories and warehouses along the Pasig, Marikina, San Juan, Tullahan rivers, and others, have turned into eyesores. Also, as sources of untreated wastewater and sewage have made these compounds hazardous to the health and safety of the people in the surrounding communities.

I am sharing this to give an overview of the enormity of problems caused by hazardous structures all over Metro Manila. During my previous work as a civil engineer in LRMC, a concessionaire of LRT1, I often viewed as I rode LRT1 trains that there are dozens of these structures along the route from Baclaran St. in Pasay, through Manila, until Roosevelt St. in Quezon City. Mid-2023, I also made an ocular assessment of the areas that can be seen from above the completed Skyway from Balintawak to Alabang, and I assessed that there are many more of these hazardous structures.

If we are to include areas apart from those visible from the LRT Line 1, the Skyway System, or Metro Manila, there could probably be several hundreds of such hazardous, various-sized structures that are already, in my personal view, in the stage that must be considered for mandatory relocation away from the much congested and long-suffocated Metro Manila, which will also give way to our much-needed in-city mid-rise housing developments.

In its September 2019 development report, ADB said that out of the 278 Asian cities with a population of more than 5 million people, the Philippine capital of Metro Manila ranked as the most congested with a value of 1.5—higher than the 1.24 average in the region.

With all these realities, I sincerely wish that the government seriously consider the mandatory relocation of old, messy, and hazardous warehouses and factories in the NCR region and outskirts, to appropriate relocation sites in Clark and Subic in the north, to Lipa and Batangas in the south, and develop the properties vacated into money making mixed-use ventures. This can be done in partnership with interested private entities and foreign investors preferably from the USA and Japan, in light of the current developments concerning national security issues in the West Philippine Sea. I fervently wish for efforts to accommodate affordable mid-rise residential buildings similar to those in Hong Kong and Singapore to be built, with enough provisions as honest-to-goodness low-cost residential units for the struggling poor.

I also believe that the government through the DHSUD/NHA should form a special task force of professionals from legal, engineering, business, finance, economics, urban planning, and other relevant fields of practice to undertake this gigantic and vital socio-economic project to gradually but steadily achieve our long-wished for urban renewal of Metro Manila.

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Engr. Alex G. Serrano is a civil engineer who worked in Saudi, Oman, Libya, Qatar, and Bahrain. Based in Legazpi City, he has a passion for churning out ideas for a better Philippines.