Planning sustainable cities

Part 2 of 2

Metro Manila, a Metropolis comprised of 17 local government units, has a complex transportation network. Even if the boundaries have since been blurred and agglomerated, interconnectivity, or points where people can cross from one city to another, has always been a point for improvement. For instance, from Quezon City to Manila, Manila to Makati, and Mandaluyong to Makati, we are forced to cross these limited points whenever we traverse the metro, creating choke points or overloaded thoroughfares. If cities improve their permeability, there will be more paths to choose from for certain destinations. Sometimes, what hampers interconnectivity are private properties or subdivisions wherein the public has no jurisdiction in allowing their crossing. Maybe some parts of Metro Manila need to reconsider exclusivity to benefit the greater public and distribute those that pass through congested areas. With people having varied origins leading to different destinations, having specific common paths would only lead to congestion.

Like esteros, streets are often misunderstood. While the former should be known as where fresh and saltwater meet rather than deplorable sewage canals, the latter is usually understood as primarily a passageway of cars. Right of Way, a term that refers to the legal right to pass along a specific route, should be underlined where the public should be allowed to pass freely. Cars are just one of the ways to pass. What should be studied are options and variations in which the right of way is understood. Even if some streets are narrow, it doesn’t mean they are pedestrian only. The contrary can also be true. Wider streets may prioritize more than just cars. There should be instances of wider streets that are pedestrian-focused or prioritized. In no offense against road sharing, types of traffic must be segregated depending on their speed to allow a smoother flow. This means that there should be paths that are prioritized to cater to traffic with lower average speeds that would be parallel or similar to the congested ones. In creating zones with lower average speeds, those that traverse them would see cities more in detail rather than blurs in reaching their destinations. This improves awareness as people would want to see more details, not ads or billboards. Suppose this idea of detailing the blur proliferates. In that case, we will have more vibrant cities that would crave and choose paths with lower average speeds or, in short, pedestrian-oriented or bike-prioritized streets. Sharing is caring, but sometimes we should not share the same thing.

Understanding our cities and problems is one way of improving sustainability, as it helps manage the use of available resources to improve the quality of life. On the other hand, we must also look at how our cities grow and how they relate to their peripheral or outer spaces and boundaries. With the rising prices of real estate and the increased demand for developments, the cheaper way to satisfy the demand is to build around the periphery. Eventually, these become additional centers, and boundaries/peri-urban spaces become farther away. It comes to a point where rural areas decrease, and the distinction between them and urban areas is reduced. As the distinction blurs, gaps are filled until more rural areas are converted into urban areas. Even if agricultural lands have lower costs, they are invaluable to society as they are what sustain cities. If no more land is left for agriculture and rural areas, what is there left to sustain the populace? This is not to prevent the development of rural areas or municipalities but to have a careful approach to maintain distinct boundaries so no two cities will converge and agricultural areas are maintained. The critical point is to still have enough land to sustain us even if we further develop in the future.

The management and proper use of limited resources is one key factor in sustainable cities. Thus, underutilized space is also wasted space. Returning to the Filipino culture of multi-use spaces, this should be extended to public spaces. It has already manifested in street markets and on-street basketball courts. Even if we remove the additional functions, they remain to be streets. What should be studied further is how our streets should be easily transformed into other spaces, not just spaces for cars. In areas where cars do not regularly pass by, these can be recovered and transformed into small linear parks with single vehicular lanes or fully bike and pedestrian streets. When spaces are recovered to be suitable for public use, the bigger question will emerge: where can we have more extensive public spaces in the city? Are streets just concrete pavements, or should there be more trees instead of concrete? Unbuilding can have benefits as nature has a longer time solving some of our problems in flooding and heat. If we let it be or consider it in our developments, a green revolution can emerge where we start appreciating public spaces and, in turn, allow nature to creep back into our lives. Let us bring back the times when streets and communities have fruits like the aratiles, bayabas, santol, and others up for grabs for whomever. In the same way, localized farming can re-emerge, where more people will have malunggay, tomatoes, onions, and the like growing around their houses.

Once we have more time to do other activities, we find ways to improve our lives. Once we strengthen our connections, we start creating vibrant streets. By carefully using our limited lands and adequately allocating them for certain activities, we develop into the future with enough resources to sustain ourselves. Finally, once we become aware of how we will benefit from using public spaces, we become more aware of the environment.